The Hitman game series reached a zenith in 2018 with Hitman 2, technically the seventh in the series—but, hey, the seventh time can be the charm. Everything that we enjoyed in the 2016 series comeback was even better in this sequel, and IO Interactive nailed its “murder puzzle box” concept with sprawling, macabre playgrounds, all built to encourage a kill-multiple-ways core.
Three years ago, IO Interactive still had compelling directions to take its level design and plot composition, and the resulting sequel doubled down on dark humor and inherent video game silliness—while also getting a better handle on how to compose its levels. Walking through crowded scenes as a slow, blend-in-the-scenes assassin, looking for clues and opportunities, simply felt better in Hitman 2.
This week, Hitman III arrives on consoles, PCs, and streaming platforms with five new arenas of mayhem—the fewest yet in a numbered entry—and a pesky list of new tweaks. It feels very, very familiar—even more than the leap from 2016’s Hitman to 2018’s Hitman 2. It lands in a nearly identical interface as the last game, with the same XP progression meters, the same objective-based system, the same one-off “escalation” missions, and the same “custom contracts” sandbox. And its graphics engine revolves around a seemingly identical core, with one admittedly handsome tweak.
A sequel or an episode?
The worst part about Hitman III, then, is the number in the title. It betrays the game’s true nature as an expansion pack instead of a standalone game that can easily be enjoyed in isolation. That’s not a bad thing! If all you want are “more Hitman reboot levels that are up to the series’ par of excellence” (and that was the game’s original “episodic” plan), then III will neatly lodge into your brain. IO Interactive has concluded the “World of Assassination” trilogy in mostly fine fashion, although its inability to live up to the heights of Hitman 2 led me to immediately wish this were a more ambitious sequel.
If you’re new to the series, however, your path is clearer: set up a sale alert on Hitman 2, if not a package that combines Hitman 1’s and 2‘s levels in the same package. They’re great, and you have zero reason to skip them on your way to Hitman III.
This week’s sequel drives the point home by inviting new players to play the 5-year-old tutorial from Hitman 1. This teaches you to sneak onto a boat and silently kill a target. Along the way, lure guards into isolation; knock them out and steal their outfits; use their attire to blend in to otherwise inaccessible clearance zones; then pick up keys, access cards, and implements of death as you slither toward your target, seeking to avoid a firefight.
Once you finish training, go back to the same mission, with a guide pointing you to other paths toward the same target. You’ll rack up more experience points doing this, and these unlock mission-specific perks (new starting points, new places to hide weapons and gizmos within the map) and series-wide weapons and cosmetics.
Two new systems in a familiar game
The fact that this dated tutorial applies so well to Hitman III says a lot—that’s some serious “ain’t broke, don’t fix it” energy—though the new game does include two new tweaks. The first is a “shortcut unlock” feature, which should immediately comfort series fans.
Your repeat visits to levels to uncover new ways to kill your primary targets or fulfill objectives are sometimes sped up when you unlock a new shortcut starting point, but you may still find yourself marching the full length of the level to find and complete certain objectives. This year, clearly marked yellow doors can be seen in every new level, and you can unlock them from the inside of buildings. Meaning, after you snake your way through, say, a biker hideout in your first playthrough, you can permanently jimmy open the bikers’ barricaded front door to reduce the tedium whenever you return. IO Interactive takes care to place these rarely and deliberately, and they’re a great tweak.
The other new system is a smartphone camera, which doubles as a scan-and-hack tool for, say, turning on a TV or blacking out a security window. You have to use this in the very first mission to open the very first closed access point… and then the camera is put away for much of the game. This isn’t something like Metroid Prime, where you’re expected to constantly scan the environment looking for clues and analysis. Instead, it only gets used in moments clearly marked by the game, like when a voice in your ear recommends you scan a specific, colored logo to open a door or when a questgiver asks you to take a photo of a secondary target once you’ve knocked them out.
The camera includes a 4x zoom for the sake of examining the world when you’re short a sniper rifle, and that’s a welcome boon, but I’d hoped for more camera-based fun and trickery than this sequel offers. Plus, Agent 47 is never penalized when he’s seen taking photos in heavily guarded zones, particularly one high-security lab in the game’s China level. Pull out a pistol, and you’ll be shot down; take dozens of photos that somehow magically open and close doors, and it’s no big deal. Talk about an odd disconnect.