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LONG BLOG

My extensive thoughts on Hitman: World of Assassination (PART 3)

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There was never going to be a scenario in which I didn't enjoy Hitman 3. That's why I didn't mind the lack of real gameplay during the game's announcement on the PS5 stream, and why I wasn't too concerned with the slight change in tone presented by the intense trailer. I knew they wouldn't fuck it up; not after Hitman 2 and all the lessons they had learned from that. They would have to deliberately sabotage this game if they wanted to ruin it for me.

Even so, I find that Hitman 3 misses the mark just a tiny bit. While the quality remains fairly consistent, it's a messy attempt to steer the trilogy in a darker and more story-driven direction, but not in the way you might think. The overall tone is a solid homage to Craig-era Bond, still far more dignified than Absolution's "we have Tarantino at home" approach, and it has the base structure of something memorable. The story just doesn't have enough meat on its bones, which becomes a problem when the game starts to introduce some weird ideas near the end.

I believe Hitman 3 is the most highly rated part of the trilogy, which is interesting because I think 2 is the bigger achievement. 3 doesn't add nearly as much to the overall package. We get a camera now, and while that's a neat addition, that's almost it. The rest is limited to situational stuff like persistent shortcuts and interactive keypads, which only applies to the maps introduced in this game. I get why they wouldn't redesign the old ones to include changes this drastic, but Hitman 2's new features were reflected back in a much more interesting way. This means that 3 is much less of an overhaul and more of a simple addition to the content we already had. It's more of the same with a few new twists, which is hard to complain about.

But it's just as hard not to wish it had done a little more...

Dubai

Hitman 3 has some interesting surprises up its sleeve right from the start. The first curveball is that Dubai tasks you with eliminating two of the three characters I expected to be the final trio of main villains. I always imagined that the Providence partners would be the final targets of the final mission. This decision really works for me. It made me wonder what the rest of the maps would be about, since "regular" contracts are clearly off the table at this point.

Dubai begins with a very Bond-like introduction. It starts out feeling like a huge, daring departure from classic Hitman maps when you're outside the building. The game teaches you how to use the new camera gadget, which I guess makes all of Dubai a tutorial level and therefore unworthy of being compared to the rest. Seriously, that's the exact same logic used by people who discredit Hawke's Bay. Bunch of pricks.

When you get inside the building, Dubai becomes another Paris. It's one big event with two targets. The biggest difference is that, since this is supposed to be the tallest building in the world, you only have access to a few of its floors. Outside areas are limited to balconies and scaffolding. This map offers some of the most fun assassinations in the series, my favourite being the one where you make both targets exfiltrate the building via parachute. It's a little tough to trigger, but the possibilities are endless once you get there, especially if you choose to get the very versatile banana item involved.

Aside from that, however, I find Dubai a little difficult to talk about. Despite the fact that its two targets are part of the main trio of villains we've been hunting since the beginning, it feels more like a refresher that serves to introduce new players to the whole Hitman thing, in case they're mad enough to play the third game's content first. There aren't any big experiments or unconventional playstyles here. It's a pretty standard mission, though it is a good one.

 

Dartmoor

Alexa Carlisle is the last remaining member of the trio. She escaped during Dubai's opening cutscene, but 47 and Lucas Grey have chased her to her home in Dartmoor: A huge, creepy mansion. This one feels like a Hitman 2 level disguised as a Hitman 3 one. Its atmosphere is all dark and dour, as communicated right away when you see the huge mansion looming in the distance, but some of its ideas would fit right in with 2's mad party vibes.

Dartmoor's big selling point is the fact that you can play the level as a murder mystery, and my feelings about this mirror my feelings about the Halloween escalation in Hawke's Bay. It's a mind-blowing effort that is so, so worth it. The mission story represents about 2% of the content available on the average Hitman map, yet it has so many little things going on. 47 can question the various residents about what happened on the night of the murder, he can use the new camera feature to take pictures, he can interact with the mansion in various ways to solve little puzzles, and you can even have him come to different conclusions based on how you want Alexa to react.

