I’ve never been a massive Hitman fan—or, more specifically, I’ve never had the opportunity to be a massive Hitman fan. I was a little young when the likes of Blood Money stapled itself as the Hitman experience, so I chose Absolution as my entry point into the series, but never took to its more claustrophobic level design. When IO Interactive launched their 2016 reboot, their staggered launch meant that my interest in the project stalled–I never even made my way out of the Sanguine fashion event in Paris.
Five years later, with the release of the trilogy capper Hitman III, I decided that I wouldn’t let this one slip through my fingers—finally a Hitman game that I would throw myself into. And damn, have I been missing out.
Patience, precision, and exact planning are required to see yourself through the newest meticulously-designed levels, which span the dizzying heights of Dubai, the grey-coated skies of an English Manor, the neon-specked streets of Chongqing, China, and beyond.
Booting up each level captures an unparalleled sense of density as you revel in the sheer scale, knowing that its hallways and back alleys are steeped in murderous potential. This brilliant open-ended level design meant those first playthroughs were simply spent wandering, snooping, and mentally mapping out each shortcut, access ladder, and clear line of sight. The diverse scale and complexity of its levels mean that even though you are still dumping the same bodies and disguising yourself as the same security guards in different settings, each feels like a distinctive experience. And with some jaw-dropping lighting and stellar graphics, they look as unique as they feel.
Gameplay is simplistic in design, and even someone like me, who had only played that first mission in Paris, instantly felt a sense of familiarity. I don’t think this can be labelled as a lack of progression or innovation, especially since Hitman III can roll all locations from previous entries into the one title—albeit through an arduous and needlessly complicated process. All told, players are left with a hefty and expansive offering of a singular Hitman experience. However, while the similar gameplay makes for a more cohesive form of play across all three games, the stilted gunplay remains, becoming apparent every time a plan falls apart and bullets start to fly.
However, the moment-to-moment gameplay is an absolute thrill. Controlling the calm and collected Agent 47 will see you tailing leads, meandering your way around employees that will see through your disguises, and waiting for the perfect moment to strike—and you’ll look good when you’re doing it. This is a highly-replayable and insanely addictive process, as you check off the many challenges that each level offers—which smartly tease you into exploring how exactly you can poison Lady Carlisle or impale Carl Ingram. I have always been a one-and-done type of gamer, but by the very nature of Hitman I easily racked upwards of thirty hours exploring, murdering, and creeping my way closer to the mastery of each of its levels in its first week of release, and I’m nowhere near done with it. This may seem like sarcasm, but I don’t think there is another game where I can hide in a secret room for close to five minutes waiting for the perfect kill and have so much fun doing it.
Each level has its own story threads, where you can assume the role of your target’s new personal bodyguard or a brilliant detective investigating a suspicious suicide and so on. As I discovered and memorised more of these stories, I began to mesh them together and weave my way to new, clean, and undetected levels of assassination. Hitman III encourages experimentation, and with YouTube being filled with various speed-runs, it’s clear that players other than myself have taken on that encouragement.
There is a story at play here, noted by short cutscenes either side of a mission; however, its narrative is light, boiling down to bad people doing bad things that must be stopped. The story does begin to pick up in the later missions, but for the most part it acts purely as justification for the game’s varying locations while never really distracting from the core gameplay experience. While I missed out on the previous installments and their subsequent stories, I never felt that I was missing an integral piece of information in any given scene—especially with the handy recap available upon first starting the game. Nonetheless, its story feels like a fitting conclusion to the character—as well as an excitable precursor for what is to come with IO’s eventual Bond project.
Impressively, Hitman III is also entirely playable in VR for players owning a PSVR headset. A quick playthrough of its opening mission was as immersive as you would expect as I walked through the lavish foyer of Dubai’s tallest building, The Sceptre. However, a lack of PlayStation Move Controller support means that immersion is hindered by the awkward motion control set within the DualShock 4. While I have been eager to play through the game in VR from its announcement, being unable to convincingly pick up an item without your arms jittering through your body and positioned as if they are holding a controller that isn’t there is extremely disheartening and immersion-breaking. However, despite the occasional pop-in and obviously reduced graphical fidelity, VR functionality has next to no drop-off in features, delivering one of the most impressive and packed VR experiences to date. This is Hitman in its entirety, and fans of the franchise will be ecstatic to explore levels they’ve come to know and love over the years in VR.
VR is a brilliant inclusion on IO’s part, and comes pre-installed into all PS4 versions of the game. PS5 users, however, don’t have things so easy. PS5 copies will come with both the next-gen version of the game and the PS4 version. The reason? PSVR currently only works in backwards compatibility, and therefore the last-gen version of the game is essential to VR play. This is an oddly messy and complicated process, as players wanting to play in VR on their PS5 will have to install both versions if they wish to have VR and the best version of the base experience—and need to do so with the older PS4 controller. Not only will this be a hindrance to those with limited download speeds, but also a devourer of the limited hard drive space available on base consoles. However, it also offers up the opportunity for PS5 players purchasing a physical copy of the game to gift their codes of the PS4 version to friends or family if they aren’t interested in the VR version of the game. This, partnered with the aforementioned rollover issues, leaves players jumping through hoops before being able to access their content, and while it may be a nit-pick—and possibly out of IO’s hands—it is a muddied mark on the game’s clean sheet.
Hitman III acts as the end of a franchise, but for me it is the beginning, and I sense that for others it will be the same. As a game that you could technically see to completion in around 5 hours, I find it incredible that I have spent more time with this than other properties that demand hundreds of hours. Before I had even finished its six levels, I was installing the previous two entries with giddy excitement—and even as I type up this very paragraph, I am agonising over how to reach Dartmoor Manor’s roof to finally fulfill its clean sniper execution—and no, I will not look it up!
Hitman III is a personal game of the year contender, and not because it is asking nicely with lavish graphics and large-scale levels. Instead, it has an ICA Silverballer pressed hard against my skull demanding to stand atop that list, with some of the best level design I’ve ever seen and a density that elicits a real challenge—and I don’t feel like arguing against it. Hitman III is a fun, addictive, and exceptionally satisfying gaming experience that highlights how we don’t need expansive open worlds—just a building full of bad guys, a slick-looking suit, and a tightly strung garotte wire. I would go on, but I’ve got some Emetic rat poison to serve and a trilogy to catch up on.