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‘Hitman 3’ a worthy end to groundbreaking trilogy

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The “Hitman” World of Assassination trilogy is unlike any other stealth game out there. Its strength doesn’t rely on bleeding-edge graphics or gimmicky gameplay elements. What IO Interactive has done is create elaborate sandboxes filled with complex artificial intelligence. They don’t create levels in the traditional sense but miniature worlds inhabited by dozens of characters.

Amid this space, players have to navigate layers of security to reach their marks. The World of Assassination games let players accomplish the goals in several ways. They can walk up to the target and shoot them and deal with the ensuing gunfight. They can snipe at them from afar, but the true beauty of the trilogy comes in eliminating a mark while making it look like an accident.

That’s the true artistry in the games, and one that makes “Hitman 3” a fascinating exercise. With this ending chapter, IO Interactive tries to stretch what it can do with its gameplay mechanics by creating unusual scenarios.

The opening level in Dubai is visually impressive in “Hitman 3” but it’s the later levels that are notable as IO Interactive tries to stretch its clever formula. (IO Interactive) 

ON THE TOP OF THE WORLD
The game kicks off atop Dubai’s Burj Al-Ghazali, the tallest building in the world. Agent 47 and his partner, Lucas Grey, look for two of the Providence Partners in an effort to destroy the organization that has pulled the world’s strings of power. The stage is visually impressive but it doesn’t stray much from past missions.

The key to the “Hitman” games is to knock out enemies and steal their uniforms to gain access to new areas. Players have to come up with inventive ways to split or corner an employee and take their outfit while hiding the body. It takes careful observation as players must figure out their target’s routines, which are often complex and realistic. Janitors mop the floors. Bartenders chat with guests and sling drinks. Guards patrol and sometimes idly complain to coworkers.

Players take advantage of these idiosyncrasies to peel away the layers of defense and inch closer to their targets. As in the previous entries, players are rewarded for restraint and killing only their targets. They also score better by fulfilling Story Missions, which guide players through quests with unique interactions.

“Hitman 3” takes off during the second mission in Dartmoor, England, as Agent 47 chases after the last Providence Partner, Alexa Carlisle. The scenario is unusual because players are thrown into a murder mystery that has shades of “Knives Out.” Players can choose to solve the crime if they steal the private investigator’s outfit.

The story mission requires players to use a camera, a new essential item that lets Agent 47 scan for clues and hack into electronic devices. The camera also plays a role in a fun assassination opportunity that requires the agent to play a photographer and set up a situation where the subject of the image is electrocuted.

Players have to create a plan and execute it, which often requires them to save and reload as they learn how a scenario works. This part of “Hitman” resembles a dynamic puzzle, as players figure out how to line up the right pieces to trigger a death that looks like an accident. It takes a lot of work, but the results are rewarding as players create a deadly Rube Goldberg machine.

“Hitman 3” goes in a different direction in the Berlin mission. Instead of clear targets, Agent 47 has to eliminate fellow International Contract Agency (ICA) assets hunting him in an underground club. With electronic music blasting and partygoers milling over an abandoned factory, players have to surreptitiously find assassins looking for Agent 47 while also staying under their radar. It’s an unusual game of cat and mouse and is one of two missions where players feel untethered from the direction of a handler that guides Agent 47’s missions.

Chongqing, China, is one of the most complex maps the team at IO Interactive has created for “Hitman 3.” It has a surprising amount of depth. (IO Interactive) 

FINDING UNUSUAL DEPTH
The most complex map is in the sprawling neighborhood in Chongqing, China. The dense urban architecture has plenty of pathways through rooftops or on the ground level with open windows. On the surface, it’s already one of the biggest levels that IO Interactive created, but the stage has hidden depth and verticality that’s mind-blowing as players search for a server after eliminating two key ICA tech researchers.

Although the developers create intricate levels, the one flaw in the World of Assassination trilogy is the narrative thread that ties the levels and games together. The cloak and dagger tale has betrayals and foundation-rattling revelations but it’s never told cohesively in the cut scenes between each mission. The jobs seem so disparate that they have no logical arc as Agent 47 globe-trots from one locale to another. The games feel as if the developers created the levels first and tried to wrap a story around it.

“Hitman 3” partly fixes this by by pinning the plot on the relationship between Agent 47 and his handler, Diana Burnwood. The latter part of the campaign hinges on whether the protagonist can trust the ally who has served with him the longest. That uncertainty is gripping enough that it carries the narrative across the finish line as players pursue the Providence leader, Arthur Edwards, who is known as the Providence’s Constant, or de facto leader.

“Hitman 3” offers a fitting end to IO Interactive’s innovative trilogy. It’s one that rewrites what a stealth game can be and offers plenty of replay value as players earn new tools and options while  they check out alternate paths for each level. If the narrative and level designs were more tightly interlocked, it could have been a more memorable saga, but the team has a solid gameplay foundation and it could be even more important in its next project — based on James Bond.

IO Interactive is working on Project 007, which is expected to tell the famed secret agent’s origin story. If the developers can tweak its formula to accommodate the feeling and vibe of that franchise, it could be a match made in heaven and further illustrate the potential of the team’s approach to the stealth genre.


‘Hitman 3’

3½ stars out of 4
Platform: Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, PC, Stadia, Nintendo Switch (via streaming)
Rating: Mature

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