The title of international spy is one of the coolest concepts in popular culture, so much so that it’s a bit of a surprise more games haven’t tried to deliver on clever secret agent tropes. Hitman has always been the premier series for players who want to experience the thrill of that impossible mission, or acting in the stead of her majesty’s secret service. And boasting a cool thriller story and a bountiful number of opportunities to engage in missions, Hitman 3 is certainly one of the one of the most exciting in the series. Though with a track record of mechanical issues, odd glitches, and a repetitive replay system, that might not be saying as much as you think it is.
Over the course of Hitman 3 Agent 47 and his team are hunting down the infamous Partners, scheduling a series of assassinations for revenge, while simultaneously avoiding their own termination at the hands of the ICA, an international crime syndicate. There’s some juicy, though somewhat predictable, twists and turns, but if we’re being honest this is all just a loose story set up so you can get out there and start taking out targets in whatever ways you can dream up.
It’s also evident the story is at somewhat of a backseat because of a terrific level unlock system, in that from the start of the game you can play almost all the missions in any order you choose. Sure the sense of progression may feel a little more Memento if the player chooses not to go in order, but by having all levels initially unlocked, it gives the player immediate agency to start getting creative with missions right out of the bat.
And the individual missions themselves provide the player with countless ways to eliminate targets. In one run a player might cut a pair of parachutes before sounding an alarm, causing the targets to jump to their deaths with the faulty safety net. Or the player can just crouch in a bathroom stall and gun the target down on their way to take a piss. You can compress a target in a giant mechanical press. You could electrocute a target during a family photo. Or you could just poison their drink. Hitman 3 lets the player get as involved as they want when taking out a target, and the game even records and scores your different tactics on each level, making for some really fun completion bonuses and level replayability if you want to take targets out in every way imaginable.
But while setting up the most elaborate ways to kill targets is incredibly rewarding once completed, getting the information and set up can more often be a slog of trial and error. Arguably the most iconic mission is Chapter 2’s “Who Done It,” where 47 disguises himself as a PI visiting a large family mansion. But despite the Knives Out set up and gorgeous level design, I found myself constantly infuriated with being on the edge of both solving a murder while setting up the target’s own, when I was briefly sighted and killed. In one brief moment all the leg work I’d done was nullified and I had to restart the level. Similarly on this level, once I had completed a target attack, none of the NPCs reacted. And similarly again on this level, I had to trigger the same interaction with a photographer 3 times before the game let me continue on.
There is so much freedom in this game, but half the time that freedom led to weird bugs, or repetitive encounters that pulled me out of the immersion. By the end of my time playing Hitman 3, I was simply playing the more intricate assassinations with a guide to avoid the frustrations. In the end, it felt far more fun Rambo-ing my way through a level, chucking banana peels or fire extinguishers at anyone in my way rather than putting in the effort for that special story kill, just because I was scared something small would go wrong and force me to redo everything.
The controls are also to blame; 47 doesn’t control very fluidly, and for a game all about stealth, the cover system felt bulky and unintuitive, and climbing and escape tactics felt sluggish. Gun play was fairly fun, though was hardly a reliable tactic if you didn’t want to get caught.
The game’s sense of location and place, on the other hand, is phenomenal. Ironically my personal favorite of the levels, and the one I spent the most time replaying, was the Dubai gala skyscraper, the game’s “first” mission. From the opening moments you can see both targets each at different balconies, immediately giving the level this incredible sense of place and verticality. The views are stunning, the lighting is gorgeous, it was the sort of place I just wanted to discover every inch of, not just to set up my next kill, but because exploring this party was in and of itself engaging.
Hitman 3 is a sandbox game that is constantly requiring the player to tactically make little discoveries about how each level flows. Figuring out the layout of the landscape, charting target movements, and then finally executing your plan and the target, when done successfully, really does put you in the shoes of that debonair international man of mystery. But it’s really unfortunate when a run is ruined by a glitch, or the NPCs randomly shut down, and that cool spy backdrop falls down and you realize you’re just an actor in a tux on a poorly constructed soundstage.