People Who Say Hitman 3 “Only Has Six Levels” Don’t Really Get Hitman

Hitman 3

Hitman 3 is a fantastic game. In fact, it’s already one of my favorite games of 2021, and I can’t get myself to stop playing it. It’s a collection of hyper-addictive, stealth-heavy murder sandboxes that continue to get deeper with each new playthrough.

But it only has six levels.

I’ve heard various versions of this complaint a few times now, and while it’s literally true, it also completely misses the point of the Hitman series.

I felt a similar way about Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes back in 2014. People complained that the game (which I admit was more of a demo than a fully fleshed-out game) was said to only be two hours long, and I felt that this assessment was missing the point.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

In 2014, when Ground Zeroes came out, it was one of the best stealth sandboxes out there (though it was obviously eclipsed by the massive Phantom Pain in 2015). Playing through Ground Zeroes just to reach the end would have been missing out on most of the things that made that game so much fun.

I’ve said this before, but before Metal Gear Solid came out for the PSOne back in 1998, I had a demo disc that contained the first little section of that game (if I remember correctly, that demo ended before Snake even entered the facility). I could easily have played through this demo in 15 to 20 minutes, then put it down until the full game came out later that year.

But that’s not what I did. I spent hours playing around with the game’s systems. Through experimentation, I discovered new ways to avoid and antagonize enemies, and then I found ways to stack various game mechanics to create amusing situations that provided near-endless amounts of entertainment. In that brief segment of the game, Metal Gear Solid shows off some of its most versatile tools, and those tools were incredibly fun to play around with. In 1998, there was nothing else quite like it.

In 2014, Ground Zeroes reminded me of this in the best possible way. The game’s “Night” trailer will maybe illustrate a little bit of what I mean here.

In 2021, the Hitman World of Assassination trilogy reminded me of this once again. In Hitman 3, every map is a fully realized sandbox (with the notable exception of the Carpathian Mountains train map). Playing through any map for the first time should be thought of as the tutorial for that map. Discover some mission stories, figure out the guided ways to kill a target, explore the map, make mental notes of where items are, etc. When you play the mission the second time, you’re coming armed with a whole bunch of knowledge (and maybe even some unlocks) that you didn’t have in the previous playthrough. And this playthrough will usually be more fun than the first one. In a good Hitman map, subsequent playthroughs will continue to get more fun as you learn more about the map.

The game’s actual tutorial attempts to establish this. That’s why it forces you to play through the ICA Facility’s yacht mission twice — the first time it guides you through each objective, and the second time it lets you complete the mission in any way you see fit. If you follow exactly what you did in the guided playthrough, you’ll still succeed, but you’ll miss out on the lesson that the game is trying to teach you. This is an opportunity for creative play inside an incredibly versatile sandbox.

Hitman

It’s said that you can whiz through the main story in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in about three hours if you really focus, though I think most people would estimate that the main story would take about ten hours (if you completed it without getting distracted by side content at all). But if you were to say that Skyrim was only ten hours long, you’d be missing the point of Skyrim.

Likewise, if I were to say that Red Dead Redemption 2 only has two levels (the five states being one and Guarma being the other), I’d technically be correct. But judging Red Dead Redemption 2 (a game I’ve spent more than 800 hours in at this point) by the number of independent maps is an absurd way to quantify the contents of that game.

And that’s really what this misunderstanding is about, I think. There’s no objective standard for how to quantify a game’s content. We can compare map size, number of hours the average player spends, or quantity of story missions, but every one of those measurements will fail when applied to certain games. It would be absurd to measure Grand Theft Auto V‘s map against Yakuza 0‘s, for example, or to measure Skyrim‘s story content against Minecraft‘s (which is non-existent).

Judging Hitman 3 by the amount of maps it contains — or even the number of hours your first playthrough will take — would be like buying a car and then driving it to work one time and being done with it. When you buy a car, you buy it for the long haul. Likewise, when you buy into the Hitman series, you come back to it over and over again. It’s designed to be that way.

Or, to create yet another (maybe strained) analogy, you wouldn’t buy a bottle of soda and judge its size by measuring the diameter of the opening at the top.

Hitman 3

And that’s what I’m trying to get at here. We can measure a game’s length or the size of its world, but it’s really hard to find any measurement for a game’s depth. And Hitman 3, despite how small it might seem at a glance, has a depth that I’ve not hit the bottom of yet. There’s always something new to discover, always something more to learn.

Writing off Hitman 3 as “only having six maps” is just using the wrong tool to measure the game’s content. Hitman is about more than quantity, and there’s a depth to its gameplay that’s incredibly rare. Hitman 3 (and the whole World of Assassination trilogy) is an outstanding example of prioritizing quality over quantity. If we had an objective way to measure that, this would be a lot more clear, I think. But we currently don’t, and I don’t know that we ever will.

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