To kick off 2021, we have a glorious return to one of the best franchises of the last 5 years or so. Unfortunately, Hitman 3 is also the end of this great trilogy but it ends just as strong as it started.
I’ve never been terribly invested in the story of the recent Hitman games but Hitman 3 is the most story-centric of them all. Besides the final level, you could probably skip cutscenes and get by without it interfering with your enjoyment if the story isn’t for you. That said, I highly recommend giving it a chance if you usually skip over it.
Hitman 3 places us in the shoes of Agent 47 as he joins hands with Lucas Grey in his most dramatic and intense mission to date: Destroy Providence, a shadowy Illuminati-esque organization that molded 47 into the monster he is. It’s no longer about completing contracts, it’s a personal quest to destroy the group that stripped 47’s humanity. In some ways, it feels like IO Interactive is attempting to play with some of the themes they introduced in Absolution.
This story gets under the skin of 47 and furthers him as a character, rather than a vehicle for creative murder. One of my favorite moments in the game is actually totally missable. There’s an optional infiltration point you get for completing one of the levels and it starts you on a walkway with an umbrella. A woman standing next to you asks you if you’ve seen this girl she’s supposed to be meeting and begins wondering if she got stood up. 47 offers advice and somewhat comforts her. It’s incredibly small but it’s such a wonderful touch that really made me appreciate Agent 47 as a character.
There is a bit of a cost to peeling back the layers on both him and his handler, Diana. Hitman 3’s story is rather short, as expected. The vast amount of hours you can invest in the game is in the actual gameplay, so the actual moments that move the narrative forward in a significant way are rather brief. This isn’t the problem so much as its shortened story makes for some weak pacing. Anytime conflict is introduced, it feels like it’s quickly resolved. You don’t get to spend as much time as you may want to with certain characters either.
There’s not as much time spent really feeling the weight of some of the more dramatic moments in the story of Hitman 3. It moves at a very rapid pace and ends just as quickly as it starts. Of course, as I mentioned, most people are here for the moment to moment action so this may not feel as significant to others.
This Hitman trilogy has had the same kind of gameplay across each game, taking inspiration for the beloved Hitman: Blood Money. IO chooses more to refine than to completely evolve and change the way these games play and that’s fine because it’s already pretty much perfect. That said, the story allows for some levels that shake up the formula in more interesting ways, going as far as putting 47 on his back foot. It’s a nice change of pace but also highlighted some of the flaws of the AI.
While IO boasted some improvements to AI in the lead-up to release, it’s hard to tell what changes they’ve made. Targets are still on very strict paths and while this is to be expected given you need to have some predictability to execute certain methods, they feel too on rails. I also had a number of instances where my cover was blown, leading to gunfights. Gunplay hasn’t been the biggest strong suit of the trilogy but it’s serviceable, minus the AI. They will sometimes move in bizarre ways, not attack you at all, and much more.
They’re not as great at playing offensively as they are just walking around, doing scripted behavior. When you break them out of their trance, they seem to have a hard time adjusting. That said, unless you blow your own cover, there’s very little reason to actually engage with AI like this. The levels are almost overwhelmingly massive and there are so many ways to complete your objective. You may find a sniper’s nest or drop a sack of bricks on someone’s head. If someone finds you in the midst of a crime, you can throw a sack of sugar at their head, resulting in definite brain damage. You may even manipulate a situation in such a way that someone else will kill your target for you.
There were times where I could feel myself backing myself further and further into corners I knew would be tough to get out of. It’s a game about improvisation and adapting just as much as it is about planning. It’s an incredibly reactive game and that’s what makes it so fun and replayable.
One mission takes you to a massive estate after one of its residents has apparently committed suicide. The family suspects foul play and calls for a renowned detective to get to the bottom of it. If you choose, you can disguise yourself as the detective and play out your own sinister version of the movie Knives Out. There are a number of clues to find, witnesses to interrogate, and pieces to put together. I won’t spoil anything but there’s a number of ways you can use this to your advantage to kill your target. It’s incredibly fulfilling and creates a much richer, more memorable experience than just disguising yourself as a therapist and smothering someone with a pillow. That’s great too but it shows IO has the ability to continue pushing their formula in a way that is consistently entertaining and engaging.
On top of that, there are a few elements that enhance these levels. Hitman 3 has up to 300 NPCs at a time in one location. The levels are densely packed and you can feel the claustrophobia setting in as you shimmy past drunken party-goers. It even allows you to use these large crowds to blend in. It creates both a challenge but also an organic tool for you to use to your advantage if you’re being pursued.
I reviewed the game on Xbox Series X where it benefited even more. The visuals are gorgeous with incredible detail, lighting, and a buttery smooth 60 FPS. There’s a level with a pretty noticeable downpour and you can see all the individual rain droplets on 47, creating these little rivers on his bald head. To create an even greater aesthetic, there are all these incredible neon lights accurately reflecting off the puddles. It’s absolutely stunning.
Once you complete the main game, there is a plethora of other content to partake in as well. You can revisit Hitman 1 + 2 (purchased separately) with all the new weapons, tools, and enhancements introduced in 3. There are also a number of side missions, such as sniper assassinations, and escalation missions that present new challenges for you. There’s absolutely no shortage of replay value. From story to levels and pure content, Hitman 3 is one of the biggest bangs for your buck right now.
Hitman 3 is without a doubt the peak of the trilogy narratively and level-design wise, there’s no shortage of quality and greatness here. Even though it’s easy to breeze through the game, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t invest dozens of hours in it once you’re done. There’s so much content with virtually none of it lacking.
While Hitman 3 is the end of this trilogy, it’s clear IO will be coming back to 47 after they play around in the 007 sandbox for a while. This isn’t so much the end of Hitman as it is this iteration of 47 and I will be eagerly awaiting his return.