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Hitman 3 Review

Concluding the World of Assassination trilogy, HITMAN 3 takes Agent 47 and his allies on another globe-spanning series of high-profile murders. This time, the best assassin in the world isn’t working on contract – he’s killing for himself.

HITMAN (2016), HITMAN 2 (2018), and HITMAN 3 (2021) are a unique blend of stealth, action, social deduction, and speedrun-routing. You play as Agent 47, the titular hitman himself, tasked with eliminating targets in large, non-linear levels. In the main campaign, there are no restrictions on how you eliminate your prey – the means to their ends are left up to you. 

Sure, you could sneak up through the back of the building and shoot them with your iconic silenced Silverballer. You could also disguise yourself as a waiter, poison your target’s wine, and be halfway to the exit by the time they hit the ground. But the real fun comes from analyzing what makes each level unique, and playing with the deadly toys left lying around in each locale. In one level, you can fry your target’s mind with your own brainwaves. Another level sets you up to cause a huge wine leak, covering the floor in liquid – I wonder what will happen if you turn on that cable that runs across the now-soaked floor?

My favorite kill of HITMAN 3 has been the first kill I pulled off in the game. By following a Mission Story (a guided series of steps that expands the plot and helps you get close to your target) I was able to get my two targets in the same room. During the Mission Story, I happened to overhear a maintenance worker on the phone to her friend, explaining that she “wasn’t going to go through with it.” After a bit of digging, I found a golf ball in her toolbox. An explosive golf ball.

Who am I to resist a deeply silly and satisfying kill? With both of my targets sitting close on couches, one well-aimed golf ball to the head finished them off simultaneously. This is what’s known in the business as “killing two birds with one stone.”

By ensuring that 47 doesn’t really struggle with physical or social tasks, the game says to the player “You have the perfect tool at your disposal. It’s up to you to use it well.” As such, the WoA HITMAN games have been great for those of us who like to challenge ourselves arbitrarily, just for fun. This kind of play dynamic leads to situations like the one where I decided to disguise myself as a character that had no right to sneak into a biker’s drug facility, pick up a highly attention-drawing sniper rifle, and then decided to eliminate my remaining three targets across the map with it – at close range.

That’s not to say that HITMAN doesn’t challenge you to extreme tasks on its own. Beating the classic “Silent Assassin, Suit Only” challenge on a level is the mark of a masterful player. If you’re not familiar, the SASO challenge requires you to kill only your targets, never be spotted committing a crime, never have the bodies of your targets found – and do it all without disguises. When I played HITMAN 2 last year, I never even bothered trying to SASO a level – because they were just too big. H3 has learned from the excess of 2 though, and the levels are a reasonable size while still being full of exciting and unique components. I’ve actually enjoyed replaying the levels in H3, because they don’t take me as long as the levels in 2 – but I don’t feel like I’m interacting with less game. Each element feels like it matters more on these smaller levels – and I feel like I’m able to hold them in my mind better because they connect together more smoothly than the previous games. 

In a lot of WoA levels, the targets are completely separate, sequestered to their own corners of the map. In H2, this became a chore, only able to trigger them to group up under very specific circumstances, and with a lot of waiting for them to cross the map. In H3, the sections of the level feel like they actually overlap, and that with some clever planning you could get your targets to meet in the middle. If you pull off the wine leak mentioned above, one of your targets barrels across the map to investigate, yelling at employees and trying to figure out what happened. It gets him out of his secured villa, but more than anything it makes it feel like you’re in one level, as opposed to one section disconnected from everything else. It’s a huge improvement over a level like Miami (which I love) from H2, where a racetrack literally cuts the level in half.

As ever, the writing in the levels is excellent. The interactions 47 has with NPCs are amusing and evocative, and the side character voice-cast knocks it out of the park. The way the WoA games use stumbled-upon scenes has been a masterclass in giving the player useful information without sign-posting it, only rewarding you if you’re playing like 47 is actually undercover: moving slowly, leaning against railings, blending in with the world as the people around him casually spill information about how to get to the target. The audio engineering, voice direction, and sharp writing makes it seem natural, even though as the player you know that the dialogue is triggered by 47 walking nearby.

The way that HITMAN’s gameplay and discovery loop evolves is brilliant. As you learn more about the level by exploring, understanding guard patterns and routes through the map, you naturally become faster at moving through certain portions of the environment. If you can jump ahead a few steps in your target’s pattern, you’ll catch new interactions or hints, which improve your understanding and aptitude even further. Combined with the mastery system (which unlocks new starting locations around the level by completing small challenges), the player is constantly learning something new, whether that’s something about the game system or the tools at play in the level. HITMAN wants you to play it well, rewarding your demonstrations of game knowledge and mechanical skill with increased freedom of choice.

Hitman 3 shakes up the discovery loop by adding in permanently unlockable shortcuts to each level – allowing you to reroute to your kill on any subsequent run. Finding an unlockable shortcut is exciting, but I haven’t exploited them to their fullest potential yet. The most notable moment of shortcut use I have was when my first attempt at a Suit Only run on Dubai hinged around being able to scale from the helipad into the maintenance chamber off the penthouse.

I had two weird and wonderful moments that feel semi-connected to the way H3 shares information with the player: H3 primed me to want certain things, and then delivered exactly those things. During Dartmoor, in which you can choose to follow through on a side mission of solving a murder mystery, I thought “it would be cool to play a level where your target is another assassin.” The level immediately after, Berlin, tasks you with doing just that. Then, during Berlin’s scenes of drug use, flashing neon lights, and thumping bass, I thought “hey, it would be cool to do a Psychonauts-style level inside 47’s brain,” which is how the final level of H3 begins. I have no idea if that phenomenon was intentional, but it has stuck with me – and I have enough faith in IOI’s design brilliance that I’m willing to believe it was on purpose.

Three weeks after release, H3 still has some serious and hilarious bugs. Serious, like a target losing her red highlighting for seemingly no reason, and regaining it only after I had died and reloaded. Hilarious, like a target getting up from his chair to investigate a noise and dragging his chair with him, stuck between his legs, before his chair unceremoniously remembered what it was supposed to be doing and slid back to the table. These, while perplexing, are minor. The bugs where it seems like certain bits of the environment meant to provide cover can still be seen through by guards are slightly more major. The constant server disconnections are deeply annoying, and are a loud reminder that always-online will be the death of AAA single-player gaming. Stop putting it in your games. I’m serious.

While a buggy release is frustrating, it’s only been three weeks, and I expect that the team at IOI will have things fixed relatively soon. I feel like I can’t say enough how well-made H3 is overall, and the fact that you can also play H1 and H2 inside of H3 is a technological blessing. H3 is now the definitive edition of two of the greatest games of the past five years, wrapped into a new, additional masterpiece. The WoA trilogy is a genuine triumph of video gaming – it’s exciting to simply flick through the Location menu and see the combined oeuvre of the HITMAN team available to play at any moment.

Despite its troubled first days of existence, the end-result is masterful. HITMAN 3 is the culmination of five years of thrilling gameplay in the World of Assassination era, and the addition of its new levels to the remastering of H1 and 2 will hopefully provide many more years of exciting, silly, and challenging play for the future. I’m eager to return to it, hone my skills, and hopefully, one day – achieve that fabled SASO.

GameRev was provided with a digital download of the game for the purpose of this review.

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