REVIEW – After a year of exclusivity for Epic Games, Hitman III has finally arrived on Steam, so here’s an in-depth test of what the Tar Heads assassin has to offer. I’ve got the game for multiple platforms, and I’ve also gathered information on the newly released Steam version. The overall picture is more than “interesting” for an otherwise great game…
Last year, Hitman III saw the return of the ice-cold, scraggly-headed assassin code-named 47, with a barcode tattooed on the back of his bald head, to put an end to the Providence organisation, along with two “accomplices”, in the final chord of Danish reboot trilogy IO Interactive. (Assuming they succeed.)
The Hitman series goes back over twenty years: in November 2000, I first wrote about the very first episode, Hitman Codename 47, in another print magazine. I loved the concept and the amazing atmosphere of the game, but I was horrified by the immature controls, gameplay and map structure during playtesting. Twenty years later, with a sea of sequels and this trilogy since 2016 called World of Assassination, Hitman’s gameplay is now anything but immature.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the release of the Steam version in 2022. Last year, the launch of Hitman III on the Epic Game Store (where it was an exclusive at the time) was already extremely messy, with the integration of saves from previous episodes and the World of Assassination system not working smoothly there either. I ended up playing through the game on Google Stada, and luckily everything worked seamlessly there. Similarly, problem-free is the recently added Hitman Trilogy on Xbox Game Pass (the reason for this test), where all three games work perfectly and run on Microsoft’s console.
On Steam, however, a huge scandal accompanied the game’s release. People were outraged at the idea of paying full price for a game released a year ago, but also at the horribly clumsy communication around the various convoluted versions.
Finally, my own PlayStation experience is that even though I got the code for Hitman III from the distributor last year. Even though I have the first two episodes on PS Plus, they don’t work together, and although I can play them separately, I can’t see all the episodes in World of Assassination (as I can on Stadia and Xbox), only the third game. So the saves are not compatible, so it’s a mess.
In any case, let’s take a look at the two new releases and see what this new trilogy, which has been around since 2014, can do because they are great games, but they just don’t seem to be selling very well. Of course, you have to admit that it wasn’t an easy start for IO Interactive either…
It was a rough start
It hasn’t been easy for IO Interactive, a reboot series that started with the previous console generation but has now crossed over into the new one. They changed publishers twice and fundamentally changed the concept of releasing the game: the first episode (or should I say “season”?) was released in an episodic format, which meant that the different maps were chopped up and released in parts in one-month time intervals. In addition, new separate levels were released for the tracks following the main story.
Although the story wasn’t really a reboot, as it was set six years after the previous Hitman instalment, Hitman: Absolution, the title of the game (which was simply Hitman) indicated that the concept had changed entirely with this new series: the vast, completely open and non-linear maps and the many paths and kill solutions leading to the assassinations would encourage gamers to replay the maps. The game’s continuous online server connection allowed players to compare their experience, performance and gameplay, while developers were given a month to develop the following map for each episode.
This concept only partly worked, so two major things happened with Hitman 2 in 2018. Firstly, Square Interactive (originally Japanese and famous for the Final Fantasy games) “divested” both IO Interactive and the franchise. Io initially went it alone, and then Hitman 2 was published by Warner Games – this time as a single game – but with a lot of free downloadable content as a bonus. Hitman 2 was set in 2021, and Hitman III (a direct sequel to Hitman 2) is out now, in 2021…
Embedded in the series
There’s a reason for the relatively long introduction: Hitman III is entirely part of the World of Assassination trilogy, so much so that the game’s main menu includes the entire trilogy, and from there, you can click on Hitman 1-2-3 to start any of the maps (provided you’ve bought the games or maps in the case of Hitman 1), which is also a unique solution. In addition, the story is wholly coherent. The third part is not very well understood or enjoyed without knowing the previous parts, not to mention that Hitman III starts completely in medias res. What was the point of numbering this part with a Roman numeral (whereas Hitman 2 used an Arabic numeral)? However, it is not a question of logic, at least not that I could find. One thing is for sure: it’s not worth starting the third part without completing the previous two.
Hitman 3 also contains six missions set in completely separate locations, so the game is relatively short, but this time IO has shaken up (and not stirred) the old cocktail. On the one hand, the story that connects the maps has once again raised the level: the first part was not a big deal, the sequel was noticeably better, and this final episode is – apart from a few muddy twists – a real hit.
Be creative and don’t kill – only the targets! (But then be creative!)
On the other hand, the maps themselves are a step more creative: Agent 47 now has to do more than just kill. A glaring example of this is the Dartmoor track, where you can take part in an Agatha Christie-like investigation, and instead of just carrying out one murder, you have to solve another. This track reminded me a lot of the 2019 movie “Trapped” (starring Daniel Craig), only here we had to “take over” the role of the real lone detective (by beating him up and taking his clothes and then dressing up as him) and solve the murder instead.
If you really want to solve it (if you just want to eliminate the target, that’s a possibility), you need even more dedication and patience than usual to talk to everyone and find all the clues and who the killer is. Whatever you do, you end up leaving with a very hard find the document, so it really takes a lot of patience and perseverance. A well-aimed headshot won’t do it here.
Of course, the real enjoyment of Hitman games is not the headshots or the action, but the highly creative and preferably discreetly executed kills. Here we would add that the action part (if you decide to play the last action hero) is distinctly muddy and poorly directed. At this point, the otherwise excellent enemy AI is also lame – perhaps even compared to older games.
We spilt blood in VR
I tested the game on several platforms – the first one I put on was the PlayStation VR helmet. Sadly, as much as I was expecting a PSVR version (after all, this was a huge selling point for Hitman III, and as things stand, there’s not much more to come on Sony’s VR solution), it was a disappointment. The VR controls are incredibly sloppy, starting with having to wave the PlayStation gamepad around while having your hand stretched out almost the entire time like a beggar on the number 4 tram. It’s not a pretty game in a VR environment either – even considering the limited capabilities of the PSVR. Anyway, I tested the game on PS4 Pro (the graphics aren’t any better on PS5, PSVR is only supported in backwards-compatible mode). Once I took the helmet off and switched back to the traditional view provided by the console, the picture was much nicer – even compared to PS4 Pro. Hitman III’s graphics on both PS4 Pro and PlayStation 5 are very detailed, capable of 60 fps even on this platform. The same is even more true for the Xbox Series X and Google Stadia versions I also tested, which will have you gasping for your fallen chin, especially in the shimmering, flashing skyscrapers in Dubai. On Google Stadia, I was able to test the game on my TV in 4K thanks to the Stadia Pro version. I switched directly to 1Gb internet for the game (also), so there was no pixelation or graininess, the picture was clear.
Contact this assassin with confidence!
Hitman III is not worth starting on its own. Still, if you’ve already played the first two episodes or both of them, it’s definitely worth a try for those who like more demanding, logical design and highly tactical gameplay. The game’s fantastic atmosphere, varied, often exotic, professionally designed locations, great graphics, excellent story, and often sarcastic, cynical humour are substantial positive aspects of this series. But if you just want to shoot a bit, avoid Hitmen by far because these games were never about that, but about planning and tactics.
+ Going through the whole trilogy is a great experience
+ The most polished, badass version of the Hitman games
+ Exciting, exotic locations with great graphics
– Huge chaos and full pricing around the Steam launch
– The second “season” has quite a storyline
– The ending of Hitman III is a bit far-fetched
Publisher: IO Interactive
Developer: IO Interactive
Genres: TPS action-adventure and assassination simulator
Publication: 20 January 2021 (Epic Games, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox) 20 January2022 20 (Steam, Xbox Game Pass)