Hitman 3

I’ve been playing the World of Assassination trilogy obsessively for the past few days — which includes Hitman (2016), Hitman 2 (2018), and Hitman 3 (which released this week). Since you can play through the whole trilogy inside of Hitman 3 now, with all of your progress consolidated in a single place, it’s really easy to compare all three games and see how IO Interactive has evolved the Hitman formula over the past five years — or, more accurately, how IO Interactive hasn’t evolved that formula.

The foundation of these games really hasn’t changed much over the course of the trilogy. The thing is, it didn’t need to. The Hitman (2016) formula was so good that it still holds up five years later. With Hitman 3, more of the same (only with a little more complexity and a few new toys to play with) is exactly what we needed.

Hitman already feels like it’s an evolution of the stealth gameplay popularized by Metal Gear Solid in the 1990s and early 2000s. Sure, Metal Gear Solid eventually evolved into an open-world game, but when you look at gameplay mechanics alone (and ignore, for a moment, all the cinematic weirdness that Hideo Kojima brought to that franchise), Hitman actually feels like a more obvious direction for Metal Gear than The Phantom Pain did. (I would argue that Ground Zeroes felt more like the gameplay direction I’m talking about here.)

Hold on, let me reel myself back in a little bit.

Hitman 3

The basic premise of Hitman (2016) is that you’re given a contained (yet typically fairly robust) sandbox world and given a set of targets to eliminate within that world. Occasionally, there’s an additional objective thrown into the mix, but the general format is that you’ll be assassinating a set of targets in a given space. Your methodology is up to you, though there are discoverable story events that will give you a more guided experience if you choose to go in that direction.

The basic premise of Hitman 3 is exactly the same. If you play the World of Assassination trilogy in order, it feels like a single game. In fact, the stories even bleed into each other (though Hitman 2 has those static-image cutscenes instead of fully animated ones, which breaks the illusion a bit).

Now imagine trying to play Metal Gear Solid 3, 4, and V back-to-back-to-back (hey, it’s not my fault they switched to Roman numerals with V). They feel like three obviously separate games because the basic formulas are quite different for all three (MGS1 and 2 feel a bit more similar to each other, I will add).

Hitman 3 just feels like another batch of episodes for Hitman (2016). In fact, even the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games evolved more from 1 to 3 than the World of Assassination trilogy did.

Hitman 3

But Hitman earned it. The gameplay feels incredible, even in 2021. The basic premise is as addictive as it ever was. The only thing we could really ask for is just more maps, more tools, and more costumes — and that’s exactly what we got.

It’s easy to get hung up on the fact that a game franchise refuses to evolve. Expectations evolve over time, and that can leave many older games feeling outdated. Long-running franchises need to keep evolving if they want to stay relevant, generally.

But I can’t think of another franchise that does exactly what Hitman does as well as Hitman does it. I’ve been using Metal Gear as a point of comparison, but these two franchises are quite different from each other (and Metal Gear is still the undisputed champion of doing what Metal Gear does). Hitman can keep being exactly what it is without diminishing or diluting the core experience.

I’m willing to let IO Interactive off the hook here completely. The Hitman World of Assassination trilogy is satisfying from start to finish, and the gameplay loop doesn’t get old after playing through all three games. This is a formula that’s nowhere close to feeling stale, and, as the old expression goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Hitman most certainly ain’t broke.

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