While playing detective is my favourite part of the mission, it's as much fun as ever to explore the mansion in a more traditional way. The different Carlisle family members will still roam the place, displaying their colourful personalities as they often get into arguments with each other, and the gardeners, security and kitchen staff all seem to have opinions about what a strange situation they're in.

But the mansion itself is the star of the show. This place oozes mystery from every corner, with its tall bookshelves and wildlife trophies all over the walls. It's a shiny, fancy place, but also a repugnant and creepy one that represents ludicrous wealth coming from a long history of blood and - let's be honest - probably a lot of incest. There are some pretty wild secrets to discover there, many of which I've yet to find at the time that I'm writing this.

I found myself pretty unnerved by the signal jam and radio silence at the end of this level. The music was not the usual, triumphant melody I was used to from the other missions. This is where the overarching narrative got really interesting for me. With four maps to go and only Mr Edwards left to deal with, I had no idea what shape the rest of it would take. It was all a black void to me, ready to suck me in and take me for a ride.

And then, in the game's most brutal cutscene yet, Lucas Grey meets his end, and Diana is found by Edwards, who promises to spill the beans about how her parents died. Seeing as 47 was the man who they sent to do the orphan-making, this could be a problem. In the meantime, 47 contacts Olivia, and the last two members of this little resistance agree to meet at a safe house in Berlin. The stakes have skyrocketed. Everything has changed.

Berlin

The Apex Predator mission begins without a briefing. This is weird and tense by itself, and the mood at the beginning amplifies that a lot. I'm not a huge fan of the fact that the game lies to you, though, and I think this sequence could have been a little better. I thought for sure you'd be able to enter the gas station at the beginning, and spent a lot of time there, expecting Olivia to either be in there or right outside. She isn't. You're meant to head in a completely different direction before anything can happen, which is only signified by a car that's been parked in a weird way. It could've been communicated better in order to prevent people from wasting their time.

That aside, I still think this is a great intro. For the first time ever, you don't have a target, which is such a huge change from the rest of the game that it's unclear what to expect. Your only goal is to find Olivia, but you have no idea where to find her or how to proceed once you have. This is where the trilogy finally begins to give this character some time in the spotlight, but it feels a little too late. Her time to shine should've been in Hitman 2, when working with 47 was still new and she still had Lucas to bounce off of. Even so, with this change in structure, I thought they were going to nail the story. I was so very invested at this point, wondering where all this sudden chaos would ultimately lead, intrigued by the thought that we'd only get more and longer cutscenes from this point onwards.

What makes the main Berlin mission cool is that you're the one being hunted. Providence has so much influence over the ICA now they've been able to send a squad of old colleagues after 47 and Olivia, which means disguises are less effective and crowds are more crucial than ever. It's a good thing, then, that the map is centred around a huge rave. The stage is set. Let's fucking do this!

Hunting the different agents is an interesting experience. You don't know how many there are right away, but you only need to kill about half of them before they're sent running, and they're spread out so well that I don't think anyone will experience the frustration of not being able to find the last one they need to kill. Whittleton Creek suffered a lot from this, so it seems like another lesson has been learned.

While Dubai was very Hitman 1 and Dartmoor was very Hitman 2, Berlin is so uniquely Hitman 3 that I can't imagine it fitting in with the others. It's darker, grimier, tenser, less fancy and no longer bound by convention. Shit has hit the fan, and cleaning it up won't be easy. Core concepts have been flipped on their head, and not just in terms of structure. One of the more memorable moments came when I walked into one of the bathrooms and saw that it was full of people, standing and talking and smoking and flirting, robbing me of the dark privacy that until then had allowed for several stealthy strategies.

The music for the rave is perfect. It has all the hard beats and sounds you'd want in a quality track, but there's a scary harshness to it as well. Bits of melody here and there resemble howls of a deranged wolf stalking you through the night, while the beats sound a bit similar to bullets being fired off. All of it feels so deliberate, and it's one of the best pieces of music in the game.

