Hitman 3

As the list of 2021 Game of the Year nominees is revealed bit by bit, it’s easy to forget that Hitman 3 came out this year. It launched way back in January, which means it’s not the first game people think of when they look back on the best games they played this year. However, I do think there’s an argument to be made that Hitman 3 deserves to be mentioned on that list.

The thing that makes it weird, though, is that it doesn’t exist in a vacuum; Hitman 3 is very much a part of something much bigger. The World of Assassination Trilogy consists of the Hitman reboot (2016), Hitman 2 (2018), and Hitman 3 (2021). While most game sequels stand alone to some degree, Hitman 3 kind of doesn’t; it’s a much, much better experience if you play the first two games first. On top of that, these games are so interconnected that you can import the previous two games into Hitman 3 as if they were simply DLC packs. Doing so means that all of your unlocks are contained within a single game instead of being spread out across three games.

But that doesn’t mean Hitman 3 isn’t a complete experience in and of itself; it’s just that it’s so interlocked with its predecessors that playing them separately feels wrong.

Hitman 3

Part of that is because of the story, which picks up immediately where Hitman 2‘s DLC left off. It’s hard for me to judge the story on its own because I played through all three games back-to-back-to-back, but in the context of the trilogy, it’s an incredibly satisfying conclusion to the story IO Interactive has been telling for the past five years.

In my opinion, people don’t give the Hitman games enough credit for how great they are at storytelling. Not only is the main World of Assassination storyline incredible, feeling like a tightly woven spy thriller from beginning to end, but every map features an interconnected series of side stories that you might completely miss on your first (or second, or third) playthrough. As you replay the game, you’re constantly discovering new stories that are happening in the background.

I think there’s a temptation to think of “story” as mostly just the stuff that happens in cutscenes, but video-game storytelling has grown so much bigger than that. As an interactive medium, video games often tell stories through their environments — side stories that must be interacted with in order to be experienced. And Hitman 3 excels at this type of storytelling.

Hitman 2

But these games are more than just story; each one offers a series of interactive stealth sandboxes, giving you a wacky assortment of tools and letting you figure out how to complete your objective in whatever way seems best for your play style. Do you want a guided experience? The game offers side stories that essentially walk you through a specific assassination method. Do you want to try to be as efficient as possible? The World of Assassination has an intense speedrunning community. Do you just want to do something goofy? There are options for this type of playthrough as well.

I’ve said this before, but one really bizarre criticism I hear about Hitman 3 is that it “only has six levels.” While this is true, it’s also a complete misunderstanding of how the Hitman games are meant to be played. Each “level” is a self-contained sandbox, with dozens of possible solutions to any challenge you encounter. If you replay a level exactly the same as you played it the first time, you have no one to blame but your own lack of creativity. World of Assassination is designed to be replayed over and over and over again.

While I’ve sort of been talking about the trilogy as a whole, let’s look at some of the things that elevate Hitman 3 in particular.

Hitman 3 - Dartmoor

Hitman 3 includes what might be the best map in Hitman history: Dartmoor. You’re tasked with assassinating a specific target, who has faked her own death. But when you arrive, you notice there’s a detective who arrived to solve a murder, because in preparation of this fake funeral, there was very much a real murder. If you want to, you can disguise yourself as the detective and actually solve the dang mystery. Sure, the solution becomes pretty obvious really early on, but still, the amount of detail in this side story is incredible.

Another standout is the Dubai map, which, in my opinion, is one of the best in the series. It’s not as conceptual as Dartmoor, but it just excels in every way that a Hitman map should. It’s large but not spread out, so getting from one side of the map to the other won’t take a long time once you know the layout. The options for assassination are robust and wacky (you can make your target slip off of a catwalk with a carefully placed banana peel). There’s a tiered structure to costumes, where specific outfits are more effective on specific floors, so wearing the right disguise in the right location is a huge part of the challenge. And to top it all off, there are some really incredible side stories, including references to previous games. Dubai is simply a masterpiece of a stealth assassination playground.

On top of all of this, Hitman 3‘s post-launch support has been nothing short of incredible. This is a game that gets something new pretty much every week, from community-created challenges to limited-time Elusive Targets to new things to unlock. While some of these additions are fairly small, over the course of a year they add up to a massive amount of content. And IO Interactive announced a second year of support for the game, meaning there’s still more to come.

Hitman 3 - Season of Lust

Through all of 2021, Hitman 3 has been one of the games that I keep coming back to. Part of that is because I’m curious to try out the new stuff, but part of it is that it’s so mechanically solid. If I decide to drop in and check out an Elusive Target, I find myself spending four hours monkeying around with various game systems, experimenting with the game’s toolkit, and choking the life out of some nefarious NPCs. It’s highly addictive.

The bottom line is that Hitman 3 is incredibly fun. It’s a master class in stealth gameplay mechanics, giving the player a massive buffet of options. You’re constantly discovering new secrets, then wondering, “I wonder if I can perform such-and-such task with this specific tool?” So you go back and try it, and then you find a new tool that you want to play around with, starting the whole process over again.

I have a tendency to burn out on the games I play. Even my favorite games eventually get old. However, Hitman 3 has been a rare exception; no matter how many times I go back to it, I always get sucked right back into its wacky dark humor and extremely malleable game world. Hitman 3 just never gets old.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x