Game name: Hitman 3
Release date: January 20, 2021
Available on: EGS
Genre: Stealth sandbox
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: IO Interactive
IO Interactive‘s Hitman games have been with us for more than two decades, and with the exception of Absolution‘s weird detour into “cinematic stealth action” the developer has managed to carry on making new entries that always feel necessary, and crucially, better than the previous entry in the series. This achievement becomes even more impressive when we consider that the other titles renowned as icons of the stealth genre haven’t enjoyed nearly as much monitor/TV screen time over the past decade. Metal Gear Solid? MIA since 2015 (Survive doesn’t exactly count, as it focuses on survival mechanics a lot more than it does on stealth). Splinter Cell? Reduced to cameos in other Ubisoft games since 2013. Thief, Deus Ex? I’d rather not talk about what happened to those two (though if you can, look up Gloomwood). How does IO manage to keep trucking along this path when so many of its peers have fallen?
I think that Hitman 3 is pretty much a perfect answer to that question. As the third (and final) entry in the rebooted World of Assassination trilogy, it wouldn’t be easy to criticize the developers if they’d chosen to just make Hitman 2 all over again, but with different levels. After all, the previous game was critically acclaimed, and a more conservative sequel would be equally hailed as a great title, considering the lack of competition in the genre. Did IO do that though? No, they chose to create something that can be probably described as the DOOM Eternal of stealth games, such is its laser focused approach to refining its mechanics and introducing new ideas that fit what’s there like a glove.
The first indication that IO weren’t resting on their laurels is the much improved storytelling present in Hitman 3. The previous two World of Assassination titles had the standard justifications for going on a globe-trotting assassination spree, but aside from Agent 47’s ever evolving capacity for deadpan humor at the best possible moments, the stories told in both games were as barebones as you can think of (and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, before you crucify me). This time around though, you’ll find characters that are well written and easy to empathize with, great call-backs to older entries in the franchise (there’s a nod to Blood Money that’s perfect in both presentation and execution) and an overall engaging storyline that neatly concludes the trilogy. It’s something that I wasn’t expecting, but, as a certain Galactic Republic Senator would surely agree with me, not all surprises are unwelcome, and this one was definitely something that I wholeheartedly enjoyed.
Of course, pretty much no one goes into a Hitman game for its story, so the real star of the show here must be the series’ trademark stealth sandbox. If that’s not present, or takes second fiddle to other ideas, then you know that you have a Hitman: Absolution in your hands and it’s time to bail. Of course, Hitman 3 is no Absolution, and the stealth sandbox is front and center. The basics are the same as always: our genetically engineered assassin will be tasked with eliminating specific targets, and depending on the mission, there might be other requirements to be filled before we can successfully extract the area. In order to conduct our business, we can knock out or kill other people, take their clothes/uniforms so we can access restricted areas, or just rely on good old stealth and distract everyone with the tools at our disposal for the perfect Suit Only unnoticed kill. This is the basic framework for almost all the Hitman titles released so far, and it works well enough that one might think there’s no need for any changes. Of course, IO Interactive knows best, so they’ve been busy with new additions and improvements to the series’ existing mechanics, as well as slight tweaks to the ideas that have been floating around since the start of the World of Assassination trilogy
For instance, Hitman 1 and 2 placed a lot of emphasis on scripted kill opportunities that act as mini stories for each level. Hitman 3 doesn’t completely do away with this idea (in fact, most of the levels have their own special kill opportunities) but it tones it down a lot, and goes for a less obvious approach to interesting kill options. This also means that there is more room for unscripted, player created hits though, and that’s where the series have always shined the brightest. It’s cool to follow waypoints and create the perfect poisoning opportunity while dressing as different restaurant workers, but it’s even cooler to create a completely new scenario based on the tools available, and the target’s routine. This is not to say that the story-based opportunities are bad, because they are actually the best the series has offered until now. Some of them offer interesting insights on the game’s story, and others can be incredibly interesting gameplay-wise (there’s a particular level where 47 can opt to impersonate a detective and solve a murder mystery in order to get close to his target, and the different ways in which the hit plays out are incredibly worth it, even if it sometimes feels like you are on a guided tour of the mansion where this mission takes place). It’s just that the series has evolved enough that it can let the player loose in a sandbox without ever feeling like there aren’t enough toys to play around with and reach a satisfying conclusion. This is even more evident in one of the game’s biggest levels, where things unfold in a specific way that leads to exactly zero scripted story opportunities being present, and yet the level is not just great to play, but it also ends up being one of the most complex and interesting missions ever attempted in a Hitman title to date.
Continuing the trend started with the first entry in the World of Assassination trilogy, Hitman 3 lets us replay previous levels, completing objectives in different ways and testing the limits of its gargantuan sandbox in ways we’d initially thought impossible. As we complete more and more challenges, our Location Mastery increases, and even more options become available, such as new entry areas, new disguises, etc. This is a game that was made from the ground up as a replayable experience, and I can confidently say that most players will go back to it the second after they see the credits roll, because there is always something new to learn or see. Of course, there is also a live service component that has been doing the rounds since the beginning of this trilogy, and that will also play a big part on getting players back on the job even when they think they’ve finally mastered every level. Escalation Contracts return, and IO have already confirmed that Elusive Targets will also be a thing in this title. If all of that wasn’t enough, all the locations from Hitman 1 and 2 are playable inside of Hitman 3 (and they come with the AI and graphical improvements present in the new game). The only elements of Hitman 2 that don’t return are the Ghost mode (which has been shut down in the prequel as well) and the cooperative part of Sniper Assassin.
Moving on to performance and stability, I’ve played almost two dozen hours of Hitman 3, and aside from disconnections (which I’ll discuss soon), the only other issues I encountered were AI getting their scripting a bit broken after multiple saves and loads in the middle of a scripted sequence. With that exception, the game ran like a dream for me, far surpassing 60fps at 1440p on my 5600x/32gb/RTX 3070 rig. And this smooth experience didn’t come at a graphical cost, since the game looks better than the previous two titles, and can even give some raytracing implementations a run for their money with its generous use of screen space reflections.
Going back to the disconnections, this is a sadly disappointing downside to the live service part of Hitman 3. If you want to play with progression enabled, you must be connected to the Internet, and the classic launch week woes that usually affect online games make an unwelcome appearance here as well. I’ve been booted to the menu while I was watching cutscenes at least five times during my twenty hours with the game, and I’ve seen the dreaded “Connection lost” screen more times than I can count. This isn’t something caused by my Internet connection either, so the blame lays squarely on IO’s server providers. Hopefully the situation will improve once the first month player rush in the rearview mirror, but I don’t think that a single player experience should suffer in this way.
Server issues aside though, Hitman 3 is the best entry in the series by far, supplanting Blood Money as the definitive stealth sandbox experience. IO Interactive can rest easy knowing that while they work on 007, their fans will be busy for years to come with the World of Assassination trilogy.
9.5/10 – Excellent