Hitman 3 is the final instalment in the World of Assassination series that began with 2016’s Hitman reboot – a series which has given the venerable chrome-domed killer a new lease of life.
By making its locations just as much the focus of the game as the character of ‘Agent 47’ or his stabby stealth shenanigans, this series has succeeded in giving the franchise a unique identity among stealth games. And despite what some may perceive as a lack of interesting new features, Hitman 3 feels like the perfect way to end this glorious run of releases.
Glockin’ all over the world
Hitman 3 continues and concludes the story told in Hitman and Hitman 2, expounding on Agent 47’s and his handler Diana Burnwood’s struggle to topple Providence, the Illuminati-style group of heartless elites that influences world events through terrorism, espionage and other nefarious means.
There are some clever twists and turns along the way and everything’s very competently done plot-wise, but Hitman has never been reliant on its narrative to draw players in. This spy thriller story really exists as a means to tie together 47’s globetrotting adventures in death-dealing and ensure there’s some kind of fictional framework and motivation for all this murder – and all that travel.
Update 31/01/2023: Following a major free update to (and renaming of) the game, we’ve updated this review with a new section explaining the changes and giving our opinion of the new Freelancer mode. Scroll down to the bottom to read it.
The joy of six
The game offers six new locations, every one (bar one notable, and acceptable exception) a intricately crafted sandbox packed with interesting characters, interesting places and interesting ways to off your targets. From the opulent upper floors of the world’s tallest skyscraper in Dubai (yes, of course you can push your victims off the top) to a Berghain-inspired nightclub in the concrete shell of a former German power station (yes, of course you can impersonate the DJ and send the crowd into a techno-fuelled frenzy), every location feels alive and demands exploration.
One of the great joys of this series has been aimlessly wandering around these places, drinking in their atmospheres, enjoying their visuals and listening to the conversations of their inhabitants: the griping of a put-upon housemaid or the boasts batting back and forth between a bodyguard and his colleague. These characters, as well as some of the more outlandish assassination methods afforded by the locations (think exploding golf balls, overpowered industrial fans and poorly wired modern art installations) lend the game a tongue-in-cheek, absurdist and almost satirical flavour that lets it neatly sidestep the on-paper grimness of its subject matter.
It’s hard for a player to feel morally strained when, as 47, you send a cartoonishly wicked technoterrorist into the great beyond using the mind control device they themselves invented.
As with the 2016 Hitman and 2018’s Hitman 2, each location has several story missions that can be played through step-by-step in order to get to Agent 47’s prey, as well as a long list of challenges and other achievements to tick off. This encourages and rewards multiple playthroughs of the same location, as you’ll unlock new starting points, gadgets, weapons, disguises and more the more you play. Once unlocked, many of these can be used in other locations too.
If you rush, you can play through all six of the new levels in a few short hours, but doing so would be missing the point: with the detail and craft that has gone into these levels, you should be taking your time, replaying them again and again to try out new methods of assassination, complete challenges and fully explore the wonderful world that IO Interactive has built.
On a related note, owners of the previous two games can import their progress and unlocks. This process is a bit convoluted and has some limits (you can’t import progress from a PS4 to the PC, for instance), but well worth it – especially as, once done, you can access all the series’ locations from within Hitman 3.
So what’s new besides?
The new locations are the real draw here, but Hitman 3 does introduce a few new features. Chief among these is a VR mode, allowing you to play all the levels from the entire trilogy (should you own them) from an entirely fresh perspective.
We played the game on PC, where VR unfortunately isn’t available – it’s exclusive to PSVR at present – so for now we can’t attest to how well it works; hopefully we’ll be able to update this review with after some hands- and eyes-on experience with the VR version in the near future.
In terms of in-game additions, there’s a new persistent shortcut system (find and open a shortcut during one playthrough of a level and it’ll be unlocked permanently, giving you a quicker and easier route through the location) and a camera gadget that serves a couple of purposes: it’s both a means to locate clues and hack electronic locks, as well as an in-game photo mode for creative screenshot-snappers.
