The Hitman series has always been defined by its openness, which allows players to take on the role of the incomparable assassin Agent 47 and take down targets at will. But there is something fascinating and, to this franchise, novel-like Hitman 3, the final entry in IO Interactive’s World of Assassination trilogy: The story the game’s authors invented is at least as important as Hitman’s play-it-your-way ghost.
IO has said that it regards certain assassinations as the “canon” ending to some of the missions in this trilogy. That has never been as true as in Hitman 3This occasionally signals that you should make a particular decision, and then reinforces it with a cutscene that comes straight out of that choice.
Of course, the back and forth between interactivity and written narrative plays out the essence of 47’s job itself: He is a contract killer from laboratory technology who was designed as the perfect rental weapon and always carries out someone else’s orders instead of the will to act himself.
Indeed, the entire IO trilogy touches on ideas of power, control, and self-determination. The group known as Providence in the fiction of the Games is a global cabal of elites who shape world events behind the scenes. The ethos of the organization is that it must guide the course of history because the masses are unable to choose the right path for themselves. But what happens when some of the blunt tools that Providence uses to exercise its extraordinary power – 47 and his long-lost friend Lucas Gray, a trained assassin – gain an understanding of their humanity and try to practice free will?
This is heady stuff for a video game franchise that alternates between operatic drama and goofy hijinks, and it’s mostly stuck in the background until now. Hitman 3 plays it up and ensures a brilliant conclusion to the trilogy. The game is not only notable for its masterly level design and penchant for turning familiar elements of the series upside down, but also for how skillfully it carries the accumulated weight of its characters’ actions – and topples it with devastating consequences.
If it seems surprising to spend so much time on a Hitman game review talking about its story, then I’ve come to the right place. As a result of 2016, it was so confused and barely comprehensible Hitman That I couldn’t bring myself to care in the Hitman 2The writers spent more time developing the characters than just throwing in proper hints and recalls about the events of the previous game. It’s hard to build sympathy for a few cold-blooded killers, but IO pulled it off with key revelations about 47’s early life, childhood friendship with Gray, and his relationship with handler Diana Burnwood.
Hitman 2 ended on a high level when Agent 47 and his cohorts managed to catch Arthur Edwards, aka the Constant. That number works for Providence Partners, the secret society’s three leaders, all from families with old money. At the beginning of Hitman 3
Hitman 3 weaves a world-wide story with many characteristics of the espionage republic. Trust is a poor, risky concept, and loyalties can change at any time. Do members of Providence have the luxury of trusting someone? Diana encouraged and directed 47’s growth as an assassin, but is she using it for her own ends?
It’s only natural that IO put history first as it brought the trilogy to its exciting conclusion. In addition, the story is the driving force behind the way you actually play Hitman 3.
Of the six missions in Hitman 3 – in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Dartmoor, UK; Berlin; Chongqing, China; Mendoza, Argentina; and Romania’s Carpathian Mountains – only two start the traditional Hitman way. 47 just show up in one place and ready to get to work. The other missions grabbed me and didn’t let go of unconventional introductions like a dizzying infiltration of the tallest building in the world and a disturbing nightly exploration of an abandoned gas station. I also enjoyed the challenge of being challenged to think more on my feet as 47 often had to begin a mission without his usual gear or hidden weapon. And when a story twist changed the default handler / assassin setup, I realized how accustomed I had become to Diana’s lively, suggestive narrative and the crutch of detailed briefing on the mission’s objectives over the past two games.
IO also offers new levels of freeform murder in Hitman 3, also impressive for a franchise company known for its sandbox environments. A highlight in this context is “Apex Predator”, which takes place around an underground dance club in an industrial area on the outskirts of Berlin. It surprised me every step of the way, took me to a strange place with no instructions or weapons, and forced me to improvise. As I explored the area, gained information, and found out who my goals were, my goals developed. This mission comes at a point in the campaign when it feels like 47 competed against the world. It’s a great synthesis of story and gameplay.
Argentina’s “The Farewell” is not the last mission of Hitman 3but it feels like a culmination of everything the franchise is working towards – as if IO wanted to put all the dials to 11. The Mendoza location itself is a sprawling playground: an opulent retirement gala in a winery built into a cliff. with vineyards stretching towards a lake town in the distance and a villa overlooking it all. For the first time, Diana herself is in the game and possibly in danger.
Mendoza contains what is now what I believe is my favorite murder in the entire Hitman franchise. I’m just going to say it’s about wine machines and some … support.
The mission may also make best use of some mechanics that are new Hitman 3: Security keyboards, time restrictions and 47 mm camera / scanner. All of these elements come together when you attempt the daring theft of an invaluable bottle of wine: I had to disable the security measures on a computer terminal and then run down the stairs within a minute – as a timer on the screen that counts down the seconds before it Security would be reactivated – and a four-digit code entered to access the chamber the bottle is in. (I had caught the code when I broke into the ventilation corridors below the room, an feat I did with the scanner to hack the tunnel access doors.) I felt like an evil super spy.
That doesn’t mean the other locations lack breathtaking views or incredible level design, whether it’s a rain-soaked, neon-lit neighborhood of Chongqing, the verticality of its densely packed buildings, or the secrets in the walls of Dartmoor’s Thornbridge Manor. The only exception is the epilogue in Romania which is disappointing in how circumscribed the experience is and plays out more like a specific Bong Joon Ho movie than a typical Hitman level. Still, it makes room for a couple Hitman 3‘s permanent shortcuts – doors (and ladders in some places) that must be unlocked from one side and will remain available in future playthroughs once they are unlocked. Can’t wait to revisit the game and use these paths to try and speed up missions.
I don’t want to exaggerate how far Hitman 3 is a departure from its predecessors. Moment-to-moment gameplay continues to focus on Agent 47 sneaking past people (or putting on disguises to hide from view) in order to enable him to commit murder. In a sense, it’s very similar to a sequel Hitman 2, with new objectives to be knocked down in six new locations, and some extra toys and tactics to help 47 achieve its goals. But I really appreciated the twists and turns and folds IO threw into the Hitman formula this time around, many of them were driven by the story.
This is a clear sign that, at the end of their beloved trilogy, IO felt it was necessary to exercise a greater degree of narrative control and prioritize their own story over Hitman’s open-ended nature. The studio put a heavier hand on the steering wheel, but the compromise is totally worth it.
When you return to an independent studio and gain the freedom to tell the story you want to tell while staying true to the franchise that you were, you can set the answers to these questions about designing great games for more than two decades work. I’m amazed that IO managed this delicate balancing act in Agent 47’s best adventure yet.
Hitman 3 will be released on January 20th on Google Stadia, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X. The game has been verified on PC with an Epic Games Store download code provided by IO Interactive prior to release. Vox Media maintains partner partnerships. These do not affect the editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions on products purchased through affiliate links. You can find For more information on Polygon’s ethical policy, see here.