This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but Hitman 3 is very good. It’s more confident than its predecessors, and while that confidence manifests itself primarily in crafty new assassination methods and improved storytelling, Hitman 3 occasionally misses the mark.
If you’re familiar with Hitman 2, Hitman 3 is a very similar package: five sprawling sandbox missions in five stunning, exotic locations, plus one mission that is much smaller in scope. It’s enough for a first run-through – easily seven hours from start to finish – but the relaunched Hitman series is all about exploration, both at the sandbox level and the murder mechanics it contains. It takes nearly 25 hours to earn the coveted Silent Assassin, Suit Only badge for all six missions, and I imagine it will take another 25 hours to check off all the challenges for each location.
How these hours are distributed is a little more uneven this time. The first two levels, Dubai and Dartmoor, are new Hitman. They are massive, open and full of variety. To really understand how each of these functions work, it takes hours of storage to identify patrol times, targeting routines, CCTV positions, and the locations of key tools. To help you get to grips with each level quickly, developer IO Interactive offers ‘Mission Stories’ – guided and highly stylized means of accomplishing your goal that introduce you to key areas and help you understand the flow of the level.
Dubai’s cloudbreaking skyscraper contains three largely separate areas linked by staff corridors, external maintenance routes and backstage areas. Its structure and arrangement are incomprehensible when you first take control of Agent 47. With the help of Mission Stories, however, you can piece the puzzle together to reveal a path to your goals – one in the maze corridors, the other in the penthouse. In contrast to Hitman 2, IO Interactive wants to drive players deep with Dubai.
Next up is Dartmoor, an opulent English mansion with burial sites for ancestors and a warring family that fills the halls with quarrels and bitterness. In one of the mission stories there is an obvious reference to Knives Out where you take on the role of a private detective and interview the whole wretched family one by one. Tempting, but I choose to dress up as a photographer and gather everyone outside for a portrait, somewhere picturesque, like in front of a fountain … with my aim on a metal chair near a leak and some exposed cables from my lighting system.
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Without wanting to give too much away, the family is gathered for a funeral. For my escape, I go to the grave site, place a rake near the unoccupied grave and wait for the undertaker Sideshow to show Bob his way into the next life. I take his clothes and the keys to his hearse, bury him, and then calmly make my escape.
Shortcuts that permanently unlock more efficient paths through a level when opened are an important addition, but they fit so seamlessly into the unlockable starting positions and hidden hiding spots that they never really feel that new or important. Likewise, Agent 47 can now bring a camera into levels, which is primarily a hacking tool. Aside from being a remote tool, there’s nothing different from a lockpick: hold down a button and you’re at it.
The third mission in a Berghain-like nightclub just outside Berlin gets interesting, but not necessarily better. You are without a mission leader, which means there is no need to guide mission stories through the place. Plus, you don’t know who your grades are, and you’ll need to take out at least five targets before heading to the exit.
I need to know why there’s a cannon that I can load and fire
When all of these tools are removed from you and you don’t know who you are up against, the most atmospheric and claustrophobic mission in the newly launched Hitman series easily emerges. The downside is that it’s easy to get lost or locked in any part of the map. There are extravagant means of carrying out some of the targets, but if you don’t have a guide, you’ll have to invest a lot of time learning every aspect of a place before hoping to pull off one of these assassinations. I probably spent most of my time in the Berlin Mission, but it’s still the mission I know least about.
The fourth mission in Chongqing City is to return to form with its densely packed apartment blocks, fascinating neon aesthetics and cartoonish villain. The mission stories here are some of the most scripted in the series, but they are also the most elaborate. Sign up for human experiments and then fry your target’s brain scanner-style? Oh yes please. Are you going on a tour of a super secret organization under the guise of a senior member and then use the shiny new technology they show you to literally wipe out your target? Delicious.
A vineyard outside of the Argentine city of Mendoza is the last sandpit you will visit in Hitman 3. There is a vineyard you can sneak through. You can get into the main party’s crowd and then sneak through the HR sections, or if you spot the Same NPC near the start you can bypass the lot and find a much more direct route to your two destinations.
Chongqing is a return to form with its densely packed apartment blocks and fascinating neon aesthetics
Mendoza is as sprawling and complicated as you make it – I spent nearly two hours clearing it out for a Silent Assassin, Suit Only Run, and then recharging it in just under 20 minutes. And there’s so much more to learn like: Why is there a cannon that I can load and fire? How do I access Don Yates’ safe? And is it possible to kill someone with the giant grape press? Or, better yet, how many people can I kill with the presser at the same time?
All of this potential is exactly why the final act is so disappointing. Five beautiful and sturdy murder sandpits culminate in a linear slog from one end of a train to the other. There are some nuances to the navigation, but almost everything that makes the relaunched Hitman series great is missing from its closing mission. In honor of IO Interactive, the story in Hitman 3 is delivered more consistently and thoughtfully than in the previous games. So when you get to the final mission, at least something other than murderous curiosity will propel you to the finish line.
Storytelling is perhaps the biggest area of improvement for IO Interactive. Instead of piecing together each sandpit with a few cutscenes, IO starts tinkering with the sandboxes themselves. The Berlin Mission is the perfect example: The entire level is characterized by the lack of a handler, both in narrative and in its effect on the rhythms of the new series known today.
As Agent 47, you are so used to being alerted to bad guys and how to meticulously eliminate them that it feels equally liberating and confusing to go rudderless on a mission. Other missions offer dialogues that lead straight to cutscenes and remind you of the overarching narrative in the middle of the game. Later even a friendly face is added to take out a target.
It’s a shame this is probably the last time we’ll see Agent 47 for quite a long time, just as IO is taking its creative step. While they don’t always pay off, these formula changes finally got me invested in Hitman’s story, and the inconsistencies they introduce make some levels like Berlin some of the most memorable on the series. They also lead to a disappointing finale, but the good generally outweighs the bad. Hopefully this experiment finds fertile ground in IO’s upcoming Bond game, as I don’t want to wait for another Hitman trilogy to play another stealth game as good as it is.