Hitman III offers so much that is familiar but also tweaks things so that expectations are both wonderfully met and subverted. Crowbar, rat poison, wrench and screwdriver – the tools are the same. Although the levels in which they are expertly positioned are filled with so much character, beauty and depth that I know I’ll be peeling back the layers for years to come. By now, IO gets what makes Hitman games fun. As a result the gameplay leans with the player, providing easement in all processes, making this the most player-friendly entry yet.
Suspicion levels feel just right, forgiving yet exciting when they finally snap. Guards follow targets with precise distancing. Enough so that you feel like a stalking tiger as you follow and observe, looking for any chink in their armour. Some of the best moments are still when things go so terribly wrong. Like when you give up on finesse and opt for brute force. Leaving a pile of corpses, both innocent and not, in your wake.
Knowledge is power.
No run is wasted, with any knowledge gained saved for future attempts. And with all that unlocks on each successful ride – new starting locations, gadgets and so on – the lure to continue playing each level only deepens with your investment. This is augmented by introducing persistent shortcuts, bypassing entire sections of each level. Trading speedy ingress for increasingly nefarious shenanigans.
If there is one slight wobble here, it is how the narrative, which is frankly far less interesting than IO believes it to be, affects the levels themselves this time. For instance, rather than simply appearing at a location, ready to silently assassinate, Agent 47 might be on the run, bereft of a handler or gadgets, which forces you to work through somewhat linear sections of a map before you settle on the familiar beats of a regular Hitman level. Sure, it’s good that things are being shaken up, but I felt that things wobbled dangerously close to the hot mess that was Absolution. My heart was in my mouth, thinking, ‘God don’t let it fall over’. Thankfully, things pull together, culminating in some of the most involved, exciting and largest locations yet seen in the series.
Take it slow and sure Agent
The guided stories are still the best places to start, crafted to expertly lead you through a level. NPCs will take you on elaborate tours and offer information that will help you to plan deliberate accidents. These are multilayered missions-within-missions and, surprisingly, they often transform into unguided investigations. I’ll get to the brilliant second map’s unguided mission soon, but even those inserted into the other maps are confident in setting the player loose. Having only a main objective in the corner of the screen, and no guiding icon. This forces you to think logically and explore the level carefully to find the next area to mine, object to seek, conversation to eavesdrop or person or take down.
The second mission, Death in the Family, takes place in an English mansion. It offers a deeply delightful sub-mission whereby you take on the persona of an investigator, trying to determine the culprit behind a murder that has taken place the night before. This surprises the player by giving you the broad instruction to investigate the murder, with no other guidance. Was it the butler or one of the siblings? You’ll need to search for clues and interview suspects to determine the truth. This slowly unfurling murder mystery offers several dastardly opportunities for Agent 47 to eliminate his target.
The scale of the playground offers so many options.
My goodness, I’m still reeling at the sheer size and complexity of the Vineyard level. There are so many cool moments in Hitman III. In fact, this mission might hold my record for the number of disguises I took on. Agent 47 interacting back and forth with none-the-wiser victims like a quick-change ventriloquist. Which brings to light the suspension of belief required to truly love these games. They are not representations of reality but puzzles containing reactive actors.
Therefore, when a victim speaks to an NPC and then, minutes later, Agent 47 appears wearing their clothes and persona, it’s perfectly Hitman to believe that they don’t notice the difference. Similarly, every single NPC has a magnetic attraction to thrown coins, overflowing bathroom basins and flipped electrical breakers. It’s the weaving through these moving, predictable (but also slightly chaotic) puzzle pieces that provides so much entertainment.
The newest toy, the camera, is introduced within the game’s opening minutes, only to wallow in Agent 47’s pockets until a later mission. It never feels particularly necessary or revolutionary to the Hitman formula. However, I’m hoping that there might be some depth to its use as I dive deeper into each location. Knowing IO and the crazy shit they hide in these titles, it will probably be possible to kill every target using the camera or something equally bonkers.
The best compliment I can give Hitman III is that I want to keep playing it.
- I want to experiment and fail and try again.
- I want to juggle several save games at a time. Thankfully, the new consoles’ SSDs make this previously time-consuming approach almost seamless.
- I want to be messy, professional, silent and loud.
- I want to cause chaos and slink in the shadows.
- I want to instigate horrendous accidents and join the gasping onlookers.
I know that Hitman III will let me do all of this. As I reset the pieces of the puzzle and push the whole thing into motion once more.