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2021 is the year I intend to wrestle with my expectations and hype for new games. Steel cage, folding chairs, no holds barred kind of wrestling. My first match of the year involves IO Interactive’s newest iteration of the popular Hitman series. Our favorite bald headed assassin, Agent 47, returns in Hitman 3, the latest and final entry into the World of Assassination trilogy. As a long time fan of the series, I’ve been waiting for this game since it was announced last June, and honestly, ever since I finished Hitman 2. That’s part of my problem. I set unreasonable expectations for the games I play and that’s on me. There were several titles, especially in the second half of last year, that disappointed me on some level. And while I’m a firm believer in holding developers to a high standard, I’m also starting to realize that my expectations should probably be, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, tempered. So, with this new 2021 outlook on gaming, let’s dive into how Hitman 3 executes its targeted objectives!
The Word of Assassination trilogy, more so than it’s predecessors, has always been more about the “how” than the “why”. The story elements, while present and well written, act as more of a vessel to the next mission as opposed to a driving force for the player. While that still essentially remains the case, Hitman 3 delves deeper into the motivations of Agent 47, his handler Diana, and several of the other mysterious characters along the way. For as short as the game is, they were still able to weave in enough twists and turns to keep players engaged while still being coherent enough to provide a very satisfying ending. I’ve always loved Agent 47, but Hitman 3 made me actually care about him. I imagine it’s challenging to write for a character who is so stoic and matter-of-fact, while at the same time trying to make the audience relate to his mindset. Did I mention he was a cold blooded, emotionless killer of very few words? Well, kudos to the writers because they pulled it off. It’s an amazing and exciting finale to the trilogy.
Veterans of the series should find themselves right at home with the story beats. For newcomers, IOI has provided a short “the story so far…” cinematic which does an OK job catching people up. However, I highly recommend picking up the previous games if you haven’t already. One of the nice things about the series is that missions from prior games are playable through Hitman 3’s updated engine. You can purchase the legacy packs through the store on your chosen platform, or if you already own the games, you’ll get immediate access to the content. The developers also included a method to carry over your progression from the first two games. I’m not going to get into the ins and outs of how because it’s a bit of a hot mess. Thankfully, IOI has provided a tutorial to answer all of your questions and the necessary procedures.
So we’ve touched on the “why” portion of the game, but the meat of this game is the “how”. What makes the game fun and gives it near endless replayability are the assassinations. More specifically, the multitude of ways to take out your targets. The list is as long as it is varied. How about a few examples?
- An exploding rubber duck (my favorite)
- A snow globe
- A banana
- A fish
- A feather duster
- A meaty bone
- A violin
- Napoleon Blownaparte, an explosive Napoleon doll that plays orchestral music
- A blueberry muffin
That’s not even scratching the surface. Most items and weapons can be harvested in mission. As is typical of the other games, your initial load out is typically restricted to a starting pistol and a couple of items. There are a couple of missions where you start off with nothing but your wits and years of assassin experience. As you progress through the story, you will gain access to new and different items. This is primarily done through unlocking mastery levels for each mission. You have an overall progression meter that will increase as you finish each mission. How much is determined by several factors. There are also a number of different challenges to complete. Some like Silent Assassin, finishing without being detected, are present in every mission. Then there are mission specific challenges that will award a boatload of experience for each playthrough. Some are tied to mission stories, some to assassination method, and some to other actions such as finding a specific disguise or item. Where mission stories seemed to be in abundance in the last two games, this iteration has far fewer per level, sometimes none at all. This makes paying attention to the challenges more important this time around.
Though these challenges and stories put you in the position to make the kill, it’s still up to the end user to decide how to do the deed. My method might be different than yours, and that’s the best part. You could play the same mission dozens of times and it’ll be different each time. Sometimes the game will even do it for you based on prior actions. I played through one mission where I had planned on taking out my target by dropping a chandelier on them. Turns out, because of a decision I made earlier, my target unexpectedly died before I had the chance. That was cool with me. Job done and I got some great experience points from challenges I didn’t know existed. Thanks Hitman!
