If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It: A Hitman 3 Review
Hitman 3 — the third and final entry in the soft reboot trilogy kicked off by IO Interactive‘s Hitman (2016) — can be summarised in one adage: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
With solid foundations in place, Hitman 3 constructs a triumph in stealth video games. The fundamentals are familiar — as the titular hitman Agent 47, you go in, chart your path, use various disguises, enter restricted areas, avoid enemies and assassinate a target. But through subtle experimentation and a lot of ingenious imagination, IO has delivered a crescendo that subverts expectations.
The levels in Hitman make or break the experience. They are the virtual dollhouses, the playsets, the elaborate sandboxes for you to orchestrate your dark comedy improv. Hitman 3 nearly knocks it out of the park with five of the six maps exhibiting exceptional level design (More on the one misstep later).
The crowning glory, of course, is the level set in a dusty mansion in Dartmoor, England, where you can choose to play as a private investigator out to solve a murder mystery. Of course, it’s Hitman, and the Agatha Christie whodunit quickly turns into a ‘youdunit’, as you try and assassinate a target while conducting an investigation at the same time.
Other missions see Agent 47 crash a beautiful winery in Mendoza, Argentina; infiltrate a hi-tech data storage facility in rain-soaked Chongqing, China; escape assassins by mingling with guests and bartenders in a Berlin warehouse rave and scale the Burj Al-Ghazali (a fictitious Burj Khalifa) in Dubai.
The finale — a linear mission going more for the bombastic set-pieces than the winding freedom of others — nearly squanders the good setup though.
Overall, Hitman 3‘s levels are well crafted and are full of fascinating ideas, but still gives you unprecedented freedom in how to go about your business. Instead of the average ten ‘Mission Stories’ per map in the previous games, there are three per map here: which means a lot less hand-holding.
The maps come alive thanks to the graphics and sound design.
Again, don’t expect an overhaul. This is the third game in five years, and thus should be treated as a third episode instead of the final piece of a trilogy. That said, the upgrades are there and noticeable.
The engine has been upgraded with screenspace reflections, which means even levels from the previous games are shinier with prettier surfaces. Case in point: the Paris fashion show from the first game, which now sports a fully-reflective catwalk runway. The textures are improved and you only need to look at Agent 47’s suits to gauge that.
If your system allows, the game should run smoothly at above 60fps 4k with all settings maxed. If it doesn’t, there are tons of graphical options to assist. Although the handful of glitches and bugs do break the illusion, it never comes close to sabotaging the experience.
One of the more underrated facets from previous games has been the sound. Hitman 3 excels with its fadeaways, cut-offs, and occlusion channel which almost makes you feel the verticality of some levels. The game doesn’t lag musically either; from an opening number that would befit a Mission Impossible film and the returning electro-orchestral sweeps at the opening and ending of missions.
Together, the visuals and sounds take the levels to deafening heights.
In Dartmoor mansion, the long, dark corridors lined up with beautiful oil paintings open up into lavish areas. In Berlin, the pumping techno and strobing lights make the heart race. And under the neon-lit, rainy noodle bars, dirty alleyways and sinister apartment blocks of Chongqing is the futuristic marvel of a datacentre.
But what good are pretty playgrounds if there’s no fun to be had? Hitman 3 carries on the traditionally-strong gameplay as its predecessors. The levels are chock full of NPCs with clockwork routines, interesting chatter buried in the hustle and bustle, and multiple killing opportunities.
The game forces you to plan, and replan your approaches, but never backs you into a corner. There are stealth challenges everywhere you look, and perhaps a security camera or an overzealous guard too! The placement of foes, the improvised weapons you fashion, and the dumping spots for unconscious (or worse) bodies add wrinkles to the gameplay.
Those looking for a change-up will be disappointed. In terms of new tools, Agent 47 has a camera that comes across as a forceful pivot towards ‘detective mode’ systems made famous by Arkham and Watch Dogs franchises. The simpleton AI too remains easy to exploit, with hilarious but cheap distractions. And some of the animation — especially when going for combat or quick maneuvers — continues to feel horribly stiff and borderline unresponsive.
Another letdown is the plot, which continues the story of Agent 47 and his handler Diana Burnwood. You (supposedly) reach the end of a saga featuring arms dealers and petrochemical magnates and shadowy organizations and lobby groups, but it remains nothing more than snippety buffers between the missions. It’s not all bad though. It’s neither too convoluted like a Metal Gear Solid nor an absolute throwaway like older Hitman games. Those looking for some light, Netflixy spy-thriller action should get their fix.
Anyways, like they say, who plays a Hitman game for its story anyway? The real stories remain in the misadventures players put together for themselves! Which brings us to its replayability.
The Hitman series has become the benchmark of replayability. Sure, you can speedrun the levels, assassinate the targets swiftly and watch the credits roll with a sense of emptiness. But it’s the Groundhog Day nature of the game that truly keeps it fun for hours.
The more you learn a level — its shortcuts and blindspots — and the several subplots, the more you’d want to load it up and try to better your run. There are specific challenges to unlock for each environment, limiting you to complete a mission with specific requirements or gear. There are different starting locations and tools which should keep the player experimenting. If nothing, you’d like to replay the game just to soak in the varied landscapes (the returning missions from 1 and 2 take the replayability through the roof).
The online part is rather lackluster though. The competitive Ghost mode and co-op Sniper Assassin missions are missing. And the fact that you need to be connected to the servers for the various features to properly function almost makes Hitman 3 a service game.
To reiterate, Hitman 3 is more of the same. To an extent, it means some of the frustration in regards to AI, animation, and plot from the previous games is present here too. But overall, it is a sensational entry into a series that defined stealth in video games. It is deeply creative, immensely replayable, and boasts of the richest levels ever conceptualized.
Hitman 3 is Hitman at its best, and if this truly is the finale, Agent 47 went out with a deafening bang. We’d score it a 9/10.
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