Killing the Past, Looking to the Future: Hitman 3 Review

Io Interactive’s most recent three Hitman games have all been outstanding in their own ways. The first, released way back in 2016, introduced us to the games’ more episodic format and elusive targets. Hitman 2 fleshed out the mechanics and design of its predecessor while boasting more intricate, dynamic levels. Finally, Hitman 3 stands as the capstone of what Io has been calling the “World of Assassination” trilogy.

While not without issues (including launch week server problems, Epic Games Store exclusivity, and the Hitman 2 import controversy), Hitman 3 has largely had a strong initial showing. The missions are elegantly designed and the settings are each evocative in their own ways. That’s not even mentioning one of the most interesting elements of the game – it’s surprisingly engaging story. Without further ado, let’s get into what makes Hitman 3 the perfect finale to Agent 47’s adventure.

Gameplay: 4/5

There won’t be many surprises here for seasoned Hitman fans, even if your first experience to the series was the soft reboot in 2016. Io’s signature level design is back, making for intricately crafted levels that wind around on themselves in mazes that are a delight to unravel. Making exploration even more interesting is the presence of unlockable shortcuts – paths through levels that are initially locked from one side until you open them, after which they remain accessible in each subsequent playthrough.

Aside from the shortcuts and a few extra features like a camera that lets you scan intel items and keycode locks, Hitman 3 plays a lot like its predecessors – which is by no means a bad thing. Hitman and Hitman 2 were a blast to play and the third installment is just as fun. While it’s not going to be everyone’s jam, for those who enjoy the feeling of unwinding a puzzle box of a map one step at a time, there’s really nothing better.

Originality: 3/5

Hitman 3 doesn’t make too many changes to the main mechanics from its previous titles, which is probably a smart move. The few new mechanics introduced are little iffy if we’re being honest, with the camera often feeling a little unnecessary while the keycode locks can easily send players to the internet looking for quick answers. They’re interesting ideas on paper, but neither of them are explored to their fullest extent here.

What does work quite well is the shortcut mechanic. Hitman games love their complex maps, often with hidden paths through them to allow experienced players efficient passage from one side of the level to the other. However, players may never find these hidden paths, or may stumble upon them very early, before really seeing the full extent of what the mission has to offer. Shortcuts provide an answer to that problem – you won’t just happen across one because it’ll be locked when you first encounter it, and once you do open it, the location will be cemented in memory because you actually had to take action to open it. It’s a very nice addition that neatly complements Hitman 3’s exploratory gameplay.

Accessibility: 2/5

For a game released in early 2021, it’s a little surprising to see the lack of accessibility options in Hitman 3. This is especially notable as 2020 was a banner year for accessibility in gaming, but Io seems to have dropped the ball a bit in this area. There are all the baseline accessibility features – subtitles, control remapping, and difficulty modes – but the absences speak much, much louder here.

There doesn’t seem to be any colorblind mode in Hitman 3’s settings, nor can certain quicktime sequences where you need to button mash or hit buttons in quick succession be turned off. The subtitles also consist of large blocks of text that may be difficult to read quickly. These issues could always be fixed in future patches as Io has been known to release monthly updates for previous Hitman games, but it remains to be seen if accessibility options will be a part of them.

Look: 5/5

If we’re being honest, Hitman 3 is not the most graphically impressive game of all time. That being said, I think you’d be hard pressed to say that it doesn’t just look good. From the opening level in Dubai where the sun streams in onto gold gilt to the splendor of the vineyard in Mendoza, it’s all very pretty and shows that Io’s art department knows what they’re doing.

The level that stood out in particular to me personally was Chongqing, a Chinese city that houses a secret facility below and a makeshift laboratory above. Something about the rain-soaked, neon-lit streets just stood out as especially beautiful, giving the level a sort of gritty noir feel that made one of the most visually interesting places in the game.

Story: 4/5

Hitman and Hitman 2 certainly had stories, but not like Hitman 3. The previous two titles centered on the power cabal known as Providence, and the conclusion finally tasks you with dismantling it once and for all. It’s a story that goes to some very grim places, ones that I didn’t personally expect. The game raises a series of questions, such as to what degree is 47 responsible for his actions, how strong is his relationship with his handler, Diana, and most importantly – what happens when the job is done?

