As I made a clean skydive escape from the top of Hitman 3’s Burj Khalifa-inspired skyscraper, I thought there couldn’t possibly have been any more ways I could have assassinated my targets. Then I opened the level’s challenge menu and did a double-take when I read that I could have killed one of my contracts by “making him strike an explosive golf ball.”
Excuse me? I could have done what now?
Hitman 3 consistently rewards curiosity. Each of its six levels is a meticulously crafted stealth sandbox filled with eccentric characters, surprising outcomes, and, yes, exploding golf balls. While it rarely deviates from its predecessors’ nearly five-year-old formula, Hitman 3 is a perfect cap to a satisfying trilogy that morbidly celebrates the joys of discovery that come with professional murder. And perhaps most importantly, it has one of the most compelling and brilliant missions in modern gaming that feels like playing through an optional mystery film.
One More Job
Hitman 3 will feel immediately familiar to fans who have played either or both of the last two installments. It’s a high-budget puzzler cleverly masquerading as a stealth-action game. Players once again control Agent 47, a resourceful and perpetually bald-headed assassin, in his ongoing quest to take down a shady secret society one member at a time. That journey takes players through five open-ended levels (and one more linear, but nonetheless surprising one) that play out like dark improv comedy routines with scripted story beats guiding the action along.
Assassinations are once again accomplished by donning different disguises that grant access to restricted areas, amassing a set of spy tools, and finding opportune (and often hilarious) times to quietly kill a target. The gameplay is somewhat indistinguishable from even 2016’s Hitman, though that’s hardly a complaint. IO Interactive’s custom Glacier engine is as sturdy as ever here, allowing players to weave through dynamic levels that play out like a digital Sleep No More performance.
While the game presents new tools to play with thanks to an overarching progression system, I still found myself sticking to the same basics like handy lockpicks or attention-drawing coins. The biggest new addition is an under-utilized camera, which mostly acts as a generic scanner, save for one standout mission where it’s used to mark targets for a sniper watching over a wine party.
Rather than switching the gameplay up, Hitman 3’s focus is on polishing the playground that’s already so fun. Stylish presentation makes it feel like an anthology of Mission Impossible films linked together with slick mission briefings. Aside from a few bugs (I had one lovely chat with a woman levitating above an armchair), the game mostly stays out of its own way to let players focus on what’s important: freeform mayhem.
World of Assassination
The main attraction of the modern Hitman series is IO Interactive’s bustling levels, and the latest game delivers another masterclass in design. I could gush about Dubai’s ornate skyscraper or the sprawling Argentinian vineyard, but one level in particular best sums up the game’s strengths: a mansion murder mystery set in Dartmoor, England. (Watch a trailer for the mission here.)
The level plays out exactly like a whodunit movie (think Knives Out), with Agent 47 stealing a detective’s identity and inadvertently getting tied up in a family murder. While the sole objective is to assassinate one woman, players can interrogate everyone, find clues to break their alibis, and even uncover secret passageways in the giant mansion. I spent a full three hours trying to piece everything together, completely absorbed by the self-contained story. At one point, I stumbled on an easy chance to poison my target’s tea. I refused to close the job; I still had a mystery to solve.
What’s incredible about Dartmoor is that all of that is entirely optional. In my second playthrough, I went straight to the garden and rigged a deadly photoshoot instead. That time, I was out in 15 minutes. A player can go through the entire level without stumbling into the deduction subplot at all.
At their best, Hitman 3’s levels offer that much flexibility. Each time I replayed a level, I was astonished by how many different ways stories could play out. In one mission, I went on two separate sci-fi odysseys to take down my seemingly unrelated targets. The next time I loaded in, I managed to orchestrate a meetup between them and take them both out with one well-placed sniper shot. I still can’t even imagine how to get the “exploding golf ball” scenario to trigger, but I know my curiosity will be rewarded when I finally figure it out.
Not every mission quite reaches those highs. There’s a bit of a mid-game lull as things get too wrapped up in the franchise’s heady mythos, and it detracts from Hitman‘s strength as an anthology of assassinations. Each level also only contains around three primary story triggers each, roughly is half as many as previous Hitman games. However, it makes up for that by offering more unique resolutions per story arc. Even so, each level begs to be replayed over and over again just to see how many more ways the Rube Goldberg machine can be set into motion.
What’s particularly notable about Hitman 3 is that it acts as a sort of Complete Edition for the entire trilogy. Players can import levels from the previous two games into the new one if they own them, putting everything in one place … or they should be able to eventually. Unfortunately, an issue with Epic Games Store’s initial exclusivity means PC players have to wait a bit as Epic and IO work out a solution to get Hitman 2’s content into the game. Console players are unaffected, but that puts a (hopefully short-term) damper on the potential value.
It’s not just levels and progression that carry over, though. The series’ standout Contract returns, adding an ingenious social component that lets any player create a bounty for others to hunt. Escalations task players with tracking down a set of targets spread through the game’s levels, offering a rewarding reason to revisit locations and sharpen their skills. Add in IO’s signature Elusive Target challenges and a Sniper Assassination mode, and Hitman 3 becomes one organized hub for three games worth of content depending on what platform you choose at launch.
The PlayStation version features PSVR support, but PlayStation review codes were not made available in time for the review embargo. This review is based on the Xbox Series X version of the game, which runs like a dream, but we’re unable to comment on the VR component’s quality or performance on PS4 and PS5 at this time.
Taken as a complete package, Hitman 3 delivers the World of Assassination trilogy’s comprehensive culmination, doubling down on its winning stealth-puzzle formula and creating some of the franchise’s best playgrounds yet. It’s a morbid comedy of errors that doesn’t punish players for concocting a ludicrous plan — it actively eggs them on. 8/10
Hitman 3 will be released on January 20, 2021.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: When it comes to video games, Inverse values a few qualities that other sites may not. For instance, we care about hours over money. Many new AAA games have similar costs, which is why we value the experience of playing more than price comparisons. We don’t value grinding and fetch quests as much as games that make the most out of every level. We also care about the in-game narrative more than most. If the world of a video game is rich enough to foster sociological theories about its government and character backstories, it’s a game we won’t be able to stop thinking about, no matter its price or popularity. We won’t punch down. We won’t evaluate an indie game in the same way we will evaluate a AAA game that’s produced by a team of thousands. We review games based on what’s available in our consoles at the time. And finally, we have very little tolerance for junk science. (Magic is always OK.)