Five years after IO Interactive rebooted HITMAN, HITMAN III promises to conclude the events that the original game started. It’s both a culmination of everything IO has done with the franchise thus far while being an astute subversion of all your expectations that you might have. It does try to experiment with its structure a little to keep things fresh, though to varying results.
HITMAN III follows on directly from the first two games in what feels like a conclusion to the trilogy and the series. Agent 47 and Diana are still working with Lucas Grey to bring down secretive leaders of the group Providence and end their hold on the world once and for all. The story is certainly front and centre in HITMAN III, much more so than the previous two games, to the point where the missions warp themselves to accommodate it. It’s a strange and dramatic shift to make so far into the trilogy but still helps keep things fresh.
As with the first two games, there are many ways to play HITMAN III. You could easily play through the story and quickly call it a day, but to do so would pay a disservice to the robust design that’s once again on show here. Each level is an intricate clockwork of moving parts that seamlessly create believable, living worlds. Whether it be the smaller scaled ones like Romania or the larger-scale ones like China, each of the levels of HITMAN III are genuine attractions that I didn’t want to leave even after I was done with my targets.
The previous game introduced the briefcase and the ability to hide in crowds and vegetation. The new features in HITMAN III aren’t anywhere near as numerous. Perhaps the most important one is the addition of shortcuts – pathways that, once unlocked, that stay opened permanently on repeat playthroughs. I love the idea – they’re satisfying as hell to uncover, and they aid replayability a lot. On the other hand, the camera, a new gadget that can remotely activate certain switches, feels undercooked and is barely utilised as much as it could be. A taste of what’s to come with IO’s new 007 game, perhaps, but one that doesn’t gel with the world of HITMAN.
But how does it compare to the previous games? You’d be forgiven for thinking this was just another expansion – offering another five new locales to explore using already established systems and mechanics. But that’s only half the story. HITMAN III makes a concerted effort to make sure each mission feels unique and better bridge the gap between story and gameplay. Each mission now has a gimmick of some sort that separates it from previous HITMAN games.
In the original two games, “Mission Stories” were an excellent way to focus players who found each level’s open design too overwhelming. They’re essentially paths within each mission that often leads to a unique kill or opportunity with your target. In HITMAN III, some of these mission stories have expanded dramatically – usually containing other objectives within objectives to make them feel more involved. The trade-off is that there’s considerably fewer of them in each mission. On average, most areas in HITMAN III have about three mission stories. Previous games had anywhere between eight and ten.
That’s not to say they’re bad, mind you. The main mission story in the second location has you solving the murder of a family member to secure some alone time with your target. It has you exploring an English manor for clues, interviewing family members to discover alibis, and delivering a solution to get closer to your target. I’d never thought a developer would be able to accurately capture the vibe and feel of a film like Knives Out in a video game, but IO has done a stellar job here. It’s just a bit of a shame that this massive mission story has led to only two other smaller ones being available in the mission.
Other missions don’t even have mission stories, though do their best to flip things on their head. Like I alluded to earlier, HITMAN III does it’s best to try and subvert your expectations with each mission. Some of them will have you collaborating with another agent out in the field, and another sees you hunted by other assassins. Each mission does it’s best to be something more than just another location with another set of kills. There’s a fun twist on each one that I could appreciate, even if it meant there were physically fewer ways to kill somebody on each one as a result.
While HITMAN III does it’s best to experiment within it’s missions this time around, all the interesting extra modes they tried in HITMAN 2 have unfortunately got the cut. There are no additional Sniper Assassin maps, which seemed a bit strange. There’s also no sign of the next evolution of Ghost Mode – a competitive mode in which two people race to kill the same target but get a better score. There’s……not anything extra on offer here if you liked those different modes in previous games. Of course, each level still offers a lot of replayability, but it is a glaring omission coming straight from HITMAN 2.
Three years ago, I expressed disappointment in HITMAN 2 for presenting the story using static images with voiceovers rather than full-motion cutscenes to tell a story. With such an emphasis placed on the plot in HITMAN III, that decision has reversed. From the get-go, there’s a lot of crucial moments that play out in conclusion to Agent 47 and Diana’s story, and it’s so, so fantastic that they’re told in a much more impactful way with real cinematics. While they’re not as flashy as the Square Enix co-produced cutscenes of the first game, they are still well directed and well produced. They help elevate HITMAN III to be that right conclusion, that epic cinematic feeling the series was so desperately trying to capture.
The first game to launch on next-gen platforms goes without saying that HITMAN III is a beauty. While there’s no visual options, the engine has been tweaked to offer full 4K resolution at a buttery smooth sixty frames per second on the newer consoles. While it’s not quite ray tracing, screen-space reflections and lighting have also been improved. It’s not quite cutting edge next-gen technology, but I dare you to take a walk through that grimy nightclub in the Berlin level and tell me you even cared. Each world, each sandbox you play around in during HITMAN III is an artistic triumph.
THE XBOX SERIES S|X VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED ON AN XBOX SERIES X FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
HITMAN III is a decidedly epic conclusion to the events established in the first two games. It offers fantastic, well-realised locales with objectives that are unconventional, at least by HITMAN standards, to come out feeling fresh. Though in pursuit of this, it has lost a bit of the breadth we've come to expect from the series. Ultimately, it delivers what it promised to - a strong conclusion to the trilogy.