Agent 47 has been an umpire of death for decades and uses his finely honed skills in a wide variety of sordid businesses around the world. With Hitman 3, his World of Assassination trilogy inevitably ends bloody. During those three games, IO Interactive boldly set out to create a seamless Hitman experience that felt consistent from tutorial mission to completion. After playing through this breathtaking finale, I’m relieved that the studio made it through the landing. Every mission in the last arc is a statement that demonstrates mastery of level design and a gloomy playful willingness to undermine the expectations set five years ago. Hitman 3 is not a good place to start your Hitman journey, but it is a satisfying way to say goodbye.
Hitman has always been about dropping players in unfamiliar locations, giving them a target, and then letting them run wild. The latest games have taken this design philosophy to new heights. At its best, Hitman offers an experience like no other, delivering elaborately crafted scenarios, and giving players the tools they need to tackle missions in a variety of ways. When I first explored Hitman 3’s bombastic opening mission in Dubai, I methodically explored as much of the Scepter skyscraper as possible before killing my targets. Hours later, I was able to roll through efficiently without dawdling, killing both of them without anyone knowing I was ever there. It’s like going to the supermarket; Sometimes you want to compare the shop and sometimes you just want to get some milk and leave the store.
Hitman 3 introduces new elements including a camera gadget. Most notable, however, are the persistent links. By unlocking certain doors or accessing ladders, these newly available paths are open to you on subsequent runs. They’re a huge compliment to the series’ unlockable starting positions and ultimately give you the opportunity to bypass sections of a level and prepare for whatever – or whoever – you want to pursue the most. I loved meeting a partier outside of the Berlin nightclub and got a tour of the map, but was relieved to find a side door through which I could slip right past him and security. Some shortcuts are in riskier locations so you will have to weigh that additional risk, but I enjoyed having access to more options.
IO Interactive has been making these types of missions for years and this experience shows. Almost every mission introduces something that turns the expectations of long-time gamers on their head. The ultimate goal of killing your targets is always part of the deal, but Hitman 3 proves that there is still plenty of room for more variety. Providing a lengthy (and optional) crime thriller to solve, a mission puts you in the unusual role of a private detective and interrogator. In another case, you begin without knowing the identity of your goals. When working without information, you need to methodically observe and listen to conversations before taking action. If you’re impatient, you can just let off steam and hope for the best. Five of the six levels offer a wealth of opportunities for improvisation. I spent almost two hours infiltrating a high-tech company in China and was mesmerized by almost every moment. The last mission is more linear than the others, but no less satisfying.
Hitman 3 is a worthy end to the trilogy, but if you haven’t been impressed with previous entries, this probably won’t change your mind. The improvements, welcome to long-time fans, are more like incremental upgrades than the bigger jumps you’re used to in more traditional sequels. I enjoy the slow pace and love the tension that arises when I slip past guards unnoticed. I love thinking of each level as its own weird puzzle, and doing something about browsing the simulation to see what’s possible and what isn’t really clicks with me. However, if you think the previous two installments had mediocre gunplay or are too finicky, these elements haven’t changed. You can technically jump into Hitman 3 without playing the previous games, but that does you yourself a disservice. Much of the game’s emotional and narrative weight depends on having experienced the trilogy.
Hitman 3 closes a chapter in the bigger Hitman story, but it doesn’t feel like an ending. There’s an abundance of content and side activities out there, and the trilogy as a whole is sure to be a long-term target for potential assassins. The final act of IO Interactive in the trilogy anticipates and rewards the gamers’ experimentation, features meticulous level design and moments of creepy catharsis that make me cackle out loud. My enthusiasm for everything is as inextinguishable as the barcode that is tattooed on the back of Agent 47’s head.