This part of the game pushed me out of my comfort zone in so many cool ways. Apex Predator is the Nightcall of Hitman 3, even if Berlin isn't necessarily the Hawke's Bay. The main mission was a faster play to me because of the pressure provided on both a mechanical and narrative level, which is in pretty stark contrast with the following mission.

Sadly, the following cutscenes are where one of the game's big missteps begins to reveal itself. There's a lot to process at this point: Grey is dead, Diana is missing, the ICA is working for Providence, and the file from Dartmoor turns out to be worthless despite it all. 47 and Olivia are forced to work together and have hit a dead end. It's a narrative low that demands a bit of slowing down, and it has plenty of opportunities for some real emotional payoff after loads of setup, especially since Berlin started without a briefing. Instead, we get a very rushed decision to shut down the ICA by leaking its existence to the world. 47 not only leaps to this idea almost instantly, but he even knows how he's planning to do it right away, and then we're already off to the next mission. It's exactly how Hitman 2 would've done it. Nothing has changed.

Chongqing

The inevitable disappointment of realising nothing has changed after thinking that everything has changed is somewhat mended by how great Chongqing is. This is, in my humble opinion, the absolute champion of atmosphere, and one of the biggest accomplishments in the trilogy. I already considered it up there with Sapienza and Isle of Sgail after a single playthrough, which took me significantly longer than the rest just because I wanted to take all of it in.

My favourite kind of Hitmap is the kind that simulates being in a city, town, or village. They always include multiple buildings and, with the exception of Whittleton Creek, use clever design techniques to make them feel bigger than they really are. Chongqing may be the peak of this. I was shocked to look at the map for the first time and see how small it was, because it felt like I had actually arrived in the middle of a city, able to go wherever I wanted. This illusion is so powerful that you might not even realise the whole thing is effectively a tower, much taller than it is wide.

It didn't take me long to figure out that the targets here are some of the vilest in the series, even though they work for the same organisation as 47 has for over half the missions, not to mention his entire career before that. One of them leads a team of scientists who conduct awful experiments on homeless people. To me, this makes it feel more appropriate to play it in a much more violent fashion than I usually prefer, and I killed a good chunk of non-targets on my first go. A guard spotted the body of a target at one point, as did his companion, causing me to stab them both with a knife I had brought from the restaurant across the street. It's messy, organic moments like these that make me happy I don't use quicksaves for regular playthroughs.

Oh man, and the journey down to the ICA base is so fucking cool. Everything from figuring out how to get there, to the actual descent, to the way it feels like you've just entered a completely different map as soon as you arrive, is just perfection. Every game in the trilogy nails the details when it comes to making rooms feel different from each other, but this somehow feels like it's on another level. Maybe it's the scope of the whole thing that does it for me.

Leaking the ICA files is part of a story mission which, in my case, took a turn for brutal action. I tried to sneak my way out after doing my business in the server room, but found every path blocked by enforcers. Only later did I realise how taking guards out beforehand could have helped me out, but I was in the mood for some blasting, so I didn't think much of it at the time. The sensation of leaving that underground base, though, running out onto the wet streets of Chongqing as if nothing had happened. That felt divine. It made me realise that there is another layer to my love of stealth games, which I already touched upon in the last blog with that whole "thrill of sniping" tangent. It just feels so great to disappear into the world after completing a dangerous mission.

But as much as I love Chongqing as a map, its main mission does continue the Berlin trend of rushing the narrative along. In the following cutscene, what should have been an impactful plot point is given a glimpse of a news broadcast and very little more. I destroyed the ICA, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.

We got all these articles about how this third game "goes all-in on story", but this is not true at all. Absolution went all-in on story. All Hitman 3 does is introduce some interesting plot beats while it goes through the usual motions. The game has a major identity crisis, but even that shouldn't have been much of a problem. The other games did perfectly fine letting the story stay in the background. It is, unfortunately, something that IO makes a problem as the game begins to reach its conclusion.