Neither of the above transform the gameplay drastically, but they do feel like welcome refinements. In truth, the core gameplay of sneaking around locations, disguising yourself in order to access prohibited areas and using either the environment or your equipment to eliminate your targets hasn’t changed since the 2016’s Hitman – but given how well it works and how fun it is to play, that’s no bad thing.
January 2023 update: A new name
On 26 January 2023, a major all-platform update arrived for Hitman 3 that brought with it a number of tweaks to gameplay, UI, graphics and audio in addition to Freelancer, a totally new way to play the game (see ‘Going rogue’ below for more on that).
It also sees the game renamed to Hitman: World of Assassination, which IO Interactive believes better sums up the all-encompassing nature of a title that now (your DLC dependent) offers content from three full games, including over 20 locations. Fair enough. We’ve amended this review title to reflect that, as from now on if you buy the game new it’ll be called this rather than Hitman 3.
Don’t fear if you’re picking up a copy of the ‘old’ game from eBay or CEX, mind – it’ll still be able to receive the update and all the benefits it brings.
Hitman Freelancer: Going rogue
The biggest new addition from the January 2023 update is Freelancer, a new ‘rogue-like’ mode designed for seasoned assassins who have likely already completed the game’s story missions and are highly familiar with the locations.
First, for the uninitiated, what is a rogue-like? Well, the definition is slightly loose, but in general rogue-like games (well-known examples of which include Hades, Darkest Dungeon, Returnal, Dead Cells, Enter the Gungeon, Slay the Spire, Spelunky and FTL: Faster Than Light) come with a number of key characteristics such as randomly (or procedurally) generated levels, permadeath (if you die, you fail the current run and must restart from the beginning) and unlockable abilities and items that can be ‘carried over’ from a failed run into the next, fresh run.
While pedants might try to point out that Freelancer doesn’t use randomly generated levels, it does randomise the order in which levels appear, the targets and the placement of item crates and so on. So we’re calling that enough.
When you kick off a new Freelancer run (which the game calls a ‘campaign’), you start in the control bunker of Agent 47’s swanky countryside hideout – a swish modernist pile with tons of unlockable cosmetic (and some functional) rooms and décor. In order to win a campaign, you must play through a series of levels, taking out targets as the difficulty ramps up. If you fail certain missions, you might just lose some in-game currency and any items you have on you at the time, while other missions are critical: fail them and the entire campaign is over.
The in-game currency (which is called Merces) persists through campaigns, but you’ll lose half your current total when you fail a campaign – so in some cases it may be better to spend it while you have it. You can do so during missions, approaching in-game traders who’ll sell you gear and weapons. Take these tools back to your hideout and you’ll be able to use them to tip the odds in your favour in future campaigns.
Freelancer is brilliant for a piece of free DLC. It adds a whole new dimension to the game and gives players who’ve played it to death (no pun intended) a fresh challenge. And a challenge it is: the random nature of the mode and the highly punishing permadeath feature make it extremely difficult. With no save/reload option, one mistake or piece of bad luck can ruin a run. But that’s kind of the point: if you ever do succeed in pulling off a campaign, you’ll have conquered Hitman’s toughest contract yet.
Hitman 3 verdict
IO Interactive’s Hitman formula was pretty much perfected with Hitman and Hitman 2, so giving us more of the same with Hitman 3 feels totally adequate. More than that, in fact: with the ability to import all your progress and all of the series’ locations into Hitman 3, it’s the definitive way to experience this fantastic game.
We’re just sorry that this seems to spell the end for Agent 47’s adventures, at least for now, but hey – we’ll always have Paris. And Sapienza, and Hokkaido, and Miami, and Dartmoor.
More of the same – but we’re not complaining
Rich, intricate sandbox locations
Beautiful graphics and environments
Carries over content from Hitman and Hitman 2
No ambitious gameplay changes