Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch, Stadia
Hitman 3 is not a new Hitman game, or at least not any newer than Hitman 2 was. In fact, much like Hitman 2, it can most generously be called an expansion. You are getting the same mechanics, practically the same graphics, the same controls, even the same U.I. So what’s actually new? Well, there are new gadgets and weapons, new disguises, new abilities, and most importantly new maps. You wouldn’t be entirely wrong to say that Hitman 3 is an entire new game’s worth of content even if it isn’t really a new game itself.
There’s just one problem. The Hitman formula might not have enough staying power to sell itself to you a third time.
Taking down Providence
Once again, you step into the shoes and suit of Agent 47, the bald, bar-coded assassin, in an attempt to change the world one murder at a time. This time he is up against the partners of Providence, the powerful world controlling organization, with the help of his handler Diana Burnwood.
Look, we know you don’t play Hitman for the story. Hitman 2’s story was laughably bad and Hitman 3 doesn’t try that hard either. Yes, there is a campaign mode and yes, there are special scenes before each major assassination that are supposed to clue you into why you have to kill random NPC model #43 but to be completely honest, they don’t add anything to the game. You will find yourself skipping them almost immediately, hurrying forward to get to the assassination sandbox gameplay.
And IO Interactive understands that Hitman is a gameplay first series. The game does everything it possibly can to get you into the gameplay as soon as possible. The maps? Unlocked from the start. Extra modes? Also unlocked from the start. Tutorial? Totally skippable. You can even load your progress from Hitman 1 and 2, transferring over all your neat unlocks from previous titles and even unlocking their maps and missions to be played with Hitman 3 improvements.
That’s the biggest “change” here. Hitman 3 is perhaps the pinnacle of the “sandbox” model applied to genres that we aren’t used to seeing it in, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At no point does Hitman 3 require you to play it in any particular way. You can, for example, completely skip the story… entirely! I don’t mean you can fast forward through story cutscenes I mean you can just never load into the campaign. Instead, you can jump right into a new map, take on a bunch of missions, find your own objectives, and treat the entire game as a murder centered toybox. Heck, at the very first screen after booting the game, Hitman 3 threw several community-created missions at my face. It wanted me to know that this was a game with nearly endless content.
But if the story doesn’t really motivate you, what does? The answer? Good old Skinner boxes. You play Hitman 3 to watch numbers go up, and this is a double-edged sword.
Your main goal is to gain XP. Just about everything you do gains you XP. Simple in-game actions like taking someone down and stealing their clothes give you small amounts of XP while completing special missions and goals gives you a lot of XP. Earn enough XP and you level up your “mastery” and this unlocks other cool items, weapons, starting locations, and suits to play around with.
… or you can just buy stuff in the store.
This, in turn, allows you to approach missions in new and interesting ways each time you level up. You might only have one way to approach a mission the first time you enter a map, but level up your mastery and you can start on the roof, already disguised, with poison in your inventory, allowing you to take out your target with barely any effort.
None of these progression elements are tied to any individual mode. If you can get 5000 XP for assassinating someone by drowning them in a toilet, you’ll get it whether you are playing through the campaign or having your own personal murder rampage in sandbox mode. In this way, the game is strangely built for speedrunners and perfectionists. Heck, there’s even a built-in mission timer if you want to try and move your way up the speedrun leaderboards. It wants you to play, and replay its levels over, and over, and over again, looking for the best paths with the least collateral damage for all of your kills. It wants you to be the perfect assassin.
That’s not particularly new for the Hitman franchise, but IO Interactive did a lot to foster this sort of perfectionist mentality this time around. For example, there are now “shortcuts” in levels that can be unlocked as you play through them. This allows you to take new routes on subsequent playthroughs, opening up new assassination strategies. To be honest, it almost gives the game a Metroidvania feel at times.
You’ll also want to head back into older levels every time you get a new weapon or item or gadget. Got a new hacking tool? Maybe you can use it to disable the security systems that you had to sneak around before. Got a new stealthy weapon? Maybe you won’t have to pick up a gun off the guards.