Mendoza

Before I decided to pick up Hitman 3, I did a bit of research on how it performed on PS4 Pro compared to newer systems, and the results were reassuring enough for me to buy the game without worry. I was happy to find that it played smoothly for most of the levels, but then along came Mendoza. I don't know what makes this map so demanding. It's beautiful, but so is Chongqing, and that one had a stable framerate despite all the impressive effects that help enhance its atmosphere, such as all the reflections on the wet streets.

Mendoza is still playable enough, but my first playthrough soured me on it. I went for the first mission story I came across, which turned out to be one that would take me on a journey through the whole mission, and found the experience pretty hit-or-miss. I love that it takes you through a tour of the winery, and I saw a lot of fun potential there for repeated playthroughs. It's a great idea. The problem is that everything surrounding that part of the story is some of the strangest, most obtuse problem-solving these games have ever asked of me, made worse by the addition of a ticking clock. Before I could even start the tour, I had to find the chief winemaker in the fields, figure out what he wanted, and cut him three grapevines from random spots. All of this had to be done within an invisible time limit, and since it relies on finding one small object in a wide environment, I failed to do it over and over.

The part that comes after the tour also has an invisible time limit right away, and it tasks you with sneaking into an evil wine meeting (the best kind of meeting) disguised as a waiter, but not before bringing a very expensive bottle from 1945. There's a pretty funny line of dialogue here in which the actual waiter objects to wasting a bottle so rare, asking if Britney Spears, Godzilla and Niero Gonzales are all coming to dinner. Almost made me like the guy enough not to give him head trauma, but I needed the disguise either way. The meeting is strange from a gameplay perspective. It asks you to stand around and do nothing as events play out, which I didn't expect from such a late mission, so when one of the guards raised a gun in Diana's direction, I panicked and started a shootout, which I then lost due to the number of security guards in the room. Only during my next attempt did I realise that the guard was only aiming for the target, doing my job for me.

The part following that is also timed, but this bit has an actual timer in the corner of the screen. You have to reach Diana as she's dragged there by Don Yates, the second target, who rightfully believes Diana is there to fuck Providence over from the inside. You have to clear the floor of guards and make sure you're dressed like one when Yates arrives with a guard of his own. I love the idea of what's happening here, but it begins to fall apart as soon as you're expected to sit in a chair while it plays out, which feels out of place for a guard. I wasn't sure when to stand up and step in at this point, but I got the idea when Diana suddenly stabbed Yates. I stopped "blending in" and killed the real guard, but then I realised that Yates was still alive, yelling orders at the exact same guard who now had a bullet in his head. I shot the old bastard, causing him to suddenly stand up and cower in fear, and then I shot him again to finish the job. Turns out you're supposed to activate a special cutscene in order the get the climactic, satisfying, non-buggy version of what just happened, which doesn't feel right since this is a game that's supposed to be all about letting the player be in control of the kill.

I know this is just one mission story, and that I'll no doubt have a better time on repeat playthroughs, but if IO is planning to put missions like these in Project 007, I hope they work better. It could've been one of the highlights of the entire trilogy, so I think it's somewhat of a letdown.

The mission is followed by a cutscene revealing that Diana managed to inject 47 with some kind of serum. She also reveals that she knows about her parents. It appears that she's justifying her revenge by pretending it's a mercy killing of someone who can never be a real person, but anyone who has played the game before (or played any Hitman game since 2006) will know that there's more going on. I love that Diana's galaxy-brain 4D chess is so complicated that even her facade has layers to it.

Agent 47's bad trip

This was the last game I ever expected to have a dream sequence. It's so surprising that it's almost refreshing, but I have to acknowledge that it's still a cliché.

We see various targets from the whole trilogy together for the first time. It's a moment that reminds me a little of the ghost river from Metal Gear Solid 3, except it's not as cool because these are all people you have to kill in order to progress. I don't think the game is trying to shame you with it either. In fact, I don't think the game is trying to say anything with this except "we still had all the models from previous targets around, and we wanted to do something cool with them". I can respect that, but I think the effort is a bit wasted in this case. Consider that this is by far the most story-heavy part of the game, and yet it may be the least interesting bit of the actual story. Diana's not gonna betray you for real, 47! She'd miss your bald head, your dry remarks and your chiselled pecs too much to even consider it. Relax.