What makes these events so varied is the attention paid to level design. Returning players will notice, in short order, that IOI has changed the game up a bit. Up until now most of the missions were similar in structure, load in, find targets, execute targets. Each sandbox level has unique characteristics and fun little aspects to find, but generally they played out the same. I’m not trying to minimize the work that went into the levels up until now, they were incredibly well done. What the developers have done with Hitman 3 however, has pushed the design forward and I now wish we would have seen it earlier. For example, the second mission provides a Knives Out style murder mystery that the player can engage with. If you choose to play through the entire story of that mission, different opportunities will open up in the end. Or you can ignore it completely. It’s your choice. I thought IOI hit the pinnacle with that mission, that was until the next mission began and I realized that they fundamentally changed the entire mission structure. I won’t get into the details, but it was probably the most unique mission in the series. It is incredible. Then, three missions later, I felt like they went almost backwards with the final mission. I applaud what they were trying to do, I really do. It just seemed out of place with everything you’ve done up until that point. Story-wise it made sense. Gameplay-wise, it was a little disappointing. Overall though, it was a fitting end to the series.
I played Hitman 3 on the PS5, mostly because I wanted to experience the VR portion. The game ran well for the most part, but I did run into a few hiccups. Enemy AI is hit and miss. Sometimes you can walk right in front of them, sometimes they’ll see you immediately. They could be looking right at you, ready to spot you, and you move a foot farther away and they lose sight of you. Maybe they’re all nearsighted. Maybe they’re blinded by the reflection of the sun off of 47’s chrome dome. I have no idea. It’s a little better on the hardest difficulty, but I wish they had worked a little more on that area as it’s been present throughout the series. I had the game crash to the dashboard a handful of times as well which was completely random. Lastly, there were several launch issues with the game, most of which have to do with server connections or carrying over progress and content.
Visually, the game is fantastic. It’s not going to blow anyone away graphically, but it runs at a solid 60 FPS on all platforms. Again, this includes the prior two games if you own them. Instead of ray tracing, the developers used a beefed up version of screen space reflections to make everything look nice and pretty. Ray tracing is coming to the PC and Xbox Series X and S versions later down the road for all of those people that are looking for it (nothing is announced for the PS5 at this time). The game does a wonderful job integrating the haptic feedback of the DualSense and it’s probably the best use of adaptive triggers I’ve seen since Astro’s Playroom. Everything from throwing items to pulling the trigger on your pistol, everything just works and provides intuitive feedback.
The same can’t be said for the VR version of the game. I’ll try to make this as simple as possible so bear with me. VR runs in backwards compatibility mode so you’ll need to have the PS4 version installed to access it. Also, since the new DualSense controller doesn’t have the light bar, you’ll have to use a DualShock 4 and have the PSVR adapter for your setup. It’s kind of a hassle initially to be honest, mostly due to the fact that the payoff is less than stellar. Now it’s not a total potato of an experience. Every level of the trilogy is brilliantly recreated. Everything looks great, that is, until the action starts. The assassination game is a methodical one. Precision is key. And there is very little precision here. It’s a weird mixture of motion controls and standard controls. The VR version would have really lent itself to the PS4 Move controllers. Maybe they were trying to make it more accessible, but for their first foray into the VR space, it’s passable but clunky.
Regardless of the VR quality, Hitman 3 still feels like the result of a studio finally hitting its stride and perfecting its craft. They were already well on their way, and you could see it in the prior two games. With Hitman 3, everything finally fell into place. They found a winning formula back in 2016 and continued to improve on it. The series always seemed to fly under the radar, but it looks like more and more people are starting to discover Agent 47’s greatness and I couldn’t be happier. With absolutely no indication of a new Splinter Cell in the works (damn you Ubisoft), this series scratches that stealth itch that gamers have been waiting for. With the studio shifting its focus to a new 007 game, it’s a little sad to see that the series will be shelved for the time being. At the same time, seeing what these guys accomplished over the past couple of years, my hype levels for the new James Bond game are through the roof. And now I’m right back where I started. I need help. Has anyone seen my Napoleon Blownaparte?