And frankly, the levels themselves are also designed to keep you coming back time and time again, regardless of shortcuts. How? Well, there are way more interactive elements than ever before. There are tons of people, everywhere, on every map. Most of the new maps have a ton of verticality, allowing you to scale walls and ambush your targets from high places way more so than maps from previous games. It’s also worth mentioning that the maps are just big, way bigger than they were in Hitman 1 or 2. I was still learning new things about each map’s layout on my 10th play through each one.
There’s also just a lot of ways to create domino effect situations, which can lead to some really stylish kills. For example, there are ways to kill targets without even entering the building they are in, and I’m not just talking about sniping them. You can set up multitudes of unfortunate “accidents” to take their lives. Maybe they get crushed under a heavy object. Maybe they fall over a railing. Maybe the building just randomly lights on fire. Someone should have checked that leaky gas line.
And IO interactive certainly tried to introduce a few unique mechanics to each map. Dartmoors murder within a murder mystery is pretty cool. Dubai’s missions all take place in the tallest building in the world, which you can imagine sets itself up for a lot of interesting assassination opportunities.
If you are this type of perfectionist you will enjoy Hitman 3 for hours and hours, seeking to perfect your kills and getting more XP for doing so each time.
The problem is, I’m not this sort of perfectionist. I am, admittedly, a more casual Hitman fan, and frankly IO Interactive has left people like me in the dust. Hitman 3 not only assumes you have played the previous two games, it assumes you played them obsessively and enjoyed doing so. If you don’t have that mindset, Hitman 3 doesn’t really offer that much.
Look at it this way. Yes, I can scale the wall of a glass skyscraper, poison someone’s drink, follow them into the bathroom after they get sick, strangle them with a garrote wire, hide the body in a locker, and then jump off the building to make my daring escape… but I don’t need to. Most of the game’s missions can be conquered through the same old formula of getting disguised, wait until your target is alone, shoot him with a silenced pistol, and walk away. It’s the same formula that worked in previous Hitman titles, and it works just as well here.
Is it really new, though?
Hitman 3 only feels new if you force yourself to make it feel new. It expects you to want to play with the new toys. That means forcing yourself to care about optional objectives, forcing yourself to care about XP rewards, forcing yourself to approach missions in unique ways. This is why I say it already expects you to be a fan. Hitman 1 did a lot more to push the player into this sort of mindset, dazzling them with options. Hitman 3, on the other hand, shrugs its shoulders and figures that if you didn’t already like the formula, you wouldn’t be here.
It didn’t help that the same glitches that plagued previous titles rear their ugly head. There are plenty of times that you’ll be noticed by someone who wasn’t even on the screen. Sometimes you’ll cause suspicion out of nowhere. At one point I loaded into a sandbox at the very beginning and people were already hunting me for no reason. Sometimes bodies glitch through walls, sometimes controls become unresponsive mid-melee combat, and there was a strange glitch where the PC version couldn’t choose between KBAM or Controller prompts despite the fact that I was using a controller the whole time.
Heck, sometimes the glitches even work in your favor. There were plenty of times where I strangled someone in front of a crowd and no one did a thing. That didn’t really make the game feel any more fun though. Consistency is key in stealth action games like this and when I couldn’t tell what the consequences of my actions were, I just didn’t want to play.
One other thing that annoyed me was the complete lack of accessibility options. The most the game lets you do is increase subtitle size and that’s it. There are no difficulty modes, no aim assist, no assists for the hard of hearing or seeing, no way to covert button mash prompts into button hold prompts nothing. I’m not going to take away major points for this, but I think it showcases the primary problem I have… Hitman 3 is behind the times. It feels like the exact same Hitman game that we played back in 2016, but with a few more bells and whistles, and that’s a problem.
It’s cool to have all your Hitman content in one place. Being able to play every mission, story or otherwise, from Hitman 1 right through Hitman 3, with all the items and suits that have been released in every single game, is cool. As a platform Hitman 3 is really great, and I would absolutely like to see more franchises adopt this model. Treating your whole franchise as a hub has a lot of potentials, especially with next-gen consoles being primed for HD re-releases. You do have to repurchase the content of the first two games if you don’t already have them on the Epic Games Store, though.
But as a standalone game, Hitman 3 just wasn’t super compelling and that’s largely because it didn’t feel novel enough. It was more Hitman. If all you wanted was more of the same Hitman gameplay you got back in 2016, this will satisfy you, but if you want a game that really does something new, Hitman 3 just doesn’t do enough.