Hilariously, this dream sequence can be selected as a separate starting location for the last map.

A Goddamn Train

I'm not sure I will ever forgive Hitman 3 for making me realise that train levels are, more often than not, really bad. In a game that's entirely surreal and therefore free to do whatever they want with the concept, they can be amazing, but as soon as any degree of realism is applied, they just remind you how trains are built to be efficient forms of transportation. They're not an ideal candidate for a good video game level. Realistic train levels are almost always my least favourite part of the games they appear in. They just don't offer enough.

You can still play the train level stealthily or John Wick-ily, which is always a nice choice to have, but Hitman levels are supposed to offer so much more. Almost anything else would have been better. Even another form of transportation, such as a cargo ship, could have provided a much more interesting final location. The train is so limited that the contracts feature isn't available for it, because even the developers know it would be pointless.

A Goddamn Train (which I'm going to continue calling this map) introduces a wasted mechanic: Single-use items. Rusty screwdrivers and crowbars will allow you to manipulate the environment once before they break, which could've made for some fantastic puzzle design in a better level (NOTE: IO have started to use these things in free escalation contracts since I started writing this blog, so it's not a complete waste).

I wouldn't have had a problem with this one if it wasn't meant to count as a full map. The fact that it does makes Hitman 3 the smallest base game in the trilogy by far, so while it's not my least favourite part of the trilogy (it still goes down smoother than Colorado), it's the only part that's a letdown in every way.

The worst part about it is that I've still seen at least one Twitter user rank this among the other maps while insisting that Hawke's Bay doesn't count, which is so far beyond unreasonable that I have to assume this person has an axe to grind with the entirety of New Zealand. Hawke's Bay has plenty of replayability and built-in opportunities even without the amazing Halloween escalation. This clearly does not.

By the end of the story, 47 confronts Mr Edwards, who realises that he's pretty much fucked. Even so, the game gives you a choice between different endings. One where 47 kills Edwards and walks away, and one where he makes the baffling decision to inject himself with a serum that will wipe his memory. It's a bit like Mark of the Ninja, except that game gives you a more interesting choice: You can either commit sudoku and preserve your clan, or become the first marked ninja to give into power-hungry madness. There's no obviously good ending. Hitman 3 didn't have to be as dark, but more nuanced options would've been good.

I've found out that there's also a version of the good ending in which you can erase Edwards' memory, which is really funny. It obviously doesn't salvage the level for me, but it's a fun idea that I can't help but love.

Both endings are short, and neither are very in-depth, which serves to strengthen the points I've already made about the story: That there's nowhere near enough of it to justify its eventual iron grip on the gameplay. Yes, we get some nice closure with the two main characters, but think about what has actually been happening. 47 dismantled the ICA. Diana tore Providence down from the top. Those actions would obviously leave a major impact on the world, and I'm certain they do, but we barely see any of it. Olivia disappears from the story and her past with Grey is never explored, which is another missed opportunity. That whole relationship was so weird and interesting, arguably more so than 47 and Diana's, which has been explored throughout multiple games already.

I would honestly have been fine without an overarching story at all. The trilogy could've just consisted of 20 contracts, each with 1-5 outrageously attractive people to assassinate in the most spectacular ways. It would still have been great. By adding all that slow build-up, however, I think IO put themselves in a position where they had to deliver something, and what they did deliver wasn't as satisfying as it could have been.

Hitman 3 may be responsible for a lot more people getting into these games despite having bounced off earlier instalments, but I don't think this game specifically deserves much credit for that. I'm certain it's just a case of people realising how good these games always were after spending a little more time with them, and I think giving Hitman 2 one more shot would've had the exact same effect on most players.

I say this because Hitman 3 doesn't offer any substantial improvements to the formula. There are no interesting changes to the way disguises work. The game doesn't freshen up melee combat by adding new animations or button prompts. It doesn't fix the issue where guards will suddenly turn 180 degrees if you sneak up on them from a slightly wrong angle by adding more nuance to the takedown system. A compromise between a silent takedown and a knuckle sandwich.

