A Familiar Target
HIGH Some Mission Stories have unexpected narrative payoffs.
LOW None of the new maps blew me away.
WTF Story leaps between missions can be jarring.
Back in 2018 when I reviewed Hitman 2 for GameCritics, my closing line was “I feel confident that 47’s best is yet to come.” Now that IO Interactive has released the finale in its new Hitman Trilogy, was my prediction correct? Not really, but I can say that this new entry is a quality game on its own terms and a worthy addition to the canon.
In Hitman 3, players are back in the expertly-tailored suit of Agent 47 as he hops around the globe to six new locations that task him with assassinating a variety of targets. As usual, the action is of the third-person variety as 47 stalks each locale while donning disguises, learning a target’s location and routine, and mapping the quickest way out after a hit. This is all largely par for the course, for good or for ill.
Perhaps the best thing I can say about Hitman 3 is that this iteration nails the feeling of playing through a cinematic action-spy thriller. Each mission features flashes of Mission: Impossible, James Bond, John Wick and… oddly enough, Knives Out? Considering IO’s next task literally is to bring James Bond back to videogames, it seems like Hitman 3 was a bit of early prep-work for them.
Considering Hitman lives and dies by its maps, I’m slightly disappointed to say that the high I felt exploring Sapienza in Hitman 2016 isn’t matched here, but some come close. I found the rainy, Blade Runner-esque Chinese city to be particularly delicious, and the seedy, multilayered nightclub in Berlin got my blood pumping in time with the DJ’s rhythmic bass beats.
Along with these, 47 also visits the tallest skyscraper in Dubai, a dusty English manor, a lush Argentinian vineyard and a white-knuckle finale location which I don’t want to spoil here. Most maps are labyrinthine affairs in true Hitman form, but none are as gargantuan as previous offerings like the aforementioned Sapienza or Mumbai.
I’ve written at length in past reviews about how disappointing I find most of Hitman‘s stories, and 3’s is only slightly above-average. In the current trilogy, Agent 47 and his handler Diana Burnwood have taken contracts from a shadow client that led them down a path featuring hints of 47’s past and of an Illuminati-like group pulling society’s strings. Although I wouldn’t call this plot great, it offers variety by forcing 47 into both proactive revenge scenarios and sequences where he’s flying by the seat of his pants when things don’t go according to plan. The mission-to-mission balance is perfect.
In terms of how the story is told, I did find some story leaps between missions that took some strange liberties. One particular cutscene which I won’t spoil felt like it could have been an entire mission itself. It came out of nowhere, was oddly action-oriented and forwarded a major story moment in a rushed and clumsy way. Other oddness includes mission briefings which are delivered by other characters, making the narrative feel disjointed. However, when the trilogy is viewed as one package rather than separate entries, it makes more sense.
Looking at the gameplay, most locations have three “Mission Stories” that can be activated to give players a trail of objectives to follow in order to discover some of Hitman’s more over-the-top kills. These scenarios can be turned off completely for those who prefer a freeform do-it-yourself experience, or they can be altered to give the player hints without any on-screen waypoints. I find these are a perfect way to acclimate newcomers who might otherwise be intimidated by Hitman‘s formula, while still giving series vets the option to ignore them and play around in each lethal sandbox.
Apart from being good starting places for those who need an ‘in’ to each location, some Mission Stories shocked me — many of them were quite interesting and involved major characters. I won’t spoil them here other than to say the Argentinian vineyard has some kick-ass moments I never would have seen had I not completed certain Stories.
At this point, players who’ve dipped into Hitman before might be wondering what’s actually new, since what I’ve described so far has all been as-expected.
So, fresh to the series is a camera that 47 has equipped in every mission. It can snap pictures which can complete certain objectives or challenges, but it’s also used in unexpected ways. Focusing the camera on certain panels or windows can hack, open or disrupt them. At other times it’s used to scan for evidence similar to Batman’s “Detective Vision” in the Arkham games. Evidence scanning is nice, but the panel unlocking was only used abundantly in one level. However, I found it baffling that despite this camera there’s no dedicated photo mode and 47 can’t even flip it around to take a selfie! Disappointing.
Hitman 3 also features a handful of numeric key-code panels where players must find or overhear the codes to use them. At first I thought these were clever, but they’re not generated dynamically, meaning that they stay the same on every attempt, negating the need to strategically find the info.
