In the world of stealth games, the Hitman franchise has always been a bit of a black sheep. Far from the self-serious military cool of Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid, Hitman is basically a Looney Toon. In it, you play as the hairless master of disguise known as “Agent 47”, as he strangles, poisons, stabs, crushes, electrocutes and otherwise does away with a succession of high-profile targets, across a range of goofy and inventive scenarios. Hitman: Blood Money (2006), for instance, let you murder an opera singer by switching a prop gun for the real thing, or infiltrate a target’s child’s birthday party dressed as a clown.
Hitman 3 – somewhat misleadingly, the eighth game in the series – is mostly more of the same. A close continuation of its two most recent predecessors, Hitman (2016) and Hitman 2 (2018), Hitman 3 comprises six missions, each taking place in a drastically different environment. The opening level sees Agent 47 infiltrate a glitzy Dubai skyscraper; others are set in the neon-lit streets of Chongqing, China or at a lavish event in Mendoza, Argentina. The joy of Hitman games is their replayability, and there’s plenty here to keep players coming back. Different modes shake up the levels completely, changing who you are asked to kill and the many ways in which you can do it.
Much of the game’s hype has focused on a level set in Devon, in which Agent 47 can disguise himself as a sleuth and solve a murder mystery in an old family mansion, in a plot that passingly recalls Knives Out. This is slightly less stimulating in execution than in theory – the murder-mystery format does not quite suit Hitman’s game mechanics – though there’s something archly enjoyable about navigating the mansion’s secret passages and stately grounds.
For my money, the game’s best level is set in Berlin, and sees Agent 47 play a game of cat and mouse with a team of killers out to get him, against the backdrop of an all-night rave inside a repurposed nuclear power plant. As you travel deeper into the bowels of the building and find its huge, crowded dancefloor, it’s hard not to be struck by the game’s immersiveness, its vivid sense of place.
There’s more of an overarching story here compared to most previous Hitman entries, and some of the humour has been sanded off. If you’re invested in the ongoing drama, I suppose this could be a welcome change, but for me (and, I presume, most casual players), the sub-Jason Bourne conspiracy-laden plotlines have always been just white noise, a forgettable overture before the game lets you get stuck into the proverbial muck. Other additions to the game, such as the “camera” gadget, and some light puzzle-solving tasks, seem to add little (though an expansive VR mode on PS4 and PS5 appears promising, for those who have the gear to experience it).
A reliance on formula doesn’t matter here, however: like a James Bond film, Hitman has never been about re-inventing the wheel. Rather, it’s about providing a fresh batch of exotic locations to visit, some daft outfits to wear and fresh throats to slit. When Hitman 3 clicks, it’s still lethally good fun.