Every Game Should Have A Train Level

Every Game Should Have A Train Level
Gif: IO Interactive / Kotaku

Hitman 3 ends with one wild ride. The game’s first five levels are sprawling playgrounds that demand stealth, caution, and careful planning. The final level, “Untouchable,” is a fast-paced race through a train. It is, in a word, awesome. More, please! Actually, you know what? Just go ahead and put a train level in every single game.

“Untouchable” starts off cramped. You, as Agent 47, wake up in a sterile, windowless room. You’re mysteriously shirtless, EKG electrodes plastered on your torso. You walk into the next room, see a doctor, and do the whole Hitman thing (knock him out and steal his clothes). You stroll through a few narrow rooms, open a door, and…WHOOSH! You’re on a train, zipping through the Carpathian Mountains in the snowy Romanian backcountry. Would you look at that?

Your goal couldn’t be simpler: make your way to the other end of the train and take out the bad guy. But there’s a twist. Unlike the previous levels, you’re given carte blanche to eliminate any members of Providence, the secretive evil cabal in Hitman lore. In “Untouchable,” that means basically anyone you see. In fact, you even get experience points for it. (Killing non-targets in the other five levels causes some alarming red text alerting you to your moral misdeeds.)

If you can ignore the speeding cargo train, the first five minutes of “Untouchable” are much like any other Hitman 3 level: a lot of sneaking, stealing clothes, and scanning the environment for comically large numbers that obviously correspond to a nearby keypad for a locked door. Then you get a pistol — and the situation goes off the rails.

Between the linear level structure, the licence to kill literally anyone you see, and the small armory at your fingertips (in addition to a pistol, you can also find an automatic rifle and a tactical shotgun), “Untouchable” feels immediately familiar. You duck behind cover. You pop headshots, or at least try to. You’ve probably played this — or something more or less exactly like it — before. My colleague Lisa Marie Segarra noted, not incorrectly, that it “could have been from any Uncharted game.”

There’s a fair case to be made that “Untouchable” isn’t a “Hitman level,” per se. And yes, it bucks the core tenets of the series. Fans of IO Interactive’s recent Hitman trilogy might bristle at how much the level does away with the stealth and subterfuge that defines everything else in Hitman 3. (I haven’t played Hitman or Hitman 2, but I get the sense that “Untouchable” subverts the levels in those games, too.) On the other hand, it’s on a fucking train. That means you can do stuff like this:

Gif: IO Interactive / Kotaku Gif: IO Interactive / Kotaku

There’s a specific thrill to train levels that you can only find, really, in train levels. The way the environment zips by at blistering speeds ramps up the stakes, if only psychologically. That you’re confined to a narrow space also narrows your focus. The train level needs no explanation. You know what to do and where to go and how to do it. The train level is as brilliant in its simplicity as it is in its ability to blow your socks off.

In general, the train level is thrilling. Everyone knows the illustrious 13th chapter from Uncharted 2, where protagonist Nathan Drake has to navigate a speeding locomotive as it barrels through a lush forest and into an icy cliffside. Uncharted: Lost Legacy, the Drake-free spinoff from 2017, features a similarly electrifying scene.

Of course, Naughty Dog doesn’t have a monopoly on the concept and certainly isn’t the only developer to expertly deploy trains in a video game. Recall Red Dead Redemption 2, where, in addition to major narrative beats with trains at the centre, you could rob coach cars in the open world (with varying degrees of success). That’s a train level! Gears of War’s fifth act? Train level. The maglev stage from Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy? Iconic train level. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks? One long train level. Metro Exodus? Basically same. Plotting out a meticulous subway network in Cities: Skylines or Mini Metro? Sure: Train level — unless I’m the only one who finds the thankless task of make-believe city planning a rousing endeavour.

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Train stages rule even in games where they don’t make a lick of sense. Remember in Forza Horizon 4, when you had to race a buggy against the Flying Scotsman, a massive passenger coach? That ruled! Or how about the train graveyard in Final Fantasy VII Remake? If that’s not one long “train fight” in the most literal sense, I don’t know what is.

And here’s the thing: A train fight is never not awesome. I didn’t realise this until playing Hitman 3 — a stealth-focused masterpiece you’d think wouldn’t be able to squeeze in a bombastic set-piece yet does with resounding success — but yes, every game should have a train fight.

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  • I completely disagree.

    Train levels are terrible, Most train levels have the same arbitrary clique elements (the same cliques that have existed since black and white movies), done to death and rarely add anything new… but for a game that encourages open map exploration and multi-path experiences… why a linear narrow map as its finale?

    I saw one critic say the Hitman train level felt so wrong, cause they think its a James Bond level.

  • I loved this level only because it feels ‘earnt’ in the game. It’s Agent 47’s catharsis come true. After all the damage done to him through the game, it’s his sweet release against those who would try to do him wrong. After all the sneaking across 20+ levels in the three games, after all the being careful, after all the care and tension, it’s finally time to cut loose and just slay everyone.

    Or not.

    I’ve played this level now a few different ways. You can STILL sneak through this level undetected. Again, like all Hitman levels, if you Rambo it with a machinegun, that’s a choice. If you choose to stealth it, that’s a choice too. You can even opt to NOT kill a single person in this level and simply knock them out or distract them.

    Hell, you don’t even have to kill the final boss, there’s a way around that too that isn’t gamebreaking, you can find the secret ending that way.

    The train level is fantastic, but it still adheres to the Hitman principles, ‘play it your way’, and it’s bloody great 🙂

  • but the thing with the Hitman series
    is that the finale levels in most of the these games are combat based
    (with sheath being a distant second)
    Hitman: Codename 47(the first one) – had you fighting a large amount of your clones. (no sheath)
    Hitman 2: Silent Assassin – was at a church with you fighting the big bad and his bodyguards. (very hard sheath)
    Hitman Contracts – Fighting Police in Paris. (very hard sheath)
    Hitman Blood Money – Killing Guards and VIPs at your funeral. (no sheath)
    Hitman Absolution – Killing ICA Agents in a Cemetery. (very hard sheath)

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