The thing I adore most about the Hitman series is it tells you “you’re the world’s greatest assassin” and then your incredibly rich, hyper-intelligent target dies after venturing too close to a cliff edge to pick up a penny. Despite the more serious tone dedicated to the third installment of IO Interactive’s popular stealth trilogy, much of Hitman 3 is still rooted in its comical approach to each situation and the creative kills it allows you to pull off.
The levels once again illustrate the bold and bright approach IO Interactive takes to mix clever storytelling with fun opportunities and open-ended gameplay that it also did in the previous two games. Taking us from the intimate yet expansive mansion in Dartmoor to the abandoned power plant-turned-rave club in Berlin, there’s so much variety that’s been added to the plate that every new mission feels like a radical departure from the one you just completed while they each still feel wholly Hitman-esque.
Something that sets apart this release from its predecessors is that IOI prioritises telling its main plot within the levels too rather than leaving them relegated to short cutscenes bookending each mission. There are a lot of miscellaneous objectives that you need to perform during gameplay outside of killing the main targets, with a few linear sections sprinkled in too, which break the expected pacing that the first two Hitman games delivered. Fortunately, these sequences are optional on replays, and so only really depend on how invested you are in the story the first time around to be effective.
What this means though is with the first two games it felt like IOI’s approach to level design was to create the maps first and then bend the story to fit them, but here it’s almost the opposite. The set pieces do work, to a greater degree than they did in a game such as Hitman Absolution, but it does result in some noticeably weaker moments in the campaign.
These occur in nearly every level in the campaign but are most noticeable beginning with its third mission set in Berlin. Without spoiling much, this location features almost a dozen targets with very little tangibility to them. Each one patrols their own tiny portion of the map with few kill opportunities linked to them. While the map itself is fantastic, capable of delivering some stylish John Wick moments as you stalk your prey through a bustling rave crowd, the presentation of these targets leaves you feeling a little disappointed IOI didn’t flesh out the targets in this map.
Then there’s the sixth and final map, which already set off my alarm bells when I saw it only had five levels of mastery compared to the usual 20. Rather than this map being the culmination of all the skills and experience you picked up across the trilogy, it sacrifices all of that in favour of a linear mission that feels like the antithesis of what a traditional Hitman mission should be.
Putting the finale aside, none of the levels are really that bad. They each offer the creative freedom you’ve come to expect from a Hitman game. The opening mission, which is set in a Dubai skyscraper towering high above the clouds, feels like your traditional level with two targets, several mission stories and practically endless ways to explore the location. Then you get to the next one set in an old countryside manor in Dartmoor, where IO Interactive decides to experiment with how well it can twist the formula. This includes an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery where you can literally assume the identity of a private eye and use that to get close to your target.
Besides that, IO Interactive didn’t go overboard with adding new features to the game. There’s a new camera tool which allows you to hack into various items, as well as locked shortcuts baked into the levels that persist across playthroughs once you open them. These don’t make any substantial changes to the overall experience, but they do bring in new ways to think about how you approach each stage.
The trademark bonus game modes; the sniper missions, escalations and user-made contracts, make a return. These are what extended the previous two games’ lifespan for me, and being able to play custom content where literally any NPC in the level can be a target adds an endless amount of replay value to each map. It’s a relief to see these features have not been abandoned.
This also unfortunately means the always-online DRM returns. This is the system that requires you to maintain a constant internet connection to get the full experience. Challenges and unlocks are unavailable while offline, which causes huge problems if you have an unstable network or the servers go down. This was exacerbated during launch week, when half the users couldn’t connect to the Hitman 3 servers at all. Outage like this is expected for any game launch with a huge playerbase, but to tie so much content to an online connection seems unfair.
It’s silly to say at this point, but my recommendation of this game simply extends to “it’s Hitman, but more of it.” The familiar gameplay loop of stalking your target, learning the patterns of those around you and triggering a chain of events that lead you to pulling off the perfect assassination is just as enticing here as it was when the first game released. It says a lot about how well this formula works when you see how very little has changed between iterations.
Despite a few blunders, Hitman 3 is a fully competent sequel and, together with its predecessors, deserves to go down in history as one of gaming’s greatest trilogies of all time.
Tested on PC
Also available on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, Stadia
Developer IO Interactive
Publisher IO Interactive