I've been thinking a lot about what makes a good Hitman mission. Across seven games, we've accompanied Agent 47 on a global tour of assassination—a tour that's necessitated not just a variety of locations, but a variety of styles too. Here, then, are my picks for the best Hitman missions, and, more importantly, my reasons why I think each is an example of the series at its best. Because I wanted to draw from the full range of the series, I've limited myself to a maximum of two from each game. As always, head to the comments to let me know which missions I'm an idiot for missing (Beldingford Manor).
St Petersburg Stakeout — Hitman 2: Silent Assassin
It's an open secret that there's no point writing one of these lists unless you hold a deeply unpopular opinion. Given that, here's mine. Hitman 2: Silent Assassin's first St. Petersburg mission is a classic. It is not a great level in the traditional Hitman sense. There is little room for experimentation. The most effective route is 90 percent walking through a sewer. You're forced to carry a sniper rifle through a train station, avoiding members of the public.
But despite all of that, I love it because it casts aside the Hitman template in favour of a different assassination trope. Here, you take position in a building adjacent from a meeting of generals, trying to narrow down your target based on the hurried research of your handler. He's bald. He doesn't smoke. He likes to drink. Quick 47, the meeting is nearly over. It's not a mission you'll be compelled to replay over and over, but as an attempt to mimic a specific cinematic moment, it's incredibly tense and atmospheric.
The King of Chinatown — Hitman: Absolution
OK, sure, let's have a level from Absolution. I'm pretty down on IO's follow-up to the standout Blood Money, but—despite the fact that it simplified or outright removed so much of what I love about the series—it did have some great moments. 47's trip to Chicago's Chinatown is the one I remember most fondly.
Unlike so much of Absolution, The King of Chinatown plays out like a typical Hitman mission. You're not running from SWAT teams, or navigating a linear space. You're exploring an admittedly small square that nevertheless feels dense—rife with possible ways to kill its titular gangster. In Absolution's defence, there are a few levels of this scope and quality. (I chose Chinatown because, having not picked Tracking Hayamoto or Situs Inversus, it felt wrong to not have a mission that offered the trademark fugu fish kill.) Had Absolution been more consistently like this, I'd probably have liked it more.
Chasing a Ghost — Hitman 2
Arguably the most experimental of Hitman 2's missions, in that one of the targets is unidentified. Before you can kill them, you have to figure out who they are. It's a welcome extra step in an otherwise pretty traditional sequel—providing just enough friction without being arduous on repeat playthroughs.
Otherwise, Mumbai stands out for its crowds—and how the new concealment system lets you move stealthily through the streets. Hitman has done big crowds before, of course, most notably in New Orleans and Marrakesh. The difference here, though, is Mumbai is altogether more interesting. The movie set, in particular, is a great space to navigate. No matter what disguise I wore, there always seemed an interesting challenge to circumnavigate, usually by scaling the elevator shaft in the centre of the building. Often the more circuitous routes of a modern Hitman level only really come into play during a Suit Only challenge run. Here the balance between stealth and deception feels just right.
Anathema — Hitman 2: Silent Assassin
I think of Silent Assassin as the prototype for what the series would eventually become. Nevertheless, it had plenty of its own standout moments, from the fugu fish kill of Tracking Hayamoto to the labyrinthine intricacy of Terminal Hospitality. Arguably, though, the game's first proper mission is its strongest—an effective statement of intent, and a moment in gaming that's stuck with me in the years since.
None of its specific methods of murder are particularly interesting, but Giuseppe Guillani's Sicilian mansion still offers plenty of opportunity. Do you disguise yourself as a postman and walk through the front gate? Or as a delivery boy with a gun hidden in your crate? Or do you wait for that guard to relieve himself against a tree? 16 years later, this is still the core appeal of the series.
The Meat King's Party — Hitman: Contracts
Most Hitman levels have a dark undercurrent—some throughline of evil that justifies 47's presence. While, yes, 47 is a murderer, he kills without malice or emotion. That's in stark contrast to his targets, who are usually so singularly human in their greed and desire that they become something grotesque. This is never more overt than during Campbell Sturrock's fetish party.