It’s not The Last of Us, but it’s really quite good for what it is. There were a few twists I didn’t see coming, some moments that made me consider the ethical implications of 47’s actions, and a conclusion that made for a satisfying end to the trilogy. All in all, it was an impactful narrative that made a fascinating game that much more rewarding.

In Conclusion

The last chapter in Agent 47’s story is a thrill to play and a delight to experience. It covers unexpected narrative beats, provides closure to the series, and lets you blow targets up with explosive rubber ducks. While it’s accessibility could be better, it remains a strong game overall and one that I can absolutely recommend.

Final Tally: 18/25

Mechanics as Storytelling: Hitman 2’s Disguises

The core mechanic of the Hitman games is the disguise system, which forms the player’s primary means of infiltrating areas and interacting with the world around them. It’s a relatively straightforward mechanic – Agent 47 starts each mission in his suit and in the role of an ordinary civilian. He must then make his way to his targets, taking out security and finding new outfits that will permit access to restricted areas. The rules are easy to follow because they’re the same as in real life – waiters and cooks are allowed in the kitchen, guards can enter the surveillance room, and musicians can go onstage. The overlap of where these roles are and aren’t allowed forms the basic gameplay of a Hitman level as you do your best to navigate Agent 47 around obstacles and obtain new costumes that grant entry to key sections of the map. All of it works to enable the classic “freedom of approach” gameplay that Hitman is known for.

This mechanic does strain the bounds of reality somewhat in certain areas. Agent 47 is a tall, well-built, Caucasian man. As such, he looks out of place as a street vendor in Mumbai or a security guard in Colombia, yet no one gives him a second look. It’s a quirk of the system that is largely there to provide seamless gameplay. Looking at it from a strictly thematic standpoint, however, this aspect of the Hitman world tells us something very specific: people only see uniforms, not the individuals behind them.

The Clothes Make the Man

It doesn’t matter whether he’s pretending to be a bellhop in Bangkok or a surgeon in Japan – the first (and often only) thing people see when they look at 47 in this world is the outfit he’s wearing. By extrapolation, that applies to everyone, international assassin or not. Because of this, the Hitman games become an absurd reflection of reality, one that confronts us with our tendency to reduce people to little more than the roles they’re meant to serve. Waiters bring us our food; masseuses give us massages; security guards are allowed pretty much everywhere. This dissociation between the image of the uniform and the actual human being behind it is on full display in the Hitman games – indeed, it’s Agent 47’s preferred approach, hiding in plain sight.

The ridiculous nature of the disguise system in Hitman and Hitman 2 play into real world invisibility of uniformed work. But one of the most important precepts in these games is that invisibility is power. Agent 47 is not like most other characters from third person shooters (which the Hitman games technically are). He’s not durable enough to take multiple gunshots to the head, he doesn’t have a combat roll, and he often faces more armed enemies than he could ever realistically take on alone. His strength lies not in a massive health pool or overwhelming firepower, but in stealth. To get the best score on a mission, he needs to operate from the shadows, eliminating his targets in accidents and without being detected. His invisibility is his power, a theme that we see cropping up numerous times in the games’ stories.

A Most Sinister Plot

Briefly, the plots of the last two Hitman games have been focused around the Shadow Client and an Illuminati-like group known as Providence as they go to war with one another. Each side possesses a degree of invisibility – the Shadow Client manipulates much of the events in the first game from behind the scenes and the second game follows up with Providence retaliating. In both cases, the story concerns people who operate from the shadows, dangerous in large part because they are unknown and invisible. It is only when either party is forced out into the light of day, when knowledge is gained about them, that they become vulnerable. The Shadow Client is put at risk when 47 and Diana learn of his existence. Providence becomes a target once they’re exposed to the world. When they lose their invisibility, they lose their power.

47 is a perfect protagonist to tell this story, and the disguise mechanic is a perfect gameplay system with which to explore it. While the overarching tale of the games is about the mysterious and anonymous elites who control the world, the experience of the games shows that this works in reverse. Agent 47 adopts the invisibility of everyone from restaurant workers to racecar mechanics in order to move unseen and strike unexpectedly. Invisibility is a sword wielded by many different forces in these stories, and you’re only as strong as the disguise you wear.

Further Reading

“Immersion [is] Really Important For Us”: IO Interactive Discusses Hitman 2’s Development | OnlySinglePlayer

Level Design in Hitman: Guiding Players in a Non-Linear Sandbox | GDC