Here we go then… it’s the final instalment of the World of Assassination that IO Interactive started back in 2016 with HITMAN. 5 years of steadily tweaking the formula, the mechanics and the story balance to deliver a conclusion to Agent 47 and Diana Burnwood’s crusade against the ICA. It’s been a long road to get here, and a fair few bumps along the way, not least the launch of HITMAN 3 itself and the inability of pre-order players to actually get into the game until the day after their copies became available. However, releasing across just about every current and next gen platform all at once can’t be easy, and offering up the ability to share progress within the same ecosystem adds complications. Then there’s a full VR implementation that puts you physically in Agent 47’s suit… surely it’s got to be good, right?
A quick catch up if you’ve missed the previous two games – Agent 47 is hunting down The Constant, the man at the head of the secret organisation that controls everything, Providence. Helping him are Diana Burnwood as his massively experienced handler, and the merc Lucas Grey who’s helped reveal the truth to the pair over the previous titles. Together they’ve found out who are the heads of the snake, and are systematically cutting them off. You’re joining the team as they visit six new destinations to finish off the tale that began 5 years ago, though not all is as it seems in this duplicitous world. The narrative is more pronounced this time around, and whilst it does wrap up the series fittingly, there’s a clear sense that it had to be heavier handed than before. As it’s the third game, and the end of the trilogy, it seems appropriate then that for our HITMAN 3 review we’re approaching it as a Trinity. Each of the team have taken a particular aspect of the overall game package and spent time working out what they think, and tried hard not to spend too much time creating challenges for the others to attempt in the returning Contracts mode.
Agent Brown – The Concluder
IOI’s World of Assassination has always been an aspirational take on the Hitman series, allowing us to experience the lifestyle of a globetrotting top tier assassin and it certainly doesn’t disappoint in this respect. Like the previous instalments, HITMAN 3 might look light on content featuring only 6 levels, but rest assured these are sandboxes of assassination, providing plenty of scope for replayability. The game opens high above the clouds in the opulent upper floors of Dubai’s Burj Al-Ghazali skyscraper, introducing new gameplay elements including a camera, persistent shortcuts and keypads and computer terminals that 47 can interact with. Later levels include a manor house that is reminiscent of Hitman: Contracts’ Beldingford Manor, an underground nightclub set within an abandoned power station outside Berlin, a neon lit Chinese city block that houses a secret facility, and a South American vineyard, which once more brings back nostalgic memories from the series’ past.
The changes are subtle yet effective and really help to further flesh out the already immersive world that Agent 47 inhabits. Opportunities make a return, but this time only the mission stories are highlighted as a waypoint, so at first glance it feels like there are not as many “scripted” approaches available to you. If you take your time though, you will soon start to notice characters and situations that can be exploited in order to manipulate your targets, making the use of these off the books opportunities all the more satisfying when you work out exactly what you need to do for yourself. Codes for keypads are often found written on notes or whiteboards within levels, or overheard from NPCs as they unsuspectingly go about their business. Persistent shortcuts open up new ways to reach areas you have already discovered going the long way around; they stay open for future playthroughs too, adding to the other benefits to replayability offered by mastery, such as starting locations and disguises. In fact it’s replayability that is key to the longevity of your game experience. Learning the codes, unlocking the shortcuts and working out how all the NPCs interact can make levels that at first seem impenetrable a delight the next time around (Chongqing, I’m looking at you). Visually the game looks stunning in 4K60 and with the enhanced lighting, the neon soaked Chongqing looks spectacular and the moody skies of Dartmoor are fantastically foreboding.
Agent Cornwall – The Time Traveller
HITMAN 3 allows you to experience the previous levels from the past games as part of a purchasable legacy pack, or for free if you’re a previous console game owner (sorry Epic/Steam players, we know this is still an issue for you). This provides the opportunity to replay favourite levels of earlier releases with the same graphical enhancements seen in the current version. All locales feel like they have had an uplift in quality and run super smoothly and look amazing. There are a few issues with the odd item in a level, such as Bangkok where some of the boats glitch out, which takes you of the immersivity if you continue to watch their crazy movements. Aside from the graphics upgrade there isn’t much that has changed for the legacy locations other than you now carry a camera around with you so you can take holiday snaps while you are on your travels. The keypads and the shortcuts which have been added into HITMAN 3 haven’t made their way into any of the legacy levels, which is a shame but may have changed them too much from the tightly crafted challenges they originally presented. We can only dream of what additional covert opportunities could have opened up in Sapienza’s lab or the Kronstadt building in Miami.
