Each level of Hitman 3 is making a statement. The game opens with you infiltrating a skyscraper in Dubai, looking to kill two targets. It's classic Hitman. In fact, it's exemplary Hitman. Developer IO Interactive has opened the game with a perfect example of what it's spent the past two decades developing as its signature style.
As Agent 47 you're free to play in your own style. You can look for weapons to fight your way to your targets. You can quietly dispatch guards and staff, disguising yourself in their uniforms to slip past security. Or you can sneak past guards, sticking to cover and finding routes past their eyes. You need to explore and pick at the seams of the building, uncovering the weaknesses of the space.
The Dubai mission begs to be replayed because there are so many ways you can manipulate and access your victims, getting them to move into more vulnerable locations for you to pull off extravagant kills. You can schedule a meeting for the targets to draw them into the same meeting room, you can become their personal bodyguard and stalk them to a quiet spot, you can even activate an evacuation alarm sending them to skydive off the building - ideally with sabotaged parachutes. It's an excellent beginning to the game, but it's also as if the team is giving that mission structure a send off.
Every mission that follows has a unique flavour that strokes a different part of the series. Your second mission takes you to a mansion in Dartmoor, England. The old English country home looks straight out of an Agatha Christie novel, which is appropriate as it's been the site of a murder. While your target is the matriarch of the house, her brother has been killed in the night and, should you wish, you can solve his murder to get close to her.
The killing took place in a locked room, it's a perfect mystery. It's the kind of killing that Agent 47 himself would commit. The mission flips the script of a Hitman game and it's a delight. Searching the house for clues, interviewing suspects, and solving the murder is a significant departure from the previous games and brings Hitman's dark humour into the light.
Because under all its suggestions of seriousness - a story about a global assassination network, secret organisations running the world's governments, and a genetically enhanced hitman - the Hitman series has always been shot through with silliness. After all, you play a gaunt, bald-headed killer who would stand out in any room, yet slip on a pastry chef's hat and no one will give you a second glance. There's a knowing wink between player and developer every time you hit someone with a fire extinguisher - this is silly, this is fun, play with this space and see what happens.
While Hitman games have always rewarded and encouraged repeated playthroughs, prompting you to discover all of a level's secrets and set piece kills - like when you pass two maintenance staff talking about the loose chandelier that sits above the boss' chair - IO Interactive developed a whole new set of tools to prompt replays with 2016's Hitman. The main new feature was 'opportunities'. It took those overheard conversations and turned them into quests within a level, giving you mini objectives to kill your targets - 'find wrench', 'access attic', 'loosen chandelier'. It was a great way of guiding us through our first playthrough of a mission, essentially giving a guided tour of how the targets behaved and how we could get at them.
But it's also a system that veteran Hitman players have criticised because it spoils a mission's secrets. Since the first game launched there's been the option to turn opportunities off, so players have always been able to play a 'pure' run of Hitman if they wanted to. Hitman 3's third level is a love letter to those players. You go into the level blind - no briefing, no intel, you don't even know how many targets you have to kill or who they are. There are no flagged opportunities, it's all up to you. I won't spoil anything about it - it's up to you to explore the excellent level and do all the detective work for yourself.
Hitman 3 does have new features - there are now shortcuts you can unlock in one playthrough that will remain open in later playthroughs, and a camera you can use to hack certain locks and computers. They're nice additions, but they're really not the selling point of this sequel. In fact, it almost feels strange talking of Hitman 3 as a sequel. The game comes bundled with all the missions of Hitman and Hitman 2 (2018), and all the items and outfits you unlock for completing those earlier missions can be used in Hitman 3's levels, and vice versa. By bundling this new game with its preceding pair, and featuring levels designed to respond to the design of those older games, it feels more like the final chapters of a single story than the standalone, concluding part of a trilogy.
Hitman 3 features both some of the best missions of the series so far and, with the bundled older levels, you get all the other standouts included. Which is a rough way of saying this is the best way to play the Hitman series as well as being an essential new Hitman game in its own right.
The steady release of Hitman games over the past five years has been a constant joy. Each new game has been better than the last, and has provided that unique hit of silly sandbox stealth that no other series quite captures. So it's a shame the trilogy is coming to an end, and it may be a long time until we see another full-blooded Hitman release. But this is a fitting send off for Agent 47, until our deadly paths cross again.
Pros: excellently designed levels, enjoyable to replay over and over, includes Hitman (2016) and Hitman 2 (2018)
Cons: we likely won't see another Hitman game for a while
For fans of: Dishonored, Deus Ex, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Hitman 3 is released for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC on January 20th. Review code for PC was provided by Square Enix. Find a complete guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
Featured Image Credit: IO Interactive
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