The Hitman games have always excelled at world building. Weaving tight little narratives through its enclosed vivarium levels – come for the murder, stay to find out what that creepy guy is making phone calls about when he thinks no one is listening. Hitman 3 hasn't changed much from the previous two games in its modern incarnation, with the basic formula more or less copy and pasted. But that's no bad thing, because it's a template that still holds plenty of potential and interesting corners to explore.
That's something the Dartmoor level demonstrates beautifully. You may have seen the trailer that sets it up, highlighting the opportunity to visit the oppressive English manor under the guise of a private eye hired to investigate... something. I don't want to say too much about what unfolds once you arrive, because it's incredibly satisfying to unravel the preceding events – poking around for evidence, asking questions, and fully playing the PI part out.
Game Hitman 3
Publisher IO Interactive
Platforms PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Release January 20, 2021
47's ability to disguise himself as any character has often seen him act out their duties to blend in or achieve objectives, but this is a far more in-depth roleplay. There are clues to find, usually from information you uncover and people to question; it's so involving to engage with it all that I genuinely forgot I was actually there to kill someone until I solved the case and presented my findings. If the series is looking for somewhere to go after the conclusion of this trilogy, then expanding the way disguises work is definitely the way to go.
Playing detective forms one of the 'Mission Stories' in the level – guided narrative paths introduced in 2016's Hitman to help players find a way through locations dense with possibilities. As with the previous games, there are a few starting options and more you can uncover as you explore – from other Mission Stories, to simple realising where I could get a shot off unseen, poison a drink, tamper with some electrics and so on. Mission Stories are the easiest way to get to grips with what's possible and, by the time I'd finished playing detective, I'd identified countless other opportunities to off the intended targets. The more time you spend exploring, the more things you'll find and you're guaranteed to find something that looks so cool you won't be able to believe it isn't the main objective.
These Mission Stories can also direct the story more tightly. As the conclusion to events that stretches across the previous two games, developer IO Interactive is promising a subtly enhanced focus on the narrative. Things like more extended intros and outros to levels, or restricted loadouts and starting locations when initially playing a level to better tell the story of 47, Diana, and Lucas Grey's war against the shadowy Providence organisation.
The opening glitzy Dubai skyscraper party level, for example, has a Mission Story that plays out like a Bond opening if you choose to follow it. (Given IO's recent announcement of a game set in the Bond universe it also only goes to underline just how much Hitman plays like a Double O game anyway.) I'm obviously not going to say anything about where the actual story is going, but there was a big raised eyebrow for what my playthrough ended on.
These narrative focuses are only there to guide the story initially however, in case you're worried about losing the open world edge. Mission Stories are completely optional on subsequent playthroughs. And, as before, the real fun comes once you've completed a level and go back for another go with what you've learned. There are XP unlocks that let you open up new starting areas and tools, or the ability to smuggle in weapons and gear past the reach of invasively searching guards.
Crucially, there's also a new shortcut mechanic that lets you permanently open up new routes to areas once you reach them. Say, for example, a rooftop ladder that might take a great deal of subterfuge and costume changes to reach but, once dropped, becomes a permanent new quick route to the area for all subsequent playthroughs. Anyone that's spent a few evenings replaying levels to unlock different kills, meticulously traversing tricky routes to reach the 'start' of a specific opportunity, can immediately see how much that changes the game.
Another new tool in Hitman's murder bag is a camera that can be used to collect information, scan electronic locks to open them, and even, believe it or not, take pictures – both in a limited photo mode capacity and as an in-game ability. One possible route to a target in the opening Dubai level involves providing photographic proof that you've… done something. My time in the game only really demonstrated a quick demo of what this camera can do and it'll be interesting to see how much of a difference it ultimately makes.
While there are a few subtle new tweaks to the established formula, the core of Hitman 3 remains unchanged and feels better for it: the games always worked so well because each level forms a beautifully contained microcosm to explore and abuse. The Dubai and Dartmoor levels I've played continue that, but with the added bonus of two games worth of momentum behind the overarching story that I can't wait to see land.
Big in 2021 (opens in new tab) is GamesRadar's exploration of the most anticipated games on the near horizon. Check back in throughout January for brand new previews, hands-on impressions, and exclusive developer interviews of the games that will define 2021.