As with the last game, all unlockables earned are usable in every legacy location, and there’s a nice continuation of using “MK”‘s to identify which version they made an appearance in. The MKIII gear comes from the most recent release and tends to look more brutal than the subtle designs from before. At least there’s the returning duck family – proximity, remote detonate and distraction – that covers all the basic assassin principles. Having progress transfer over actually helps on the enjoyment front, especially for those that maybe couldn’t face mastering Paris for a third time. It’s worth noting that progression also works across generations, so if you’re playing on PS5, then drop back to PS4 you’ll get the unlocks and level mastery updated (and vice versa). From a trophy hunters perspective this makes it a pretty sweet double platinum too. The real advantage of these historic entries being here though is to provide depth to the game with 21 places to go stealthing through from the off, plus the three Sniper Assassin missions, and to let IOI get some reuse out of the previous Elusive Targets!
Agent Holt – The Innovator
Arguably the most exciting prospect of HITMAN 3 is getting to see everything from Agent 47’s point of view in the exclusive PSVR mode. Having the entire game playable in a virtual world is a tantalising prospect, and to be clear it’s exactly the same game as non-VR, not a specially curated set of levels or a stripped back version. Sure, it started to sound a bit gimmicky pre-release with all the mentions of no Move controller support, the VR mode wouldn’t work on the PS5 version, and that there wasn’t much in the way of hands on; but fortunately it does live up to the promise. Well, mostly. There are compromises that have been made to maintain the fluidity of the game play, and most noticeably that’s in NPCs – there are a lot less in view than you’d like, and moving though crowds sees them suddenly pop into the scene as they get rendered. It’s not a deal breaker, and most players will appreciate the technical limitations, but I can’t say it isn’t distracting. Get away from the crowds though it’s a lot better, and there’s something really special about being in the same exact space with a target, not to mention it being more tense.
Hitman’s mechanics have always relied on the third person view providing the chance to keep an eye on what’s happening around you, and it’s the first thing you notice in VR… the restricted view. Of course, you have to physically turn your head and look, but that’s harder than you realise when you’re not used to doing it in a game. Then there’s the removal of the instinct ability, so you have to make do with not being able to see through walls and doors. It’s not a drawback as such because it gets replaced with “real world” actions like peeking, yet it definitely makes the whole experience more exciting when you can’t see if anyone’s about to walk in. The idea seems to be not just put you in the same scenarios, but actually make you the agent and forcing you to inhabit 47’s mind as much as his body. It’s surprising that the shift in perspective also means a shift in problem solving and how you tackle a scenario. Items are manipulated in your hands (with a neat little virtual “pouch” to holster them in), and you need to use them as they’re intended. Moving your hands up to choke, aiming down pistol sights and pulling on a fibrewire all have a tangibility that’s never been available before; and given the scale of some of the locations too, I’ve never felt so much part of a game as I have in HITMAN 3. There are risks though, and it’s a big one for those wanting to jump into VR because of this game.
Movement is all done on the DualShock 4, and you’re going to be sat down – and a bit of a funny angle as well, it makes you perch otherwise you’ll see the bounding box constantly – so that means full FPS movement in the headset whilst not moving physically. It’s a prime instigator for motion sickness. I’m fairly well seasoned and my first session ended up being quite nauseating, though admittedly I was in there for a couple of hours and should have taken a break. There are a load of comfort options, and whilst leaving smooth motion on might be tempting to get the best out of the game, it’s going to be the hardest going. VR newbies should really consider something more gentle to ease themselves into the medium. That said, it’s easily the best looking VR presentation of any game I’ve played, and the audio is bang on for the most part, something that unfortunately the base game tends to suffer with in terms of glitches and drop sound drop out. If there’s a choice between VR and the PS5 version I’d probably take the latter as it’s got all the bells and whistles of fancy lighting effects and the super fast loading, but that doesn’t mean I’ll skip the VR completely. It’s a great way to get lost in the level design and appreciate the details that you really don’t see from any other angle.
The World of Assassination now feels like a complete package with all the sandbox destinations in one package, a vast inventory of toys to use in them, huge scope in the Contracts mode, ongoing additional content with Escalations and Elusive Targets, and the brilliant implementation of a full VR mode. We’ve always strongly debated if Hitman games really need a storyline to drive them beyond “Someone paid us to kill someone else 47, I will leave you to prepare.”, yet the recent trilogy of games have patiently elevated plot from the background in HITMAN to the foreground in HITMAN 2, and now in HITMAN 3 it contrives some twists to the tried and tested gameplay of the series. Unlike 2013’s Hitman Absolution, they feel like they belong. Maybe the lasting legacy of that miss-step in focussing on a linear narrative is that IO Interactive have now nailed the formula the combines a straight story with an open gameplay approach. Those who are visiting the shadowy world of deadly intelligence and nefarious global agencies for the first time can experience one of the greatest playgrounds to grace gaming in its entirety; and those who are returning will slip it on as easily as 47 does his trademark black suit.
PS5 and PS4 versions of HITMAN 3 were used for this review, and it’s available now on PSVR, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Stadia, Switch and PC. Prices vary depending on platform.