EGM’s Best of 2021: #5 Hitman 3
At this point, we’re all a little tired of lengthy writeups about “the way things are now.” We could probably sit here and waste a few paragraphs’ worth of your life talking about these trying times, and game delays, and hardware shortages. But we’re tired. You’re probably tired. Let’s just agree to jettison all that for a year and get to the good stuff.
Today, we’ve reached the #5 slot on our countdown of the year’s best. Check back throughout this week to see the rest of our choices—including our Game of the Year—and our editors’ personal picks.
2021 was full of improbable game releases, but Hitman 3 is near the top of that list.
Look at everything that had to happen for it to even come into existence. Following a controversial, episodic release model for 2016’s Hitman and a lack of initial sales, Square Enix dropped developer IO Interactive in 2017 while the studio was in the middle of making Hitman 2. So not only did IO need to retain the rights to the series, but it also needed to find the money to continue making games for a “World of Assassination” trilogy that hadn’t even gotten to the second chapter yet.
When something like this happens, it’s usually a death knell for a series. Either the series simply gets lost in intellectual-property-rights purgatory, or a new developer starts working on the series and can’t quite capture the magic of the original vision.
Yet, there’s something special about the Hitman series and its developer, some magic that transcends the bottom line. One of the reasons that IO was able to retain the rights is because Square Enix CEO and president Yosuke Matsuda, a noted fan of the series, believed that it “wouldn’t be Hitman unless it was Hitman made by IO,” and that letting IO keep the franchise “was the best way for the game to continue.” The sentiment that it’s better to just let go of a valuable IP because the IP itself will be better for it is not something I can ever recall hearing from a CEO or president, like, ever.
But what is the secret formula that makes Hitman so beloved? It could be the intricate level design and complex, interlocking gameplay systems that make a video game feel like a Westworld-esque theme park. It could be an art style that both fetishizes and satirizes the hedonism and inequity of late capitalism. It could be the protagonist, whose steely blankness teeters between self-parody and undeniable coolness.
Whatever that formula is, it’s on full display in Hitman 3, but this entry is in many ways its most daring and creative. One of the levels can be played as a murder mystery. Another sets up Agent 47, the perennial predator, as the prey. One of them even places 47’s mostly unseen handler, Diana, as an NPC that walks around the map. Seeing as how Hitman might be taking a long break after this chapter, IO’s developers clearly had a lot of ideas that they didn’t want going to waste.
Ironically, it’s the finale that really encapsulates what Hitman 3 is all about. Throwing out everything that makes the series so beloved, it places 47 on a moving train, giving him a linear path to his destiny. It’s a baffling, seemingly counterintuitive decision to end a series that’s known for its open-ended design. And somehow—maybe because it’s so rebellious against the series’ expectations and self-imposed rules—it still works. It shouldn’t even exist, and yet it does. What could be a more appropriate note for this series to end on than that?
Michael Goroff has written and edited for EGM since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter @gogogoroff.