Five years after rebooting Hitman, creating arguably the best games in the series in the process, developer IO Interactive is ready to finish its trilogy. Hitman 3 is the final outing for this particular iteration of the world's baldest assassin, and based on the two levels I've played, it seems like he's going out in style. But it's worth noting that this is a spiritual and mechanical continuation of the previous two Hitmen, rather than something completely new. If you've played the first two games, you'll instantly feel at home.
The next big leap for the Hitman series likely doesn't exist anywhere outside of an idea-scrawled whiteboard deep in IO's Copenhagen HQ. But that doesn't mean Hitman 3 is a complete retread of what's come before. Agent 47 has a few new tricks up his immaculately tailored sleeve, some of which I got a taste of in a preview build containing two complete levels: Dubai and Dartmoor.
See the Dubai level in action in the video above.
The Dubai level, set atop a giant spire of a skyscraper, is classic Hitman. An opulent hangout for the elite, with grandiose architecture, wealthy assholes standing around eating canapés, and gun-toting security guards whose uniforms are conveniently a perfect fit for Agent 47. There's a large central atrium, a secure upper floor, and a maze of corridors behind the scenes with plenty of blind corners, utility rooms, and secluded bathrooms to help you dodge guards and hide bodies. 47 enters the level via a death-defying parachute drop: an early glimpse, perhaps, of IO's forthcoming Bond game.
As you might expect from this studio, it's beautiful to look at, with immense gilded palm trees, reflecting pools, a trippy modern art exhibit, and a dramatic view across a cloud-covered Dubai. But it's perhaps a little too conservative in terms of design, with a familiar layout and flow that Hitman veterans will have no trouble figuring out. However, as this is the very first level in the game—and contains some light tutorial elements—this is likely by design. It serves as a relatively gentle introduction to help ease new or lapsed players in before things get more interesting later.
Which they definitely do in the next level, Dartmoor. On a stretch of rugged, overcast English moorland, guards with shotguns slung over their backs patrol the perimeter of a grand, dusty old manor. Any Hitman level set in a big house is always a winner, but in this one there's the added intrigue of a murder mystery. 47 can disguise himself as a private investigator and solve a murder involving a family of deeply horrible people who all hate each other—and who are all, naturally, suspects. I didn't really know what to expect from Hitman 3's newest batch of levels, but a clever riff on Knives Out? IO is full of surprises. It's a classic Agatha Christie-style mystery too, with the victim murdered in a locked room.
Of the two levels, Dartmoor is the most interesting and unique. The house itself is brilliantly designed, with gloomy painting-lined corridors opening up into bright, airy drawing rooms. And the house itself is as ridden with secrets as the family who owns it, with hidden chambers, crawl spaces secretly connecting the rooms, and peepholes for spying on people. The perfect setting for a murder—and for a shiny-headed would-be Poirot to solve it.
There's an assassination target in the level too—the matriarch of the family—who can be taken out in a number of typically creative, amusing ways. This is still very much a Hitman level, but wrapped around a fun investigation gimmick that's unlike anything we've seen in the series before. It does dilute the purity of the assassination sandbox a little, with most of the level built around cracking the case. I also had an issue with 47's handler, Diana, telling me to present my evidence to someone I'd just killed. The game failed to recognise this and the scripting of the level fell apart. Hopefully this gets fixed.
A new addition to Hitman 3 is a digital camera. This will always be in 47's inventory, even if you don't select it as part of his starting loadout, and honestly, I'm not sure about it. I like the fact that it acts as a kind of limited photo mode, letting you take a closer look at—and take snaps of—IO's reliably incredible environment design. But its in-game function, where it acts as a kind of futuristic scanner, feels pretty out of place. You can scan things in the environment to reveal intel, or electronic access points to remotely open doors and windows. But it feels like a new feature for the sake of it, rather than something the well-established Hitman formula actually needed.
Hitman 3 is set for release on January 20 and it's shaping up to be a fine end to a spectacular trilogy. These are some of the best stealth puzzle boxes on PC, and soon you'll be able to have every level from 1, 2, and 3 in a single massive, endlessly replayable package. It remains to be seen whether the rest of Hitman 3's levels achieve a similar level of quality, but IO knows what it's doing, and I expect the studio will want to go out on a high. The Dartmoor murder mystery certainly has me excited about what other surprises it has in store.