Since 2016's Hitman franchise reboot, Danish developers IO Interactive set in place the machinations for The World of Assassination Trilogy, a series of games with richly populated scenic locations and the freedom to take on Agent 47's dirty work however you want.
Perhaps feeling introspective as one does when celebrating a significant milestone (the Hitman franchise turned 20 in November last year) Hitman 3 is the most personal and tightly designed entry in the trilogy by a hefty margin. This is all while still giving you plenty of freedom to take down your megalomaniac targets any way you can muster with the myriad tools available.
Much like the previous two games, Hitman 3 features a handful of expertly crafted levels that are a mile wide and a mile deep. Every area is filled with people and objects to observe, learn from, and manipulate to your advantage. To squeeze this series into a singular genre is simultaneously impossible and would do a great disservice to everyone involved.
Former Kotaku and current Action Button reviewer Tim Rogers perfectly summed up what Hitman's levels feel like, calling them "toyboxes" where "each level presents you, the player, a new set of toys to experiment with, in multiple fumbling attempts to solve the mission's problems."
There are elements of stealth, action, puzzle-solving and exploration that combine to create a unique experience unmatched by any other games — perhaps Untitled Goose Game has come closest. Among all this, you play as the stern-looking bald man with a penchant for red ties known as Agent 47, who ironically kills people for a living in these idealistic locations.
In line with other Hitman games, the latest entry continues the third-person exploration gameplay, where preparation, observation and improvisation are the name of the game. Or not, that would be a bloody long title.
To do this, you need to adapt to your environment by finding hidden disguises, or stealing disguises to blend in by knocking out a character in a secluded area. Preferably, you'd hide the body afterwards in a nearby cupboard to avoid detection, but living dangerously is fun, too.
As for why you're doing this? Considering the twisty, complex narrative of espionage in the trilogy so far, it's easy to forget what's going on. To simplify and avoid inadvertently spoiling anything for newcomers, Agent 47 — alongside his handler Diana Burnwood and fellow assassin Lucas Grey — aims to take down the leaders of Providence, an organisation that rules the world from the shadows.
Traditionally, Agent 47 receives slickly animated briefings about his targets and any additional objectives before diving into missions, but Hitman 3 does things differently. Sometimes series conventions are followed, but the latest iteration gleefully flips the tables of tradition as the story necessitates.
In line with these subverted conventions — which I must remain vague with — the optional guided opportunities called "Mission Stories" return but are fewer in number than in Hitman 1 and 2. Like in the previous games, Mission Stories are uncovered by listening in on characters' conversations and following the instructions gleaned from your eavesdropping.
In Hitman 3, usually one Mission Story per location is presented early on as the "narratively correct" method of carrying out a hit, leading to specific confrontations with characters adding a little extra flavour to the plot.
This is not to say Hitman 3 lacks experimentation and returns to the comparative linearity of 2012's Hitman Absolution — far from it, in fact. What Hitman 3 does do is make more considered design choices in how it presents the story.
Whether you choose to follow the guided encounters is entirely up to you. It's just as easy to ignore the Mission Stories and concoct your own deadly brand of assassination instead.
Thanks to Hitman 3's narrative design variations, several of the new locations are among the series' best for the way they alter gameplay pacing.
For example, the Dartmoor level — the Dartmoor in England, not the small Victorian place near my hometown across the border — gives you the option to assume the identity of a local detective and solve a murder mystery alongside your original mission.
Should you choose to channel Knives Out's Benoit Blanc and find the doughnut hole within the doughnut's hole, Dartmoor takes on a relaxing pace, with free reign to poke, prod and identify opportunities without raising suspicion.
Conversely, Hitman 3's grimy Berlin nightclub level takes on a completely different vibe due to the story's events in the lead-up. Combined with the narrative tension and thumping dancefloor beats that occasionally mimics a ticking clock, Berlin marvellously conjures a palpable sense of urgency and survival the level demands.
