Hitman 3 sees developer IOI bring their reboot of the assassin simulator puzzle game to a close. Or, to be technical, their World of Assassination trilogy. Players once again take control of the bald, monotone apex predator, Agent 47, as he travels around the world eliminating the One Percent – and that’s not me making a judgement call, the main villain literally calls this collection of targets that name.
The elevator pitch is simple: You are put into the polished shoes of Agent 47, in exotic locations, you have a singular or multiple targets that must be eliminated, sometimes you must also steal or destroy an item, then extract yourself, without being detected. (Being detected is not mission-ending, but it does undermine a clean rating.)
How you go about accomplishing the task is up to you.
Players are given large sandboxes that they can turn into mousetraps.
Targets can be eliminated in multiple, sometimes hilarious, ways. You can make their deaths painful or quick; perhaps your method of assassination includes hiding the corpse – such as tossing them into a grave; perhaps it is the result of what looks like an accident. Every target has different movement patterns, bodyguards, levels of trust, priority concerns, which can be exploited to your advantage. Sometimes events occur in the world that require you to be there at the right time and place – such as one target who is in the final laps of a car race.
Every level is meticulously designed and looks gorgeous, allowing for verticality as well as plenty of interior exploration. Stories abound with NPCs, who have some relation to the target which Agent 47 can exploit: For example, upon arriving at an English manor, Agent 47 overhears a man who is a private investigator (more on this later); or, another mission, we discover 47 looks remarkably like a famous catwalk model.
Key to play is learning these different stories, so that Agent 47 can use them to his benefit. Inevitably, all lead you to some proximity to the target: either spaces where they are alone, rushing off to a dangerous destination or are left in some kind of vulnerable space allowing for 47 to end their life.
47 can either in his own guise interrupt the train of a story or can disguise himself as a key player. For example, if the target is going to have a private one-on-one meeting with someone, Agent 47 can knock that person out and – due to the magic of video games – perfectly fit their clothes and convey to someone he is this other person. Sometimes this is comical: 47 can disguise himself as, for example, a world-famous Saudi prince that the target knows personally and, without effacing even a different accent, this bald white guy speaks and pretends to be said prince.
But this isn’t a game one plays for the sake of realism. It’s a puzzle game, where you are meant to lose pieces, accidentally knock your tower of a plan down, restart and so on. Individual stories are sometimes delightful and the overarching story is rather enjoyable – but this isn’t a game advanced deep narratives. It’s about playing with the toybox IOI gives you, using the tools you have, to execute your masterpiece of a plan.
I want to give you an example.
The Private Eye
Now, what you must understand is I am obsessed with Agatha Christie.
I own literally all her works. I screamed at the end of two of her books. One of the missions in Hitman 3 is called “Death in the Family” set in Dartmoor, England – but what it does, for me, is establish the variability of the formula IOI have created. It’s a distillation of the mechanics and gameplay loop that makes this one of the most compelling games I’ve ever played.
First, Agent 47 begins the mission overhearing a man at the gate a large manor, in which the target resides. The man indicates he is there for a meeting with the lady of the manor (who happens to be Agent 47’s target) and is a private investigator.
English countryside, manor, private investigator, a butler – it’s all very Christie.
After following the PI inside, I saved the game because you must and should save scum as much as possible. The difficulty was his path to the manor was out in the open and there appeared initially no way to get to him. He eventually gets to the front garden and a house worker says to him “Oh, I’m so glad you’re here.” He responds and indicates he wants to be taken to the lady of the house. “Very good sir, please follow me.”
Now it was definitely too late.
So I reloaded a save. And this is what I did.
- I tossed a coin at some nearby bushes. This caused the PI to stop and investigate.
- When he got close, I emerged from the bushes and strangled him until he passed out.
- I stashed his body in the bushes so it wouldn’t be found.
- I then disguised myself as the investigator, making sure no one saw me.
- I then walked up the waiting house worker and the same dialogue happened, except this time it was Agent 47 saying the lines.
From there, you are tasked with solving the murder mystery. It involved speaking to a colourful cast of Christie-esque characters, who all had some degree of motivation for the murder. Wonderfully, you can accused the wrong person based on not ridiculous grounds. But the actual solution is rather wonderful and very in keeping with Agatha Christie stories.
To get to your target, 47 must solve the murder and get access to the safe. After solving it, the target needed to be left alone and thus 47 was able to quietly eliminate her.
Like all missions, Dartmoor allows for a variety of methods of elimination. Exploring the map reveals them and leads to sometimes comical animations and deaths. Perhaps you uncover secret passages or take on the disguise of someone managing a fake funeral; perhaps you become the photographer with his lethal flash.
Many methods. Many hours and hours of fun.
To me, this is not so much the third game in a trilogy as the third episode in a series. (The first two games were literally episodic in their release schedule, but for now, that’s irrelevant: The episodic nature was abandoned in this third title.) Nothing dramatically changes as you move from the second to the third game – in fact, I played all three games on the third game’s client, as every level comes bundled as part of Hitman 3, provided you own the previous games (and the DLC).
The new game, running on next-gen technology, is truly a looker.
It’s no secret the Hitman franchise has almost always been a puzzle game – minus the linear focus from Absolution. You’re supposed to fail and learn, set up situations which then trigger the outcome you want – i.e. an assassination. You eventually are supposed to become so familiar with every map and mission it becomes second nature, like being able to immediately spot a good hand in Poker or an opening in chess.
Because it’s a puzzle game, it’s hard to get bored of it easily. Thus, despite only having limited levels, the design is always familiar. This allows also for various different Escalation missions and used-designed contracts, that continue to make it feel interesting and fun – minus the unique dialogue options. There is plenty to experience, making for a fantastic package.
My main gripe is the game’s performance. On PS5, there is an immersion-breaking audio glitch that, when swapping rooms or scenes, causes sounds to simply cut off or music to stop. It undermines the experience so severely that I cannot bring myself to play it at the moment. I only finished the game so I could write about it.
Further, the main gripe with this trilogy remains: You need to be connected to the servers to get any achievements. It’s utterly nonsensical that, for a single-player game, you are required to be connected in order to advance and get the achievements you work hard to obtain. It’s a bizarre decision and I can’t see why it exists – if it is to combat cheating, it seems poorly considered. I’m not sure who cares about cheating since it is not a multiplayer game? Speaking as someone who lives in South Africa, I really hope we one day see the end of single-player games requiring an internet connection.
There also appears to be some problems with the server: For example, the Sniper Assassin missions immediately disconnect upon completion meaning your progress in achievement acquisition is lost. It’s truly a nightmare and, if you go offline, nothing is saved for when the server reconnects.
It seems as though IOI is aware of these issues – minus the always online component which seems built into the system – but for now, I am hesitant to recommend playing it, at least currently on PS5. (Further, PS5 owners are not guaranteed ray-tracing, even though the less powerful Xbox Series S is getting it.)
In the end this is a game that is brilliant but broken– I suppose much like the titular character himself.
(Game copy purchased by INDG for purposes of review; available on all leading platforms, including current and next-gen systems. Reviewed on PS5.)