Playing Hitman 2 felt fresh even within the older levels, because that game's ideas all echoed back to the beginning, changing the whole experience in fundamental ways. It's comparable to playing Rayman Origins levels in Rayman Legends: The overall themes and designs are the same, but there are obvious differences that let you know you're not just playing Origins again. Hitman 3 lacks this quality.

Final Thoughts

So Hitman 3 didn't quite accomplish what it set out to do, but I struggle to call the game a disappointment. If you step back and look at the full picture, this game did manage to deliver more Hitman. It has more of that smooth, satisfying gameplay loop, more memorable targets, more fresh ideas for settings, more fancy suits, and more of the best level design in the entire medium. Dartmoor, Berlin and Chongqing make a fierce back-to-back trio, each of them complementing each other in terms of design as well as mood, and this variety is something I would argue Hitman 3 did better than the others. The complete 180 from Dartmoor's quiet murder mystery to Berlin's loud rave is such a cool showcase of how diverse these environments can be. The fact that I've had something to say about every single level says a lot about how distinct and well-made they are.

So here we are, at a point where the full trilogy now adds up to one gigantic supergame with a lengthy campaign, a complete (if undercooked) story, and a divine amount of replayability. All I hope for now is that a rerelease of this beautiful thing will one day come out, containing every bit of content (except maybe Ghost Mode and Sniper Assassin) while being free of the always-online restrictions. That game will be a steal even at full price for those who have yet to play it. Maybe little things could be ironed out here and there, like some of the things I've already mentioned, redone cutscenes to make the campaign more consistent, and there could be a full photo mode instead of the half-breed we have now. It'd just be a little more satisfying to own all of this as one big game, rather than a series of live service "content".

But what I hope for more than anything is that the excellence and eventual success of this trilogy will help kickstart a new era for stealth games. Splinter Cell and Metal Gear both seem to be done for, as both are owned by companies that have now gone to complete shit, less interested in making good video games than they are in abusing their own employees. Maybe there's a better chance for Thief and Tenchu, especially since Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was basically 50% Tenchu anyway. I know that it's probably better and healthier to bet on some fresh titles to bring the genre back to popularity, but it wouldn't hurt having an established franchise help the process along. This is why I'm looking forward to seeing what IO does with their James Bond game (it's still wild to me that they scored the license to one of the most famous franchises in history). If the World of Assassination trilogy isn't enough to grease the gears for a stealth renaissance, the world's horniest secret agent might still have a chance to save the genre.

I am so very happy that this trilogy exists. There are so many timesink games out there that I just can't get into, because they so often rely on these manipulative mechanics to keep you hooked. They want you to be excited about maps being filled out, numbers going up, and new loot of a different colour, but I find all of that crap really boring. As such, for the longest time, the only "comfort food" game I'd boot up when I was on the couch and wanted to unwind was Tekken, where I always just fuck around in arcade mode or ghost mode, since I'm not good enough to go online (and it takes way too long to find a match).

Hitman gave me a timesink game of my own. The fact that it took a high-society assassination sim to satisfy me feels a bit strange, but these are games that keep me coming back because they're fun. They're not held back by any half-hearted elements, like bland open worlds and RNG crap. Even their worst bits have had some degree of thought and care put into them, and it just makes such an enormous difference to me. I have put hundreds of hours into these games, outsmarting guards and coming up with zany plans on the go, and I'm sure I have hundreds more to go.

And that concludes the monster of a blog that became so big, I had to split it into three. I hope it's been an enjoyable read, and that I came across as fair even at my most critical. It's always interesting for me to think of ways that my favourite games could somehow have been even better.

It's been interesting to talk about each game, observing the ways they differ from each other despite sharing the same structure. They each have different strengths, and I prefer some over others, but I love them all.

 

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About Dangoone of us since 10:28 AM on 11.09.2011


Art by the fantastic Roberto Plankton


Phalanxification by the bombastic ZombZ


The cream of my video game crop (no longer in alphabetical order):