Isn’t it ironic that, in a year where we all could have benefited from escaping the real-world, PlayStation VR got lost in the shuffle a little bit? The excitement surrounding the PlayStation 5 was palpable, and it left very little bandwidth for Sony’s creaking but still very entertaining entry-level virtual reality headset. Hitman 3, playable entirely with PSVR, serves as a timely reminder of the technology’s potential – and based on this evidence, we can’t wait for the next inevitable iteration of the headset.
First, let’s clean up the caveats, as there are a few to keep in mind: PSVR is only available in the PlayStation 4 version of the game. That’s because Sony considers the headset a last-gen peripheral, and therefore has decided to restrict use of it to PS4 games only. However you purchase Hitman 3, you’ll get access to both the PS5 and PS4 versions of the game, and you can have both installed on your next-gen console if that’s what you want to do.
In addition, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the title ditches the PlayStation Move motion controllers in favour of the DualShock 4. You'll need to use Sony’s last-gen controller even if you’re on the PS5, because it utilises the light bar to help with its motion tracking. Despite this, you’ll primarily be interacting with the world in the same way you would the non-VR version of the game; that means picking up items with buttons and even opening doors with Triangle (although you can reach forward with your controller if you prefer).
Given how dated the PS Move controllers feel these days, it’s a smart decision. You actually lose none of the playability from the standard version of the game, but you gain a lot in immersion. And we mean, a lot. Hitman 3 is much more difficult in PSVR, as you can’t rely on Agent 47’s “instincts” to see through walls. However, you will find yourself naturally peeking around corners and looking over objects in order to observe the position of NPCs.
Actually being able to physically visit all of the game’s locations, many of which you’ll be familiar with from playing the core release, is a jaw-dropping experience. The scale of Dubai and even the Dartmoor estate is unprecedented once you’re inside it, and playing on PS5 via backwards compatibility, the image quality is extraordinary. Every location looks large and clear – we cannot emphasise enough just how remarkable it is to be physically present inside these outstanding levels.
Everything works identically to in the core game, as well. We’ve got a good route figured out in the UK level, where we infiltrate Alexa Carlisle’s office, steal her files, and then drop a chandelier on her head, and we were able to execute it almost perfectly in PSVR. In fact, some aspects are enhanced by virtual reality, because you can better judge your surroundings and where NPCs are in relation to you.
That said, the control scheme isn’t always perfect. Anything involving platforming is awkward, and we did notice some very minor changes to the terrain in Chongqing to account for this – there’s a ledge you can crawl across to access a climbable pipe, where in the non-VR game you need to hang off the edge of the wall and reach it that way. Things like punching feel weird, too, as you’re effectively thrusting both hands forward with the DualShock 4, while scoped gear such as sniper rifles and the camera revert to a flat screen when you aim down the sights, breaking the immersion.
Other actions, like subduing guards – something you’ll be doing a lot of – work better: you effectively reach forward with your hands until Agent 47 adopts a throttling pose, and then you tap R2 to put your victims to sleep. Weapons are aimed manually using the gyroscopes, but there’s an added visual aid if you half-squeeze the trigger to help you line up your shots. While you’re unlikely to be doing a lot of shooting in this game anyway, we found we were able to hit our targets precisely every time.
A lot of work has gone into adapting the control scheme to PSVR, then, and there are a ton of customisation options if you don’t like how things specifically work. For example, the default turning option relies on a snap system, but you can change the size of those rotations to your liking or even revert back to a more traditional movement format if you prefer. Obviously, that’s going to require a strong stomach, but the toggle is there.
The biggest downside is that, in areas where there are large crowds, the game needs to filter these in and out in order to retain a smooth framerate. This means that you’ll physically see NPCs appear and disappear around you as you observe your surroundings, which can be take you out of the experience. In locations like Dartmoor and even Chongqing, where there are not many characters on the screen at once, this isn’t a problem; in places like Dubai, though, it’s disappointingly obvious.
But, as alluded to earlier, physically existing in these spaces is outrageously immersive for the most part. Not only can you appreciate the scale of your surroundings, but the Hitman trilogy has always traded on its virtual tourism aspect, and so you can have just as much fun simply exploring the locations as actually assassinating your targets. The fact that the entire trilogy is here, available to play in its entirety, is a mind-boggling achievement.
And it’s a reminder, at a time when the technology has been pushed into the background a little to make way for the PS5, that Sony is still very much onto something special here. Virtual reality sure has its fair share of jank – and PSVR, with its tiring technology, is the biggest example of that right now – but even with all of the shortcomings, Hitman 3 still manages to immerse in a way that’s seldom seen. IO Interactive deserves real credit for what it’s achieved here.
Will you be playing Hitman 3 with PSVR? If you're looking for a more general overview of the game, check out our Hitman 3 PS5 review, and let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.