Shortcuts are another new addition. In certain areas, players can open one-sided doors or break locks to access ladders. These shortcuts remain open for future playthroughs, but they were rarely very useful.
Overall, Hitman 3‘s genuinely new additions are nice, but none are gamechangers. Also less-than-impressive are the unlocks that incentivize replay. Most missions have 20 levels of completion with rewards such as new starting areas and different equipment to use as players gain XP.
As I previously felt with Hitman 2, much of this gear is repetitive and useless. How many times will I want to earn a reskinned lockpick, a differently-colored pistol or yet another poison that’s identical to one I’ve already unlocked two times before? Considering nearly everything in Hitman can be achieved without firing a single bullet, I knew that I’d never use most of these rewards. I was hoping that by now IO would start to get wacky and give me some wild items like a laser gun, a rocket launcher or anything other than another silenced pistol, but here we are – I’ve got a suitcase full of guns and no desire to use them.
Despite these complaints and the overall sameness of the content, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have a blast playing Hitman 3. Going into a mission for the first time, spending an hour doing recon and another 30 minutes carefully executing my plans only to exit the mission and discover I still had a quarter of the map to explore never ceases to dazzle me. IO’s Hitman formula taps into a very specific part of my brain that other games rarely do, and even if they keep giving me more of the same in new maps, their locations are so lush and full of twists and secrets in every corner that I don’t feel satisfied until I’ve played each mission a multitude of times.
An efficient (i.e. — boring) playthrough of Hitman 3 could probably be finished in a few hours for players who know what they’re doing, so the fact that I’ve spent more than 30 hours in six maps trying to master each one says everything about how much I love this series. However, despite how much I love Hitman as a whole, I can’t deny that the middling innovations and repeat rewards are starting to make 47’s adventures feel slightly stale.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by IO Interactive. It is currently available on XBO, XBX, PS4, PS5, Switch and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 30 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence and Strong Language. The official ESRB description reads as follows: This is a stealth action game in which players assume the role of an assassin (Agent 47) tasked with eliminating targets through a variety of missions. From a third-person perspective, players use pistols, machine guns, sniper rifles, and melee weapons to kill targets. Players can eliminate victims using stealth (e.g., stabbing/strangling), and other covert methods (e.g., poisoned drinks, disguises, sabotaged devices). Environmental objects such as wood chippers and compactors can be used to dispose of bodies, resulting in large blood-splatter effects. Blood effects occur frequently during combat, and pooling appears under corpses. Players have the ability to kill civilians, though these actions may negatively affect players’ progress. Some missions involve infiltrating a drug operation and luring victims by trying to sell them drugs; players can acquire a brick of cocaine but are not able to use it. The words “f**k” and “sh*t” appear in the dialogue.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles can be resized to multiple options. Objects that can be interacted with in the environment also feature three text sizes that can be set independently of the subtitle sizes. The screenshots show the smallest subtitles and smallest interaction icons in one shot and largest subtitles and largest interaction icons in the other shot. It’s worth noting other HUD elements, such as Target names, Challenge names and the mini map cannot be altered in size.
All dialogue in the game is subtitled, but I often found subtitles reacting strangely. Sometimes if I were standing around multiple people, a conversation from farther away would show up in subtitles, rather than a more important conversation happening closer to me. Sometimes mission challenges engage upon overhearing conversations, and I’d often see the challenge HUD marker pop up without ever hearing or seeing the subtitles for the conversation that triggered it.
For combat and recon, the mini-map in the corner does a good job of displaying visual information for alerts. It’ll show “Trespassing”, “Searching” or other words to let players know various enemy alert stages. Also, when enemies are alarmed or searching, question marks or exclamation marks will appear above their heads.
Finally, Hitman 2 has a yellow and red visual arrow that grows in size the more someone becomes aware of players if they’re suspicious. Despite these visual accommodations, I think Hitman will still be slightly more difficult for players with hearing difficulties.
While playing with low volume, I found Hitman’s Instinct Mode (which can be used infinitely) to be immensely helpful. Instinct greys out the world and shows outlines of NPCs within a large radius of Agent 47, even if they’re in other rooms or on other floors. Instinct Mode also shows suspicious enemies colored in yellow instead of grey to assist with visual representation. Targets in the map are always shaded red in Instinct.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. X and Y axes can be set to standard or inverted, control stick sensitivity can be adjusted, snap aiming and aim assist can be toggled and the Left Trigger Aim button can be set to Hold for Aim or Toggle for Aim.