Review: Hitman 3 is an achievement in sandbox shenanigans, several years in the making

Video game sequels come and go, but the way IO Interactive approached iteration with its Hitman trilogy is something special. By keeping the same mechanics and tools in all three games while adding a lot of spice and variety to each level, the fruits of IO’s labor in Hitman 3 have resulted in a powerful and solid package.

It’s hard to consider Hitman 3 a unique game, as it’s ultimately a long final demonstration of a unique and engaging play style developed over at least five years. Hitman’s brand of sandbox solutions for an open world is nuanced and encourages mental development through a combination of exploration, experimentation, pattern recognition and patience. Few action games turn your head and make you want to play again and again to the point where you live and breathe game systems like Hitman.

Before I played this game, the mere existence of a third new Hitman game was enough to excite me. I knew the mechanics of the game and was eager to hone my skills, take on new challenges and explore new places, both indoors and out. That said, Hitman 3 was almost exactly the game I wanted and expected – sometimes predictability and familiarity can be so comforting.

Killerland

Image via IO Interactive

Amazingly, Hitman 3 is available to all players regardless of the point of entry into the IO reboot series. The very useful game tutorials for Hitman 2016 and its 2018 sequel are still effective, and in terms of history the opening scenario cleverly sums up the rather confusing plot so far. Hitman 3 is the smaller of the two sequels, and the larger of the two sequels is the final third of a great gaming experience.

The addictive gameplay formula remains the same: You play Agent 47, who is transported to an exotic location and tasked with killing specific targets, with some levels containing mandatory targets that do not require you to take lives. There are six main levels in Hitman 3, each with a large sandbox map with its own nooks, crannies and twists. Use disguises to access restricted areas and bypass security, turn any item you find into a weapon, and unlock timely opportunities through mission stories that are essentially side quests that lead you specifically to the goal.

Just as Hitman 2 contains the levels of Hitman 1 for owners of both games, owners of previous games will be able to play all the levels and locations of the entire trilogy in Hitman 3. With too many challenges and variations on the story missions in the form of Climbing Contracts (with secondary objectives and increasing difficulty) and events like Elusive Targets (limited missions and scenarios where you only get one chance), Hitman 3 is more of a platform than a game. But that may be a minor flaw – with so much content and information from three major games, the menu can be a bit dense and overwhelming for some players. Either way, it’s almost impossible to get bored with Hitman with all it has to offer, and Hitman 3 has plenty of new content to regurgitate.

Basket of regrets

Image via IO Interactive

Despite the supposed seriousness of this Murder World, the great Hitman series is still anchored in cheesiness, and the 2016 Hitman reboot has seen many crazy and upside-down moments. Hitman 2 felt more self-conscious, as this side of Hitman offered a lot of opportunities for nonsense – think 47 dressing up as a flamingo mascot at the racecourse in Miami. Hitman 3, on the other hand, picks up where these last games left off by imagining the most hideous and despicable targets to kill, unknowingly making Agent 47 the unsung hero who destroys the most immoral and hyper-capitalist villains imaginable.

From military speculators to practitioners of human experimentation, IOs have created fictional personalities so sophisticated that you won’t hesitate to think of equally sophisticated ways to end your life. Hitman 3’s six levels take you through lush environments and compounds where you can ponder the trophies, riches and excessive ambition of the villains. In each of these levels, there are NPCs with their own motivations that you can utilize to get closer to your goals. And for the most part, the new levels in Hitman 3 are less simple than in previous games, and include unusual lenses, shortcuts and a camera that can scan and hack.

Take the level of Dartmoor, where a mysterious murder must be solved that will undoubtedly provoke a Knives Out movie. As you approach a level by disguising yourself as a private investigator, you search for clues and interrogate suspects, gaining additional information and tools to complete your primary mission of murder. Or the Berlin mission, which is much more historically oriented and a little freer in terms of the targets you may eliminate. Veterans of Hitman games must be so used to the standards of the series that even the slightest deviation from the norm can be strangely entertaining.

Homicide, he wrote.

Image via IO Interactive

The story of the trilogy is much more important in Hitman 3, and compared to previous games, the levels feel less detached from the story. Hitman sites tend to look like self-contained snow globes, with only the world and immediate objectives in focus. But when Hitman 3 took the story to its final conclusion, the battles of history crept into the main missions much more often.

Unfortunately, this story is probably the weakest aspect of the entire trilogy. The presentation itself is beautiful – the long shots of Hitman 3 are preferable to the still images of the Hitman 2 comics, even if the video quality is a bit grainy and poor. But the scenes themselves have no appeal and little interaction between the characters is authentic or exciting. While some of the plot developments towards the end of the game are interesting, some of the supporting characters are poorly laid out, and even Agent 47 himself has not reached a satisfactory conclusion to his character arc.

Still, the global build of the Hitman trilogy has been successful worldwide, and 47’s brutal dialogue and NPCs’ observations and behavior in the sandbox levels are still fun to watch. Ultimately, it’s for the gameplay and everything sandbox related that players will come to Hitman 3 anyway.

Judgement

Image via IO Interactive

The Murder World brand for the Hitman trilogy has always been a curious concept. But after browsing through everything these three games have to offer, the name takes on its full meaning from different angles. There is a vast and fascinating fictional world, with conspiracies by dubious companies, organizations and individuals, and political machinations that have parallels with our own world. Together, these three games form a world for the player to explore, with a variety of challenges and opportunities to discover. And each level represents a world of its own, offering a wide and varied selection of toys to wreak havoc.

Hitman 3 isn’t just a sequel, it’s the culmination of an epic, near-perfect game that invites you to never stop learning and never stop playing.

+ The unmistakable sophistication of the Hitman game
+ Presents thematic plots and the most hated targets imaginable.
+ Unexpected twists in different game levels
The developments of the stories are neither exciting nor satisfying.
Very complete menu and navigation through three games.

Disclosure: The game code was provided for review.

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