Review: Hitman 3 is an achievement in sandbox shenanigans, several years in the making

The culmination of IO Interactive’s World of Assassination trilogy is more Hitman — which is good.

Hitman 3

Image via IO Interactive

Video game sequels come and go, but there is something so special and pointed about how IO Interactive has approached iteration with its Hitman trilogy. By maintaining the same mechanics and tools across all three games, while also adding enough spice and variety within each level, the fruits of IO’s labor has resulted in a powerful and potent package in Hitman 3.

It is difficult to view Hitman 3 as a singular game, because ultimately, it is a lengthy final demonstration of a unique and addictive style of gameplay developed over at least five years. Hitman’s brand of open-world sandbox problem solving is nuanced and mentally stimulating, combining exploration, experimentation, pattern recognition, and patience. Few action titles get the gears turning in your head and inspire replays and repetition to the point where you live and breathe the game’s systems like Hitman. 

Before playing this game, the sheer existence of a third new Hitman game was enough to excite me. Because of how familiar I was with the gameplay mechanics, I was eager to hone my skills, take on new challenges, and learn new locations in and out. With that, Hitman 3 was almost exactly the game I wanted and expected — sometimes predictability and familiarity can be that comforting.

Assassination Nation

Hitman 3
Image via IO Interactive

Surprisingly, Hitman 3 is accessible to any player regardless of their entry point in IO’s rebooted series. The quite useful gameplay tutorials from the 2016 Hitman and its 2018 continuation are still effective in catching anyone up on how to utilize the toolkit Hitman has to offer, and in terms of story, the opening cutscene competently summarizes the rather convoluted plot up to this point. Hitman 3 is less of a sequel and more so the final third of a larger game experience.

The compelling gameplay formula still remains the same: You play as Agent 47, thrown into an exotic locale and tasked with killing specific targets, with some levels including a mandatory objective that doesn’t necessarily require you to take lives. There are six core levels in Hitman 3, all offering a large sandbox map with its own nooks, crannies, and quirks to find. Utilize disguises to access closed-off locations and bypass security, turn any object you find into a weapon, and discover timely opportunities with Mission Stories, which are essentially side quests that guide you towards your targets through specific means.

Similar to how Hitman 2 incorporated Hitman 1 levels for owners of both games, Hitman 3 will allow owners of the previous titles to play all levels and locations throughout the whole trilogy. With too many challenges to complete, and variations of the story missions in the form of Escalation Contracts (which include side objectives and increasing difficulty) and events like Elusive Targets (limited contracts and scenarios that only give you once chance), Hitman 3 is more of a platform than a singular game. But it could be to a minor fault — with so much content and information from three massive games, the menu could be a bit dense and overwhelming for some players. Regardless, it’s near impossible to be bored of Hitman with all of its offerings, and Hitman 3’s new content has plenty to chew on.

Basket of deplorables

Hitman 3
Image via IO Interactive

Despite the supposed seriousness of this World of Assassination, the larger Hitman series still has roots in cheesiness, and the 2016 Hitman reboot had plenty of silly and over-the-top moments. Hitman 2 felt more self-aware of this side of Hitman, containing ample opportunities for absurdity — think 47 dressing up as a flamingo mascot in the Miami racetrack level. Hitman 3, conversely, doubles down more on the recent games coming up with the vilest and most despicable assassination targets, inadvertently making Agent 47 an unsung hero taking down some of the most amoral and hypercapitalist scoundrels that one can imagine. 

From war profiteers to practitioners of human experimentation, IO has come up with fictional individuals that are so elaborately terrible that you’ll have no hesitation in crafting equally elaborate ways to end their lives. The six levels of Hitman 3 will take you through lavish environments and compounds to reflect on the exaggerated spoils, riches, and ambitions of these villains, all containing NPCs with their own motivations to take advantage of in order to close in on your targets. And for the most part, the new levels in Hitman 3 are less straightforward than ones from previous games, incorporating unusual objectives, shortcuts, and a camera that can scan and hack.

Take the Dartmoor level, which incorporates a murder mystery to solve that will surely invoke the film Knives Out. Assuming you approach the level by disguising yourself as a private detective, you’ll go the extra mile by searching for clues and interviewing suspects, all while giving you extra intel and tools to complete your primary assassination mission. Or consider the Berlin mission, which is much more story-focused and a bit more freeform in terms of which targets you are allowed to off. Veterans of the Hitman games should be so used to the standards of the series that even the slightest adjustments from the norm can be oddly exciting.

Murder, He Wrote

Hitman 3
Image via IO Interactive

The trilogy’s larger plot is much more prominent in Hitman 3, and compared to the previous games, the levels feel less detached from the story. Locations in Hitman generally feel like self-contained snow globes, with the focus only being on the immediate world and objectives. But as Hitman 3 took the story to a definitive conclusion, story beats found their way into the main missions much more often.

Unfortunately, the story is probably the weakest aspect of the trilogy as a whole. The presentation itself is fine — the full-motion cutscenes in Hitman 3 are preferred to the still image comic book-like scenes of Hitman 2, even if the video quality is a bit grainy and low-quality. But the scenes themselves lack any gravity, and few of the character interactions feel genuine or compelling. While some of the story developments closer to the end of the game are interesting, some of the supporting characters were poorly utilized, and even Agent 47 himself fails to earn a satisfying conclusion to his character arc.

Still, the overall world-building of the Hitman trilogy is largely a success, and cheeky dialogue from 47 as well as the observations and behavior of NPCs within the sandbox levels never fail to amuse. In the end, the gameplay and everything that comes with the sandbox are what players will come to Hitman 3 for anyway.

The verdict

Hitman 3
Image via IO Interactive

The “World of Assassination” branding for the Hitman trilogy has always been a curious term. But after sifting through everything these three games have to offer, the moniker makes sense from a few different angles. There is an expansive and engrossing fictional world, with corporate conspiracies, dubious organizations and individuals, and political machinations that parallel our own world. The three games combined are themselves a “world” for players to explore, with challenges and unlockables galore. And each level is a world in and of itself, providing a wide and diverse array of toys with which you can sow chaos.

Hitman 3 is more than just a sequel — it is a culmination of an epic and near-perfect gameplay experience, one that invites you to never stop learning and never stop playing.

Final score:

9 / 10

+ Unquestionable refinement of Hitman gameplay
+ Presents thematic intrigue and the most hateful targets imaginable
+ Unexpected gameplay twists and experiments in a few levels
Plot developments fail to excite or even satisfy
Crowded menu and navigation from three games’ worth of content
Disclosure: Gamepur was provided with a game code for review purposes.