Set in a meat packing factory, this is an eerie, twisted space where revellers cavort in blood-stained halls and hang out near hanging carcasses. Both Contracts and Blood Money like to use desire—specifically sexuality—to highlight how inhuman and alienated 47 is from the general public, and this is as on-the-nose as the "meat is flesh" subtext ever gets.
Curtains Down — Hitman: Blood Money
Some of these levels are great because of the environment and art design. Some are great because they're enjoyable sandboxes to explore. And some, like Curtains Down, are great because they perfectly encapsulate a specific aspect of what makes the Hitman series unique.
Blood Money's opera house features one of the best implementations of its accident system—letting you manipulate NPCs into doing your work for you. By swapping out a fake pistol with a real model, an actor will kill one of your two targets during the rehearsal of an execution scene. It's also a level that shows the breadth of these events. You can elect not to swap the pistol, and instead use a sniper rifle—timing your shot to the exact moment the fake gun is fired.
Showstopper — Hitman
While Sapienza is the best location in 2016's Hitman, Showstopper's Paris fashion show is still a confident introduction to the game. In hindsight, it was clever to focus the action down to a single building. It's such a series staple, and Showstopper takes what would previously have been a smaller, more focused space, and expands it out to massive scale.
The different floors and their specific restrictions create a repeated loop of rewarding discovery and infiltration. There are quick routes to both targets, but the more satisfying and silent deaths require you to prod Hitman's intricate puzzle machine from many different angles—attacking each floor with precision and purpose. This was a strong statement that Hitman was back, and as such one of the most memorable missions of 47's return.
Traditions of the Trade — Hitman: Contracts
I tried with Hitman: Codename 47, I really did. Luckily, IO brought back some of its levels for the somewhat scattershot Hitman: Contracts—a game that never seems to be anyone's favourite, but that I loved nonetheless.
If I were to point to one mission as being the de facto template for what the Hitman series is about, it'd be this. Set in a hotel, it's got a bit of everything. There are public areas to explore without needing a disguise. There's the opportunity for interesting traversal as you jump between balconies to infiltrate hotel rooms. There's the chance to slowly cook a man to death in a sauna. There's a ghost. What more could you want?
The Murder of Crows — Hitman Blood Money
Blood Money is full of great levels, in part because it's predominantly set in a single country. By having to come up with new conceptual takes on Hitman's version of USA, IO was also forced to come up with distinct versions of the core game loop. Of these, The Murder of Crows is one of the most striking and atmospheric—a Mardi Gras parade through streets packed with people.
You crash this party with the aim of killing three members of a rival group of assassins. Straight away that's a cool twist on Hitman's world—an ICA competitor forcing you to assassinate the folks preparing for an assassination. You're also asked to do some light investigation, tailing a Crow operative to discover the (randomly placed) location of one of the assassins. It's an impressive, atmospheric mission in what—to this day—remains one of the most varied Hitman games in the series.
Another Life — Hitman 2
I never loved A New Life as much as most Blood Money fans. The concept is great—a crime boss in witness protection being slowly bored to death by the tedium of suburban America—but the setting felt like a rich space for something broader. Instead I've picked the newest Hitman's spiritual successor, aptly named Another Life.
Here the increased size of modern-day Hitman's maps is a boon. Yes, there's a retired KGB spy at the heart of it—of course there is—but Another Life's true success is the chance to riff on suburban cliches. There's populist politicians, idle gossip and the creeping paranoia that your neighbours aren't who they seem.
World of Tomorrow — Hitman
You're probably bored of hearing how good Sapienza is, but tough. It's really good, arguably the ideal form of what a Hitman level should be. Consider: it's a massive, sprawling space. Consider: it has a lot of things to do in it. Consider: you can make a spaghetti dish so bad that it will make a man run to the toilet. And then you can drown him in the toilet. It is a level that gives you an exploding golf ball. It is a good level.
One of the reasons it's so good is that it's not immediately obvious what purpose the town serves. Your two targets are both hiding out in the mansion in the corner of the map. But while that mansion is an enjoyable enough space to infiltrate, the real pleasure is in wandering the streets, searching for options. That might be new weapons and tools, new routes into the mansion, or, best of all, ways to coax your targets out of their fortress and into the town itself.