Hitman 3 (2021)

You’d think that a third entry in a gaming series would start to wear thin on the original premise of a game, but Hitman 3 shows that you can continually step up the progress of ideas and morph the series over time into something so far beyond what your imagination of the game could be. If that sentence baffles you, you might not be familiar with the new Hitman games. Back in 2016 the Hitman franchise got a reboot of sorts and came out of left field and became a smash hit, and in 2021 the third in the “World of Assassination” trilogy was released and finalized IOI as mastercraftsmen of game design.

Back in 2016 Hitman came out and was released as episodic content. With every month or two seeing a new level releasing. Each level was a new location and had a single target to take down. The episodic release really allowed the player to fully explore all avenues and paths to cultivate a unique hit. Each level isn’t designed to be completed once and then move on to the next level, like in a normal game, and with the slowed down release of each new level as well, it afforded everyone to really dive deep and replay each level a dozen or two times before they saw everything the level had to offer.

Sadly, because of the nature of the behind the scenes issues with IOI and their publisher, Square Enix, IOI split from Square which left Hitman 2 without a publisher, and the game was released as a normal single game. No episodic release, and it really did suffer for it. The game was still great, but just didn’t have that special magic. Each level was more varied, but having all the levels at your fingertips on release day, it was hard to not just keep advancing.

Hitman 3 also released the same way as 2 did, and just as before, it’s harder to go back and replay the same level you just completed instead of advancing the story and plot along and seeing what new environment the newest level has to offer. But to placate this a bit, each level is so large and with multiple targets, you can spend a lot more time just exploring everything. I easily spent a couple hours in each level on my first run, just because there is so much to see.

The clockwork nature of the game is really the standout piece of what to look at. Most characters are on several predestined paths, and it’s up to you to make everything fit together. Find a disguise that will lead you on story paths, and interacting with certain characters and specific times really is the main point of the game, and it’s always a joy to follow these little threads and see how they play into the “Hit”. That’s the way I played the first two games, but this one, just because of the timing of the games release and how I was in the middle of moving across the country flying and driving back and forth so many times, I really changed up my playstyle for the third installment and made my own mish-mash of a bit of story, a bit of improv and a whole lot of chance timing.

The levels are gigantic in this game, and while maybe most are not as memorable as the first game, there are definitely highlights for each level. And what might be the most intriguing part of the game is something I would have never guessed. Just a couple weeks after the game was released, Speedrunners started breaking the game wide open, with the first level having a completion of less than 8 seconds start to exit. Which in turn gave some other streamers different ideas on how to create more Hitman content. The game really is a sandbox in the widest sense as you can really make up your own fun with the game. The cross of weapons that you can find in the levels, along with the unlockable ones from previous games imported really give you a toybox of mayhem to mess around with and make the game as serious or as goofy as you want to.

Hitman’s story of clone agents and shadow kabals were never of any interest to me in the previous games, and I rarely ever paid attention to any of the games before, as the stealth really was quite boring in my mind. Bloody Money on the 360 really was the only one that caught my eye, and it was because it was released near the launch of the system and the demo was quite enjoyable. The World of Assassination trilogy takes Agent 47 traveling all over the world to be the perfect murder weapon for the ICA and his handler Diane Burnwood. Throughout the three games, Burnwood soon discovers her and Agent 47 are being used and controlled to do the bidding of a secret society that rules the world from a floating pyramid. The richest of the rich, and all the fun stuff. What really won me over was the acting of both Agent 47 and Ms. Burnwood. These characters really do care for each other, and you can feel it through not just the in game dialogue but also the cutscenes. Agent 47, a stoic character if there ever was one, while monotone brings so much underneath the line delivery, that he has quickly shot up to one of the better video game characters in the last decade.

Hitman 3 really does bring out the best in the series, and expands on everything the previous two games have done up to this point. Missions are varied and with so many branching paths, it can be almost impossible to make a choice on whether to continue on the path you are already on, or follow a new and potentially more interesting one. Tons of exciting weapons to use, and the escalation of production values to the levels leaves you satisfied with the conclusion, while at the same time wanting to re-experience the older levels with the new paths you have uncovered.

I can’t say enough good things about this series as a whole, and Hitman 3 was well worth the wait. With IOI and the troubles behind the scenes with publishers, I did notice a bit less polish on the final product than with the other two. Nothing major, but definitely a few times where textures didn’t load in, or graphical glitches never seen before. Some NPC who got a bit off their loop or track and glitched through a table or two. But those are just minor blips on the radar. The game still being tied to Online play for a single player game did cause a few small connection issues, but I never was bumped out of a level, but did pause my gameplay to wait for my connection to clear up.

I only wish IOI followed through with the Episodic release, as it felt like there was more time given to really explore the levels without the lingering “Move to the next level” feeling always at the end of the score calculation part. I would have been more than happy with a new level to look forward to each month instead of a fully released game in one go. I think they nailed the perfect storm with the way this Hitman series was built and a great release schedule that encouraged multiple playthroughs, something I myself am very rarely ever wanting to do.

Hitman 3 offers something for everyone. A great gameplay experience with so much to do and find, that sandbox players or people who want more of a linear path both can enjoy, and with a great and intriguing story, those who want a well told and acted story mode should be fully satisfied as well. The World Of Assassination trilogy will go down as a monumental change in how games are designed and how a “Games as a Service” can be done right without feeling exploitative. I happily look forward to the newly announced James Bond game IOI is now working on, and hope that Agent 47 gets put to rest for a while, and comes back with a new and exciting gameplay hook in several years from now. Until then, I’ll be playing the trilogy quite a lot more hoping to one day 100% every level.