Hitman 3 Review: A Proper Sendoff to The Professional
The Hitman series is something of a unicorn in video games. Despite being a franchise dating back more than two decades, it's had to take on virtually no imitators in its entire history. There's simply nothing quite like it.
That leaves the creators at IO Interactive mostly looking inward to challenge themselves to improve the series. In 2016, a soft reboot did just that, delivering the best game in the series to that point. Hitman 2 in 2018 raised that bar even further, refining the signature style and impressive substance of its stealth-action sandbox.
Hitman 3 is IO Interactive at the height of its powers, once more building on the stunning foundation of what's come before while giving fans the proper sendoff Agent 47 deserves.
Hitman 3 Review: A Proper Sendoff to The Professional
Like its predecessors, Hitman 3 is labeled a stealth-action game, but it plays more like a puzzle game. It's a game that asks its players to manipulate the AI in such entertainingly convoluted routes to the bloody finish line that each level ends up feeling like the world's deadliest Rube Goldberg Machine.
This installment does not revolutionize what has come since 2016, nor should it. Acting as a platform for the entire trilogy, Hitman 3 is refined in appreciable ways, but it primarily serves to show off more of the developer's untouchable level-design talents. For the globetrotting Agent 47 and players alike, each mission is an opportunity to turn over every stone and determine the countless means to his contract killing endgame.
Hitman 3 puts players atop the world's talent building in Dubai, in a foggy British estate for a Knives Out-like murder mystery, on the neon-soaked streets of Chongqing, China, and more, and like the earlier games in the reboot trilogy, they're nearly all exceptional.
Like a sad clown, each wears a superficial layer that the locals want you to believe, but Agent 47 is always able to look more deeply and find its darker underbelly. The skyscraper in Dubai looks ritzy and extravagant, but behind closed doors, the staffing areas are messy and plain. In Dartmoor, the stunningly built mansion's exterior hides a secret of a family disheveled and tearing at itself. Like Sapienza or Miami or so many more before them, the locations of Hitman 3 are some of the very strongest in all of video games.
The lone exception, acting also as the game's biggest disappointment, is the final level. Without delving too deeply into spoiler territory, suffice it to say the linearity of this area betrays much of what makes Hitman so special, much like parts of Hitman Absolution did in 2012.
From a certain view, this finale is a clever breakdown of Hitman's decades-old design principles, streamlining the hierarchical nature of the game's disguise system down a linear path rather than a sandbox, but because earlier Hitman 3 levels give their own brief linear cinematic sections before opening up to the real sandboxes, I was surprised to see this final mission has no similar devil's playground waiting at its end.
I suppose if you're trying to put a cap on your trilogy, some bottlenecking toward the final target is needed, and it helps soothe the sting when so many creative ways to play are present in previous levels. With the game's abundant Challenges and Escalation Contracts — increasingly tough missions with strict parameters — replayability is again high for Hitman 3, and now higher than ever if you've been playing the trilogy since its debut.
Players who own or buy access to the earlier games can treat Hitman 3 as the singular hub for all three games, even taking new unlocks from Hitman 3 back into older levels, making it feel like all three games are getting ample post-launch support.
2016 was not just a rebirth for Hitman's gameplay after the polarizing Absolution, it was also a chance to start anew with Agent 47's story. As the conclusion to a planned trilogy, Hitman 3 achieves its lofty goals of sending Agent 47 into the sunset, if only temporarily. I've enjoyed Hitman all my life, but in Hitman 3 I found I was more drawn to the story than ever before.
From the first scene, where Agent 47 and his accomplice, Gray, are skydiving out of an airplane, Hitman 3 has the same finale feeling as something like The Dark Knight Rises or The Deathly Hallows, a riveting "it all comes down this this" energy. Dripping with style and cinematic flair between its superb levels, Hitman 3 makes clear that IO's next venture as developers of a 007 game has been well-assigned.
This game is so stylish in such a similar way, where world leaders hold ritzy cocktail parties to disguise their more nefarious plots happening on another floor, that I genuinely wondered if Hitman 3 would reveal itself to actually be a 007 game in some elaborate long con of a lead-in to the studio's next project. IO knows how to set a scene as well as any industry outfit, and on the third go-around with this version of Hitman, everything has come together dazzlingly.
Though you won't find major innovations in Agent 47's toolset, he's got a few more tricks up his sleeve (provided his current disguise uses sleeves). A camera tool allows him to hack into areas otherwise inaccessible and also doubles as a simplistic photo mode for virtual photographers. It's feature-light but this is the best-looking game I've ever played in terms of mood and lighting, so there's still some fun to be had with it.
Additionally, new Shortcuts are built into levels which only open from one hard-to-reach side, but once they're opened, they remain that way for future playthroughs. Like so much else in the series, these don't just encourage exploration, they strongly reward it.
Overall, the game takes only steps forward in terms of gameplay innovations, partly as a means to keep IO's trilogy platform plans possible, but it performs more impressive leaps when it comes to storytelling, all while capping off one of gaming's finest trilogies with one more world tour of impeccable level design.
Hitman 3 Review — The Bottom Line
- Yet more unrivaled level design
- A well-told final chapter to a great trilogy
- Creativity reigns once again
- Lighting and mood are stunningly realized in each setting
- Few gameplay innovations
- A rather linear final level somewhat dampens the sendoff
Hitman 3 feels like the culmination of years of work for IO Interactive. So much has been in flux for this team, from debuting the trilogy episodically to mixed reactions, breaking from Square Enix and going indie, and now landing the 007 license for their next game.
The singular constant in all of that has been Hitman, a series which had never been better than it was in 2016 — until it got even better in 2018 and once more in 2021. If this is the end for the barcoded assassin, at least for a while, it's the one the developers, fans, and Agent 47 all deserve.
[Note: IO Interactive provided the copy of Hitman 3 used for this review.]