It was about five minutes into my Hitman 3 preview before everything completely, and irrevocably, turned to shit.
Hitman has always embraced chaos. It is not a franchise where you roleplay as an assassin. It’s not a character drama starring Agent 47, or a layered, complex narrative adventure where a bald man with a barcode on his head happens to play the starring role.
It’s always been about the careful manipulation of patterns, and weaving things back into place just enough so you can get through to the other side.
Which is why it’s so fun when everything falls apart.
Ahead of Hitman 3‘s full release on January 20, press were given access to a preview build featuring the game’s first couple of missions. (A nice bonus twist: reviewers were given codes before Christmas, allowing everyone plenty of time to work through the game. After the immense crunch for Cyberpunk 2077, the leeway is hugely appreciated.)
The mission seemed simple. Sneak into a mansion, grab a secret file, and quietly listen to the everyday machinations of guards, butlers, maids and various servants along the way. These conversations are often your tipping point towards one of Hitman 3’s new inclusions, termed Mission Stories.
These are basically guided objectives that help illustrate the different ‘ways’ of completing an objective. If you’re a Hitman veteran, these won’t have any impact on how you play. And they’re disabled at the highest difficulty setting, although you can manually customise it so you still get a nudge towards the next objective, minus quest trackers and other Assassin’s Creed-esque HUD icons.
So take my target. They’re holding a fake funeral. So that’s an obvious route: impersonating the funeral director, stealing his identity and conveniently shoving the matriarch into her own, already dug grave.
Or at least it could have been. I didn’t spot that on my first try.
Another route is presented to you from the second the mission starts. The matriarch has called in a private investigator (whose dapper outfit, stolen by Agent 47, you can see above). It’s not immediately clear why the PI’s here, but he’s been given an audience and full access to the building. And in Hitman‘s world, where your disguise only gets you so far, full access is especially powerful.
Permanent shortcuts are another new inclusion in Hitman 3, one obviously geared to encourage multiple playthroughs. In the first mission, not far away from where one of your targets resides, is a ladder. You can’t climb up the ladder because it’s locked at the top. But once you’ve reached the top via another path, you can unlock the ladder, which then makes that ladder an alternate route in future playthroughs.
So having unfettered access to the whole building, without having to switch disguises all the time, is remarkably helpful for unlocking large chunks of a level.
Provided you don’t accidentally shoot said access in the head, in full view of a security camera and a nearby maid.
Look, I didn’t mean to do it. I was trying to click on a second screen. I wasn’t even trying to aim. And yet, somehow, and I have no idea how, trying to activate something in Chrome accidentally activated the untimely end of one of Britain’s (supposedly) best and most discreet private investigators.
Naturally, that triggered every guard in what felt like a 50km radius. I kept seeing waves of enemies, usually three or four at a time, for a solid 10 minutes straight.
Not that it was a huge problem, mind you. For one, the mansion is an enormous place. It’s not too hard to jump out a window, quickly duck behind a pillar or piece of cover, and just deal with guards one or two at a time.
Hitman‘s remarkably generous when it comes to weapons. I would have thought — being as simulation heavy as it is — there might be more of a drop-off in accuracy or damage for your trusty silenced pistol. But there isn’t. So a bit of precise aim, and some patience, you can just clear an entire level.
Not of guards. Or enemies. I mean the entire level.
The mission was deemed successful, by the way. I’d have thought that an organisation specialising in secretive assassins would be dismissive of the wholesale slaughter of an entire estate, but apparently not.
Round two was a little more placid. I tried the undertaker approach, although I also came across an intriguing third option. Apparently a family photo — during a funeral? — is part of the proceedings. That’s a neat little opportunity for various ‘solutions’. Electrocution during the photo shoot. A potential poisoning. Maybe just a different way of dealing with the target and opening up another escape route via a nearby jetty. That, too, unlocks a different disguise and entry point into the mission for future playthroughs.
And that’s just the patently obvious ways of dealing with things. There’s a constant array of stuff on a Hitman level that can be combined for interesting and unusual ways of resolving problems. Problems being people, obviously.
Having used the late funeral director’s hearse — I could have left him alive, but that seems a bit sloppy for an assassin — I figured it made sense to actually try and do things the proper way. And if you don’t completely fuck it up by shooting the poor PI, what unravels is akin to a mini murder-mystery.
Obviously, given this is a preview and the culmination of a trilogy that began in 2016, I’m not going to reveal any of the particulars. But it’s a fun twist on a traditional assassination mission, and it’s also a fitting mood for the story around ICA, Agent 47’s organisation, and the world they’ve slowly come to dominate.
Like Hitman 2, Hitman 3 will also let you play the original Hitman reboots within Hitman 3. Your progress carries over between the games too, so unlocking an item within Hitman 3 can be used in Hitman and Hitman 2 missions. Reloading the starting Paris level from the first Hitman is a great contrast: the scene has a lot more contrast, more colour, greater NPC depth and astronomically better lighting.
I’d share a screenshot so you could see the difference, but that wasn’t expressly permissible under the terms of this embargo. So the best way of describing it is probably this. The original Hitman Paris level looks dull, flat, almost like the saturation has been forcibly sucked out of the image. And the original Hitman didn’t look bad by any measure — but I suspect those playing the game on the next-gen consoles will definitely appreciate the improvements.
But even that aside, if you haven’t played the Hitman series yet, you really are missing out. You know how a lot of people batted back complaints about Cyberpunk 2077 by saying how much fun Night City was as a virtual space to just roam around, shoot and mess with people?
Well, that’s basically Hitman 3 and the entire Hitman series. The trappings change from level to level, but you’re basically just given a giant area to shove, strangle, poison, electrocute, knee, curb stomp, silence, coathanger, sabotage and Genuinely Terrible People. It’s an adult version of The Incredible Machine. You’re just delivering strychnine to the end goal instead of introducing the cat to the cheese.
It’s fun as hell. And so were Hitman and Hitman 2, which you can replay simply by owning Hitman 3. Not a bad deal to start the year off.