All of Hitman 3's varied locations bring their own nuances; in addition to Dartmoor and Berlin, Dubai's monolithic skyscraper setting is a breathtaking homage to Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Chongqing's neon-lit streets look incredible on an Xbox Series X, and Mendoza is as beautiful as it is vast.
The only misfire in the lot is the Romania-set epilogue that abandons much of what the series is known for in favour of an unexciting corridor-fest of a level. Its linearity is contextualised narratively and leads to a satisfying story conclusion, but is dull to play in the wake of such inspired level design before it.
One aspect of Hitman 3 that is beyond criticism is its continuation of the series' morbid sense of humour. Despite a gritty exterior and a story that takes itself very seriously, there's no shortage of deadpan gallows humour throughout. Seeing a well-crafted plan going horribly wrong or wearing a ridiculous outfit while assassinating a character is hilarious.
While he's a man of few words, Agent 47 certainly makes the most of them. When given the opportunity to speak with a target, he peppers in double-entendres that may sound innocent enough to the recipient, but take on a chuckle-worthy murderous intent when you know their demise is imminent.
It would be remiss to critique Hitman 3 without heaping praise upon its phenomenal level of detail across all facets of game design. Each level overflows with secrets, and returning players will recognise recurring side characters who contribute to the series' strong sense of connectedness.
It's so easy to gloss over these details; Hitman 3 cleverly rewards you for slowing down and paying attention. Sometimes this may lead to an incidental clue about an item, a disguise, or a pathway that will aid your mission, while other times it's extra worldbuilding flavour adding a sense of believability to the otherwise surreal scenarios.
Six levels may not sound like much, but you'll be replaying them ad nauseum to discover all the hidden treasures along the way. Plus, Hitman 1 and 2 are fully playable in Hitman 3 with some visual improvements, which is as good an excuse as any to revisit them.
Unfortunately, the Access Pass and progression transfer system was not fully live during the review process, so while I was not able to play Hitman 2's content in Hitman 3, what I saw of the 2016 Hitman looked sharp.
To call Hitman 3 "sharp", however, would be an understatement. It's a beautiful world to be in despite, y'know, all the killing. Each environment looks lush and vivid, with some of the best vistas and lighting effects I've seen in any games.
To help capture this beauty, Agent 47 wields a camera capable of hacking electronic locks in addition to taking happy snaps. Sadly, our man who hits doesn't take selfies, but you can get pretty close by aiming the camera at a reflective surface.
Another addition to Hitman 3 comes in the form of permanent shortcuts, signified by a door or ladder blocked with yellow bars. If you unlock them from the other side, they remain open for all subsequent playthroughs. It adds another layer for those of you who want to beat best times and set high scores, but not much else.
In more ways than one, Hitman 3 feels like IO Interactive's final dress rehearsal ahead of their highly anticipated 007 project. This is not to discard Hitman 3 as a mere side dish to the main course of a James Bond main meal. Even more so than its predecessors, Hitman 3 is the game equivalent of the best spy movies.
Hitman 3's extra emphasis on narrative results in a suitably grander story and lands with greater impact as a result. This is in part due to the series' return to fully animated cutscenes instead of the graphic novel-style presentation of Hitman 2. Another component is the strong connection between story and gameplay which I'm desperate to talk about but can't for the purpose of this review.
Of particular note is composer Niels Bye Nielsen's stirring soundtrack. Pivotal moments are deftly punctuated with cinematic orchestral swells rivalling the biggest Hollywood blockbusters. Even the main menu theme is a epic piece of music fitting of Hitman 3’s dramatic events.
This strong cohesiveness between gameplay, story and presentation is precisely why Hitman 3 is such a strong platform to launch into a 007 game from. Everything IO Interactive has worked towards throughout The World of Assassination Trilogy is mastered here. Now it's time to see what they can do with this foundation.
Ultimately, Hitman 3 is a brilliant conclusion to The World of Assassination Trilogy. Much more than just a bunch of new levels, the series finale eschews conventions for the sake of its compelling story, while retaining its freeform experimental heart. A fitting end worthy of the Agent 47 name.
Hitman 3 was reviewed on an Xbox Series X using a game code provided by BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Australia.