Hitman 3

Hitman 3 represents a new gold standard for a singular game franchise.

In Hitman‘s 20 year history, the series found a unique gameplay formula, that it would refine over time into a finely tuned engine of death. Players are presented with a large sandbox with many moving pieces to study carefully, devise your strategy, time your moments, and execute with ruthless efficiency. Or get caught carrying a corpse to a bin, panicking, and then shooting everyone in sight. At their core, they were puzzle games about murder.

The series hit a high point with Hitman: Blood Money in 2006, the gameplay would still need some refinements, but in terms of level design and variety in mission design, nothing could touch it. The series ran into issues with the deeply misguided Hitman: Absolution, which swapped the sandbox puzzle formula for linear, story-driven (largely stealth-based) gameplay and risked alienating their dedicated fanbase. Thankfully, Hitman was revived in 2016 with the first instalment of the World of Assassination trilogy. This new series brought Hitman back to its roots with ingeniously designed levels with revised, improved gameplay. After two successful entries in the trilogy, expectations were high for the concluding chapter. If this was going to be the final chapter of Hitman, at least for the foreseeable future, fans needed something special.

Hitman 3 got the job done and, as a lifelong fan, I could not be happier.

Hitman 3 avoids tinkering with the classic formula. It does not add or change much about how the game plays. The one major new addition to the gameplay is the use of a camera, which can scan for clues and hack into computers and digital panels where possible. Each level tries to use this mechanic, so it always feels like an essential addition rather than a gimmick.

While the gameplay is largely untouched from previous entries, where Hitman 3 really excels, in the most important element of any good Hitman game, is the way it approaches level design. Each entry in the series has used the technology of the time to increase their levels’ complexity, and Hitman 3 has made some substantial leaps forward for the series. They had perhaps a dozen or so NPCs in earlier games, and the number has increased with each game. With Hitman 3, there are now hundreds of NPCs in some of these levels, this adds more moving parts to the levels you need to account for in your strategies.

The levels have also increased in scale. From the very first mission, the scale is evident. You find yourself traversing the outside of a gigantic Dubai skyscraper, the camera is allowed to pull out to show off just how far above the clouds you are, and the interior of the lavish structure is just as grand and impressive. The dedication to offering visually impressive levels that stand apart from what came before it. The levels offer incredible variety in terms of their aesthetic and mood and their mission structure.

The opening Dubai mission is big and often cinematic feeling. The Dartmoor mission is a real standout in the series, turning the game into a full-blown murder mystery for you Christie fans. The level makes full use of all the established mechanics but in a refreshing new way. It shows that Hitman is a series still capable of surprising you after 20 years. Every level that follows feels unique, you never feel like you are repeating yourself.

While the ‘mission stories’ return in this game and offer some easy to follow, tightly structured progression options – the game does present you with a wealth of alternative strategies that aren’t guided by in-game prompts. Additionally, even though the mission stories guide you along the way, they never spell out how to execute the kill once you get there. They lead the horse to water, but it’s down to you whether you want to drown someone in it.

These levels also look fantastic. The game has made a significant leap forward in terms of presentation. The textures feel more tangible, the use of light and shadow is stunning, with the Berlin and Chongqing levels giving the game a chance to show off its new ray-tracing tech. Hitman has always been a series striving to create an atmosphere and these new visual tricks only enhance that; it may seem like a minor thing, but the neon glow of a sign reflecting in a puddle of rainwater adds so much to your immersion in that world. It helps anchor you in this world’s reality and makes your actions within it feel more consequential.

The story’s presentation is also a step up from Hitman 2, which used static cut scenes for much of it, whereas this returns to the full cinematic presentation of Hitman. This definitely helps the story. As a lifelong fan of the Hitman series, I am invested in the twists and turns of this new trilogy’s story and how it builds on 20 years of lore, but new or casual fans should not feel deterred. The story is largely a framing device for these delicious sandbox puzzles, you can invest in it or skim it, and the core gameplay will remain strong. For fans, Hitman 3‘s story has a far more reflective mood. This is very much a game looking back on its history and forcing characters to confront what they’ve done and who they’ve become. If this is a swan song for the series, as IO Interactive moves on to James Bond, this is a perfect conclusion to Agent 47’s story.

Hitman 3 also allows players to download and replay levels from Hitman and Hitman 2 through this game’s improved UI. The levels benefit from Hitman 3‘s refined controls and interface, and there is a slight visual polish. The games won’t stand out as starkly as Hitman 3, but they still look a little better than they used to, and these levels are also terrific. It is really beneficial to have the entire trilogy accessible through one game, rather than download three separate games.

For the longest time, Hitman: Blood Money stood as the high point of the series. The 2006 classic offered back to back classic levels that looked and felt unique, with ingenious mission structures. Even with the hugely successful reboot of Hitman and Hitman 2, it felt like Blood Money would never be bettered. Hitman 3 has finally taken Blood Money‘s crown as the new benchmark for Hitman level design. Each level is a mini-masterpiece, it looks and sounds incredible, and each mission’s replay value is immense. While this instalment is no gamechanger in its mechanics, it has blown away expectations where it counts.

If this is the end, Hitman 3 is a perfect send-off to a classic series.


Updated: Jan 20, 2021

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