Wednesday, 24 Feb 2021

Hitman 3 review – mission mostly accomplished

Hitman 3 offers closure for IO Interactive’s World of Assassination trilogy, but does it manage to end the reboot era on a high?

Agent 47 was in a bad place before the World of Assassination trilogy came along. After 2012’s Hitman: Absolution was rejected by fans, the franchise felt like it had lost a handle on its tone and execution. When the original came out back in 2000, the grimdark game about killing people played less juvenile than it does now. With Absolution it felt like the series had gotten away from developer IO Interactive, who were struggling to nail the feel but also the form of the series.

Then, in 2016, the reboot launched and proved to be the series’ salvation. It was a quiet revelation that brought a spy-tinged, world-hopping simplification to the franchise. It presented players with detailed environments that provided endless opportunities to kill targets. Canvases with which to paint your bloody masterpieces of death.

Crucially, it was all so ridiculous too. The games play their over-arching story straight, with Agent 47 trying to take down an Illuminati type organisation called Providence in cut scenes between missions. However, what has made modern Hitman games great is that they find humour in unexpected places. Throwing an explosive rubber duck at a crime lord, while dressed as a mime, is just another day on the job in Hitman. Even just the ringing ‘dong’ heard when throwing a fire extinguisher at a character’s head, these games are incredible vehicles for slapstick comedy. Tom and Jerry cartoons played out in real-life.

That remains true in Hitman 3. In every way, be it a pro or a con, the trilogy topper is very much a continuation of the previous games. That makes sense too. Hitman and Hitman 2 are integrated into Hitman 3, so if you own the previous two games you can load up missions right into Hitman 3 as if it was one of the game’s own. This creates a lovely, tidy package for the trilogy and highlights the game’s unwavering dedication to the form it pioneered in 2016.

In terms of its systems, everything will be very familiar to fans; there is little new here to contend with that wasn’t in the previous games. You knock people out by mashing the subdue button, you can gain access to areas by picking up errant keycards or wearing the correct attire. People who might blow your cover have a white dot above their head and you can use your instinct to see through walls and locate your targets. The other games being accessible through Hitman 3 makes sense because, in many ways, they’re built as the same game.

In Hitman 3, as is true in the previous two games, the true stars of the show are the open locations that act as levels. These are environments you will become intimate with as you learn their workings. The game’s campaign only houses a handful of missions, large areas that can take anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes to beat the first time through. For a full campaign, that might seem short, and it is, but the joy of Hitman is going back into these levels and exploring all they have to offer.

Hidden in many corners of these immaculately realised locations are opportunities and stories. Every location, be it the world’s tallest building in Dubai or a family manor in Dartmoor, is teeming with storytelling. As you return, you’ll come to appreciate and understand the connected nature of the area and the people that inhabit it. These are intricate machines, working beautifully in-sync. You are the wrench trying to dismantle them before anyone notices.

The best storytelling comes from learning about the lives of these inhabitants. Often these narratives are small, such as the politics of housemaids and the petty gossip they share between one another. Other times they are useful. You might overhear how your target has a safe in his basement and that the code could be he and his wife’s anniversary. This then leads you to do your own private investigating into what that might be, and end up having to google how long a crystal anniversary is.

Other times, the stories are much bigger. In one notable sequence, you can take on the role of a private investigator hired to get to the bottom of a potential murder. What follows is a bizarre Knives Out-esque story that has you establish motives and alibis for the family members, all before drawing your own conclusion. Then, of course, murdering the person who hired you, because… well, this is Hitman. It’s slightly awkward in execution but IO Interactive is having fun with what their system allows. The inventiveness it continually finds is endlessly charming.

This all feeds into the inherent repeatability of these levels. You can, of course, run into a mission, take out your gun and shoot a target in the head and flee within a couple of minutes. However, the game is a beautiful reminder of the value of showmanship. You can get to point A to B quickly and get out. Or, you can meticulously set up a Heath Robinson machine of death that executes at the perfect moment. The latter always wins out, and players who dabble in the theatrics are going to have a more engrossing time.

While these contained in-level narratives are a joy, the over-arching narrative on the other hand is a mess. Hitman’s story has always been somewhat secondary to the act of murdering people. Even with that being the case, this entry feels particularly confused.

Even as someone interested in the story around Providence over the last two games, this conclusion fails to land. There are big character moments with twists and turns, but it’s told through just a few cut scenes between missions. That doesn’t allow the story to breathe. Things often just happen with no time for reflection or what any of this means for these characters. It has the plot points of a complex spy novel, but one that is scribbled hastily on the back of a napkin.

It’s a confusing dichotomy as the game is so inherently good at telling the detailed stories of these locations, yet it so awkwardly fumbles with the narrative it has been trying to tell over three games. While that has always been the case in this trilogy, it’s felt more so than ever as Hitman 3 tries to wrap up its story.

Overall, Hitman 3 is a very welcome addition to the franchise. However, it comes with a big caveat. What once was a brilliant and detailed reimagining has started to wane with age. What’s included here is a very good version of that form, but it has lost that exciting magic that made 2016 so revolutionary for the franchise. That doesn’t come from inherent fault or mishandling from IO Interactive, but rather from familiarity.

Instead of a full sequel, it feels more like an expansion. A beefy content drop built within the same game engine. The innovation comes in the wonderful maps, providing you with a stage to realise your deadly machinations. It doesn’t come from any significant overhaul of what already exists.

While a bittersweet sentiment, this feels like the perfect time for the franchise, in this form, to sign off. Getting out before it becomes tired. The trilogy is excellent and being able to house all three games in this tidy package is a great way to experience it. Agent 47 has had an excellent run over the last five years.

This system and the freedom it gives players allows for so many emergent goofs and gaffes and Hitman 3 provides more of that in spades, even if it has started to show slight signs of stagnation. However, considering where the series was before this trilogy, IO Interactive can consider this mission accomplished.

Hitman 3 review summary

In Short: A great finale to the World of Assassination trilogy and the perfect time to end the reboot era, as the once revolutionary formula begins to show its age.

Pros: Houses some of the best locations of the trilogy, with Dubai and Dartmoor being all-time greats. The missions have deep interconnected stories you can get lost in for hours. Housing all three games under one roof makes a tidy package.

Cons: It feels like an expansion rather than a true sequel. The game looks and plays the same, and the overarching story is utterly bungled.

Score: 8/10

Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch*, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, PC, and Stadia
Price: £54.99
Publisher: IO Interactive
Developer: IO Interactive
Release Date: 20th January 2021

Age Rating: 18

*streaming version only

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