Welcome to 2021
Man I’m glad that IO Interactive was able to bail from a potential destruction of their studio with a buyout. It was really touch and go there for a bit, but they did it, and Hitman (among a few other IPs) came along for the ride.
It would have been a damn shame if Hitman 3 never came to fruition, because it feels like the culmination of everything the recent trilogy has achieved so far.
Hitman 3 (PC [reviewed] PS4, PS5, Stadia, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: IO Interactive
Released: January 20, 2021
Like Hitman 2, the third game in the series is non-episodic, and I am loving it. So let’s break it all down brick by brick, leading into a grand finale summation.
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What a way to open a game!
Dubai was the first thing that was shown for Hitman 3, and for good reason: it looks fantastic, and giant skyscrapers are a perfect way to highlight some of the Ethan Hunt/James Bond tendencies of the ever-shifting chameleon that is Agent 47.
Although it feels a tad restrictive at first as only a few floors are accessible in this gargantuan tower, the aesthetic choices start to flow into deliberate design concepts; as you explore more and more of what Dubai has to offer. Backstage access, elaborate mezzanines; this is a flashy stage and it wants you to know it at all times.
It’s also very well paced. Those geographical restrictions I mentioned? They open up over time as you complete each playthrough of Dubai, but also help acclimate brand new players on a semi-guided, but definitely not linear first hunt. It also gives the rest of the game plenty of room to breathe going forward.
IO Interactive was already good at this: but they’re getting better.
Dartmoor, United Kingdom
Donning his best Sherlock cap (or Benoit Blanc/Hercule Poirot outfit), Agent 47 is whisked away to the dreary countryside of Dartmoor for a murder mystery affair. Egad!
Once again, IO Interactive nails it here. They’ve gone directly from a bright and larger-than-life Dubai skyscraper to a down-to-earth, but still out-there concept. It goes to show you that the studio is not resting on their laurels, or saving the best for last. They’re willing to provide worthwhile scenarios at a regular pace, and Dartmoor is one of my favorites of the bunch.
While I’m going to refrain from spoiling anything here (and there’s a lot to spoil), Dartmoor is easily one of the best cases for IO Interactive’s penchant for environmental storytelling. There’s so much to discover and glean here in this mansion journey, from the inner workings of familial lore to the tale of the house itself.
I found myself going back to this one immediately after clearing it.
At this point the stakes get a little higher, story-wise, and the tension is ramping up. It colors the significance of Berlin within the confines of the campaign.
This one is a little more lawless. There’s multiple factions at play (security, agents, bikers, civilians) and they’re all kind of scrunched together to create a chaotic, more intimate map. And not every Hitman map needs to be bright! Even if those are among my favorites (Miami immediately comes to mind from Hitman 2 – something I played in Hitman 3 again actually, as the package allows you to select previously owned games).
It’s probably the least flashy bit of Hitman 3, but again, the narrative significance of it adds to the heightened severity of it. It fits.
Ah, neon. Berlin had some, but not nearly enough. Chongqing fixes that.
With the setup of “2.5 million cameras” watching your every move, Chongqing hits that theme fantasy right away of whisking you away to a unique land; but also comes in swinging with a variety of locations to explore that keep things fresh, even on that first run. A giant underground bunker is a classic Hitman fixture, housed below a semi-bustling city that has more than enough nuances to justify replays.
It’s a keeper.
At this point the story is winding down, but it still isn’t completely in the way. Despite the enhanced focus on Agent 47 and the people who surround him, the objectives mostly remain the same. It’s a positive in my mind, because the formula still works best when it plays up its sandboxes first and foremost.
I intimated the James Bond references earlier, but this is 47 at his most 007. Mendoza’s wine country is a classy affair, a far cry from the rainy streets of Chongqing, or even the shiny artifice of Mumbai. No, this is more of an idyllic, rural take: a level befitting of the penultimate stage.
It might be a bit on the small side as far as substantial zones go, but it’s one of the most memorable, visually.
Carpathian Mountains, Romania
It’s really hard to talk about this one without spoiling it (I’m sure someone will), but it’s enrobed in story bits and does feel like a proper trilogy finale. It’s also the most linear stage of the bunch, so just be ready for that.
If you muck about in each map and take things slowly, you can allot about an hour a level to clear the game: so roughly six hours in all. But Hitman is predicated on replay value, and Hitman 3 nudges things even further down that path. Shortcuts are probably the biggest draw, which alter each sandbox to make them a little more accessible.
Basically, if you lower a specially marked ladder or some other device, you can access that shortcut on future playthroughs. It’s very subtle; but it’s a welcome change as it ensures that you can explore the sandbox the way you want to each time. I would refrain from using the phrase “guided,” but the first run is definitely angled in such a way to make it feel more cinematic in nature. With shortcuts, branching paths allow you to see the entirety of the design in all its splendor. This is on top of the existing “starting locations” system, mind.
Coupled with extra gadgets (some of which can be imported – though not as swimmingly on PC), Hitman 3 is really fun to dive back into; or introduce someone to for that matter, just to see what they come up with. It’s the little things that add up and really make Hitman 3 special.
Hats off to IO Interactive for really sticking with this series and getting it right.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]