The clock is ticking, 47. Good luck.
In a similar style to its murderous mascot, IO Interactive has been silently but efficiently weaving one of the best contemporary stealth-action games of the modern era over the last four years. 2016’s Hitman was a confident and effortlessly cool return to the franchise’s roots, hampered only by its episodic format, while 2018’s Hitman 2 expanded exponentially on its concept, offering the boldest and best iteration of the series to date.
IO Interactive’s third and final entry in its World of Assassination Trilogy, Hitman 3, is yet more proof that it’s one of the most creative studios working today. Taking the formula of the previous two entries and tinkering with what makes them tick, IO’s third outing – while maybe not as strong as its second – continues to offer the same injection of slick Hitman stealth while experimenting with a handful of fresh ideas.
As with 2018’s take on the stoic assassin, Hitman 3 almost feels more like an expansion than a full-blown sequel. In terms of gameplay, nothing has changed regarding how Agent 47 navigates and interacts with the world. Though he has got a handy new camera that allows him to scan objects for additional intel, and the game also features new “permanent shortcuts” which sees players unlock hidden entrances to some of the game’s harder to access areas that will remain open in subsequent playthroughs.
Both are novel features that add layers to each map, but as always, the standout addition here is the vast range of expansive new locations 47 can visit. As with each entry in the World of Assassination Trilogy, Hitman 3 comes loaded with six new areas to explore, and while they’re slightly smaller than I might’ve liked, there’s no real weak link here. Hitman 3 has refined its dynamic formula so expertly that every sandbox makes you want to click the replay button instantly, whether that’s to follow the more linear mission opportunities or to set up your own dastardly assassination masterplan.
From stunning views of a towering Dubai skyscraper to the neon-soaked streets of Chongqing, every location in Hitman 3 perfectly incorporates the dynamic, quasi-puzzle-solving gameplay that the series was built upon. Figuring out how each location ticks and what mix of opportunities players can utilize to finish their targets is more satisfying than ever, especially considering each new locale offers plenty of grisly, over-the-top ways to off your targets.
On top of that, Hitman 3’s jump to the next generation of consoles – I reviewed it on PlayStation 5 – renders these stunning locations in jaw-dropping 4K, fully showcasing IO’s technical accomplishment. If there’s any title you can show to your non-gaming mates to prove refreshing the Argos PS5 page for hours on end was worth it, this is undeniably it. (Sorry, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.)
Although each level manages to offer something wildly entertaining and often quite different to prior Hitman locations, its best is without question the Dartmoor Manor map. Seeing 47 travel to a large English mansion ripped straight out of an Agartha Christie novel, one of the hired killer’s assassination methods allows him to suit up as a famed detective, hired to solve a murder within the estate. Showcasing the studio’s aptitude for dark humour and its frequently amusing characterisation of the wonderfully deadpan Agent 47, players have to question suspects, find clues, and eventually present evidence in a bid to come closer to eliminating their target.
It’s an exceptional slice of Hitman fun and one that sums up what makes IO’s reboot so thoroughly compelling, as you experiment with the parameters of your disguise to see what fun new assassination avenues it offers. That’s not to say all of Hitman 3 is so overtly familiar, however.
One level – which sees Agent 47 traverse through a crowded Berlin nightclub – entirely removes guided mission opportunities, leaving players to figure out the best ways to dispatch foes through paying attention to environmental clues. Meanwhile, the game’s grand finale is unlike any other map in the trilogy thus far. It’s a thrilling climax and one I won’t spoil here, but the ending plays around with a more linear, almost Hitman Absolution style of level design.
However, the unifying change through all maps is that they’re far more story-focused, with missions often centring around 47 and his allies’ bid to take down the trilogy’s secret society antagonists, Providence. Missions always start and end with dramatic cutscenes and there’s an increase in in-game set pieces due to its stronger reliance on narrative, whether that’s a high-octane escape from an underground base or a HALO jump onto a skyscraper. For the most part, these make for some thrilling moments that don’t upset the rhythm of what makes Hitman 3 such a unique experience to play, although they do leave certain levels slightly less freeform than before.
The main problem is that story has always been Hitman’s weakest asset. As hard as it tries to get you invested, Agent 47 is at his best when he’s acting as a one-liner-spouting agent of chaos in the small stories he’s inserted into. As soon as he’s cast as a leading man alongside a series of one-dimensional side characters, things start to get cheesy and cliché. It’s the reason Absolution was a low point for the series and, unfortunately, it never particularly lands here either.
To add to that, there’s a small number of bugs that crop up here and there. Nothing too daunting, but I was party to several audio cut-outs and NPC animations gone awry. And, as usual, the AI in these games can be amusingly dumb. It’s not a huge knock, because it often feels like the odds need to be stacked slightly in your favour, but you do have to start questioning how so many guards fall for 47 throwing coins in a neat line to a secluded, body-shaped dumpster.
Nonetheless, this is a staggeringly strong send-off from IO Interactive, taking Agent 47 on stylish and substantial final tour around the world. Its gorgeous levels open into some of the most liberating sandboxes the series has featured, with its environments offering near-limitless assassination opportunities and the varied set of tools needed to accomplish them. There are few games as confidently made as Hitman 3, and it’s yet more proof that IO Interactive fundamentally gets what makes the franchise such an iconic cornerstone of the stealth genre.
IO Interactive might be moving on to 007 next, but here’s hoping it won’t be too long before we see that bar-coded bald head once again.
Hitman 3 review
Platform: PS5 (reviewed), Xbox Series X|S, PS4, Xbox One, PC, Stadia, Nintendo Switch (cloud streaming)
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: IO Interactive
Release Date: January 20, 2021
Hitman 3 is a masterful final chapter for IO Interactive’s reboot trilogy, offering a range of stunning sandboxes filled with satisfying assassination opportunities and a dynamic set of tools that reward experimentation. With the studio closing out its reboot in style, IO has cemented it as the definitive interpretation of Hitman and one of the most consistent trilogies of the last decade.
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