One of the biggest compliments I can pay to the most recent “World of Assassination” games in the Hitman series is that they make the older Hitman games seem better than they actually were. All of Hitman’s signature elements—the absurdist swapping of uniforms, the darkly comic (or comically dark, depending on your outlook) tone, the intricately designed levels—were present since Codename 47, but they were flawed and incomplete in execution. As much as I love Hitman: Blood Money, there’s no point in arguing the fact that the notoriety system and how easily NPCs could recognize you was too opaque and unquantifiable.
Starting with 2016’s Hitman, which was both a literal and symbolic reboot following the strangely linear Absolution, IO Interactive’s intentions and ambitions for the series as a whole was finally met with thoughtful, player-friendly gameplay elements and the technical know-how to create interconnecting marvels of level design. By eliminating the more obscure parts of the Hitman formula and replacing them with systems that actually made sense, the “World of Assassination” trilogy made the genius of the vision that was already present in the older games much more obvious.
Whatever you want to call this arc for the series—a resolution, a redemption, an absolution—Hitman 3 is its culmination. It’s the total refinement of design choices that defined the last two games. It’s the most accessible game in the recent trilogy, but it also takes some of the biggest chances. Longtime veterans might find it a little too easy, and the last mission is probably not what some players will want, but taking it as the end of an already fantastic trilogy, Hitman 3 goes out with a bang.
The story picks up where the last game left off. Agent 47 and Lucas Grey are on a mission to tie up loose ends and kill the remaining Providence partners, while 47’s longtime handler Diana Burnwood is reconciling with the newfound knowledge that her charge is the one who murdered her parents when she was a kid. As is to be expected, the professional quickly becomes personal, and the story, rather than being a mere excuse for mission setups as it was in previous games, is more fully integrated into the missions themselves.
One of the ways that IO Interactive integrates the story into gameplay is with the Hitman 3’s “mission stories.” These guided approaches to completing a series of specific objectives in order to eliminate targets (or at least gain access to the targets) has been somewhat controversial for longtime players, as it’s argued that the entire point of Hitman is figuring out the best ways to complete missions and creating your own opportunities. On the contrary, I’ve always felt that the mission stories were great for learning levels on your first couple of runs before you go off and find your own solutions. But in Hitman 3, mission stories move beyond simply creating an easier path for players while providing some interesting context and background for the targets you’re killing. Some of them are in fact necessary if you want to get the most satisfying story experience.
One of the best examples of this is in the very first mission. Without spoiling anything, the way that mission story plays out sets the mood for 47 and Grey’s mission, upping the emotional stakes and showing just how much hatred Grey in particular has for the shadowy group of elites that stole his future from him. It’s by no means the most satisfying way to eliminate those particular targets, but it sure seems like the “canon” way to kill them.
The mission stories in Hitman 3 are also, on the whole, much more interesting and complex than in the previous two games, while providing the same kind of spectacle that, say, disguising as a supermodel and walking down the runway in Paris did in the 2016 game. The obvious standout is the murder mystery that takes place in an English manor set in a murky countryside. Not only does solving the mystery provide a salacious story-within-a-story, but there are certain ways that you, as the ever-chameleonic 47, can manipulate the end results of the investigation. Of course, there are plenty of other, more efficient ways that you can kill your target that you’ll have to discover on your own, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice by skipping over the investigation route, even if you are a diehard Hitman purist.
The story also feels more like a presence in Hitman 3 thanks to the return of fully animated cutscenes. While only a handful of the cutscenes display the same top-notch quality of those in the Square Enix-published Hitman, the in-game assets used in the remaining cutscenes look good enough that they can carry a narrative. Hitman 2’s animatics did end up growing on me in the end, but given how much care and effort has gone into the rest of the game, animatics would have made for a jarring sendoff for 47 in Hitman 3.
I will say that playing through the entire game by just following the mission stories and never returning to complete more challenges might leave you underwhelmed. The complexity of Hitman 3’s levels isn’t as immediately noticeable as in previous favorites like Marrakesh, Mumbai, and Sapienza. But once you start to dig a little deeper, and use the knowledge you gained from following the mission stories to figure out new ways to complete your assignments, Hitman 3’s levels open up immensely. Even after murdering the same targets several times in, say, Argentina, I was still discovering new areas and new opportunities that I’d previously missed. The addition of persistent shortcuts, which you can use when replaying areas, makes this process less intimidating, especially for players like me who lack spatial awareness.
The one exception to this is the final mission, which will be the most polarizing. Without spoiling anything, it’s a much more linear affair, and one that doesn’t fully live up to its potential. That being said, as a symbolic gesture and a summation of not just this most recent trilogy but the series as a whole, it is incredibly satisfying. I literally shouted, “Whoa!” when the true nature of the final mission’s location was revealed.
Playing on next-gen hardware certainly helps bring these levels to life, too. I’m sure that the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions still look and play as great as the last two games, but being able to experience Hitman 3’s varied locales in 4K at 60 frames per second is stunning. Plus, if you already own them, you can also access the stages from the first two games directly in Hitman 3 and play them using the new graphics engine, which offers better lighting and reflections.
Notably, unlike other high-profile next-gen releases we’ve gotten so far (looking at you, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla), I didn’t notice a single skip, jump, or tear in the experience. The only bug that somewhat impeded my progress was one that wouldn’t let me load a specific save file, but it was simple enough to reload the mission and retrace my steps. Unlike most games I get for review nowadays, Hitman 3 was polished, pretty, and an overall pleasant experience.
I’ve said this before, but the fact that IO Interactive was not only able to keep going despite losing its publisher in the middle of the second game’s development, but to even more fully realize this vision, is an achievement in and of itself. Yet IO wasn’t just content with copying and pasting what made the first two games so enjoyable. Yes, the format and structure are largely the same as they were in the first two games, but Hitman 3 still takes some risks that pay off. Who knows when we’ll get another Hitman game, but considering how much replayability there is in all three games in the trilogy, if this is the last one we get for a while, at least it went out on top.
Hitman 3 is a fantastic capstone to a standout series. Yes, a lot of what you experience will seem familiar if you’ve played the last two games, but IO Interactive continues to take interesting risks that largely play off while still perfecting the elements that make Hitman so special. The best compliment I can pay Hitman 3 is that I want to finish writing this review so I can go back to playing it.
M - Mature
|Hitman 3 is available on Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Google Stadia, and PC. Primary version played was for Xbox Series X. Product was provided by IO Interactive for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|
Michael Goroff has written and edited for EGM since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter @gogogoroff.