(HITMAN 3 is out January 20th. Distributor provided review copy.)
One last time
After rebooting its convoluted mythology in 2015, HITMAN feels like it’s finally returned to the glory days of quasi-open-world murder mayhem after a few shaky years. While the first two parts of this new trilogy didn’t connect with me the same way they have for millions worldwide, part three has saved the best for last and delivers an incredible HITMAN experience that’s easily the best in the franchise.
Picking up immediately where part two left off, HITMAN doesn’t bother with introductions or catching up. 47 and his handler and friend, Diana Burnwood, are still on the run in a fight against their former employer, a global assassination industry with ties to every major world power. As bridges burn around them, the duo prepare for a final confrontation that could be their last.
If you aren’t familiar with the sprawling story by now, part three isn’t here to help out. Luckily, HITMAN bundles itself into a single launcher with the two previous games, allowing players to view important cutscenes at any point. Don’t feel like following the narrative? You’re welcome to hop over into any map you want with only a minor spoiler warning.
Worldbuilding at its finest
While the plot is fine, if messy, and the storytelling is terrific across the board, it’s really the levels that are the main draw; and part three delivers on a scale never before seen in the series. From massive skyscrapers to neon-lit Hong Kong streets and breathtaking vistas, there isn’t a single area that isn’t awe-inspiring. The art design is gorgeous, and even though the missions are jam-packed with things to do, they never feel overwhelming.
One of my main issues with the earlier installments was the loose and contrived structure. I could easily take out my targets in a myriad of ways, but they never felt as organic or fun as I wanted them. While some levels, like the race track in part two, were impressive, I struggle to remember anything truly memorable from either one.
In comparison, every level in part three is a highlight, and one, in particular, is quite possibly the best HITMAN level ever designed. Set in Dartmoor on a massive family estate, it’s a delightful love-letter to Agatha Christie novels, with a hefty dose of KNIVES OUT thrown in for good measure. I won’t spoil any fine details, but I’ve gone back to repeat the level a dozen times so far, each of them as rewarding as the last.
Another aspect the series has always shown an affinity for is the dialog, specifically for the supporting cast, and part three is no exception. Everywhere you go, there’s something worthwhile to hear, and some of the stories you’ll pick up are downright riveting. As the case with most finales, part three enjoys the occasional callback to earlier parts, and while it feels a little too convenient for everyone to be connected like this, it is rewarding for long-time fans.
Getting to Carnegie Hall
A wealth of achievements and Easter eggs ensure replayability. Each mission is packed with over fifty level-based goals, some of which you’ll encounter organically on the first playthrough, others that require a lot more planning and orchestration to acquire. The classics are still here, like “silent assassin,” which involves mission completion undetected and without alarms. The game picks up in the more obscure goals, often involving completely alternate storylines within the mission, leading the protagonist, Agent 47, into entirely different sub-quests ranging from wild and wacky to deeply disturbing.
Infiltrating an underground rave, for example, is a prime opportunity for the series to embrace wacky debauchery on a whole other level. Simultaneously, a trafficking ring involving human experimentation comes with such immaculate detail that every minute is horrifying.
It’s in these moments the dedication to the minutiae pays off. The levels feel more alive than before, and each playthrough warrants in-depth exploration to discover everything in them. After a couple of runs, it was surprising that I still had over half the locations to find. Even as I’d already spent multiple hours messing with the world. Part three fully embraces the finale with a flourish, devilishly lulling the players into a false sense of security before pulling the rug from under them as it reveals massive new playgrounds within the ones you’ve already found.
While the gameplay is nearly faultless, it’s a shame that isn’t true for the technical presentation. HITMAN 3 is always online, and during my time with it, the game disconnected from servers a little too often for comfort. These errors nearly always forced me back to the main menu, sometimes losing out on progression as the autosave function is finicky at best. I could rely on it as a reasonably lenient checkpoint system in the early levels, but by the third level, it stopped working entirely. An incoming day-one patch will fix most of these, but they’re surprisingly annoying faults in an otherwise compelling package.
Similarly, HITMAN still doesn’t bother to animate things any further than is absolutely necessary. So, for the most part, characters will hand over nothing, as objects disappear more often than not, and lipsyncing is unheard of here. The game doesn’t look bad by any stretch, though early visuals in Dubai show their age a tad, but it’s clear that IO Interactive cares more about the big picture. How much any of that bothers you is subjective, and it never breaks the immersion so bad that it’s distracting, but it does bear mentioning.
A grand finale
Quibbles aside, HITMAN 3 is everything I could want out of the franchise. It captures the immense promise the series has reached for these past few decades, finally delivering a massive sandbox of intrigue and mayhem. Brilliantly conceived and fiendishly creative, there’s so much to love in this globetrotting adventure.
It feels like a grand game of constantly evolving chess. One where the board plays you just as much as you manipulate it. After twenty hours in the game, I feel like I’m only just getting started in discovering the wealth of opportunity buried within. As with the others in the franchise, HITMAN gives as much as you put in. For those willing to explore the underworld, I doubt we’ll see a better game until IO Interactive returns to the franchise.
While it’s only January, it wouldn’t be surprising if HITMAN finds its way on every best of the year list in December. It’s that good. Fans of the series will be in heaven; newcomers will be stunned. If this is your first dive into the world of 47, I envy you. You’re in for a treat.