It’s almost impossible to review Hitman 3 as a standalone game. While this brooding conclusion to Danish developer IO Interactive’s excellent World of Assassination trilogy can be purchased individually, it’s intended to be enjoyed as a compilation: a collection of sublime stealth sandboxes spanning a glamorous red carpet event in Paris all the way through to a seedy underground rave in Berlin. All of the locations from Hitman: The Complete First Season and Hitman 2 can be imported into the threequel for free, culminating in hundreds upon hundreds of hours of entertaining espionage and, if you’re successful at it, assassination.
As it’s effectively one-third of a larger overall experience, this latest instalment does little to reinvent the rules that the Freedom Fighters maker has been writing for half-a-decade now. Levels like Dubai in the United Arab Emirates are roomy and intricate, but they are not open world; they’re large, layered playgrounds for you to explore and master, observing all of the patterns that occur within them in order to fashion opportunities. There’s no correct way to achieve your objectives, but there’s certainly a wrong way: the beauty is in not getting caught.
This is a darker and marginally more cinematic experience than Hitman 2, with the paper-thin plot from the previous two titles reaching its conclusion. While the first game’s narrative was practically incomprehensible, the second game saw Agent 47 reunited with his childhood friend Lucas Grey, with the pair embarking on a mission to bring down the shady Illuminati-esque organisation, Providence. Due to the way the game’s designed, the characters tend to take a backseat, but there’s just enough meat on the narrative’s bones to send gaming’s sneakiest skinhead around the globe.
Events in the story do make for some interesting encounters, however. With the aforementioned assassin turned against his former employers the ICA, there’s a brilliant mission in Germany where you’re given the objective of taking down your ex-colleagues. Of course, because they all have the same skillset as Agent 47, that means they’re hiding in plain sight, so you must navigate an industrial nightclub in the capital city analysing the behaviour of its hundreds of guests, trying to figure out who exactly your targets are. It’s a stunning twist on the series’ established rules.
In fact, whether it’s Mendoza in Argentina or Chongqing in China, each level brings an interesting variable to the table. This is perhaps best observed in Dartmoor, a rural part of south-west England famous for its National Park. It’s here that you’re tasked with eliminating Providence partner Alexa Carlisle, but there’s much more to this towering stately home than first appears. While the overarching storyline may not be anything to write home about, IO Interactive weaves dozens of tiny little plotlines into each location to truly bring them to life.
So, when you arrive in the UK, you learn that your target has recently faked her own death, and her family has come home for the "funeral". However, in the events prior to Agent 47’s infiltration, there’s been a murder at the house and the Carlisles have hired a private investigator to get to the bottom of it. You can, of course, subdue the detective and solve the mystery for yourself, which unlocks unique assassination opportunities for you. Alternatively, you can storm Alexa’s office and drop an ostentatious art-deco chandelier on her head – it’s up to you.
While you’ll be able to see through the six new locations once in around ten hours, the beauty of the franchise is replaying each stage until you’ve seen all of the possible permutations and succeeded in Master difficulty without ever being detected and without ever changing your clothes. As you learn more about each level, you begin to discover how all of the systems slot together, with every single NPC on the map following a routine that exists for you to manipulate. Every item – excluding the controversial ICA Electrocution Phone from Hitman 2 – is available to you if you import your previous progress, so there’s effectively an infinite number of approaches you can adopt.
With so much of the experience designed around repetition, the addition of permanent shortcuts feels like a smart one. You’ll find these specially marked doors dotted sporadically around the new maps, and once opened they remain unlocked through subsequent playthroughs. This means that you’re able to reach key areas quicker, and it presents plenty of speed running potential. The other major new addition, Agent 47’s camera, doubles as a kind of high-tech scanner, although there are occasions where you’ll need to photograph evidence in order to present it to certain characters.
The game as a whole looks stunning on the PlayStation 5, running at a slick 60 frames-per-second with some seriously impressive reflections. IO Interactive really flexes its engine at times, like when you arrive in Dubai on the outside of a sky-scraper, or when you walk through the rain-slicked streets of a neon-lit Chongqing. There’s so much packed into each and every location, too: there are hidden passages within the Dartmoor estate’s walls, while China harbours an ethically questionable, Cyberpunk 2077-esque mind manipulation lab.
Fashioning opportunities to get up close and personal with your villainous targets is such a huge part of the fun, and while they are pantomime-like caricatures, the writing team gives them just enough dialogue to expose their insecurities and examine what makes them tick. It’s not going to win any awards for its script, but despite the overall tone of this instalment generally being darker, there’s still a ton of humour buried within the game that will make you laugh out loud. The studio’s ability to pair such intense, heart-pounding stealth gameplay with outright nonsense is to be admired.
Our only real criticism of Hitman 3 is that, in needing to account for the fact that not every player will own the entire trilogy, a lot of the gear that you’ll unlock in the six new stages serve as duplicates for items you’ll already have earned in the previous two titles. We’d have liked to have seen a few more truly unique inventory inclusions, especially when you consider that this brings all three titles together; the more gadgets the better, as they’re able to breathe new life into the older environments as well. It’s a nit-pick, but one we felt was worth mentioning.
On its own, Hitman 3 is a moody conclusion to a generation-defining trilogy, but when taken as a complete compilation, it’s the ultimate stealth sandbox. IO Interactive has honed its gameplay formula to perfection, and it’s on top form here, designing missions like Dartmoor where you can lose yourself for hours solving a murder mystery that’s largely separate to the events of the core game. The process of puzzling out each level, deconstructing it, and then executing the perfect Silent Assassin run is some of the most fun you can have on PS5 right now – don’t miss this victory lap from one of gaming’s best franchises.