I'm not sure there is a more effective audition for its upcoming 007 game than Io Interactive having famed baldy Agent 47 skydive onto a towering Dubai skyscraper before infiltrating a swanky penthouse party. The spectacular opening of Hitman 3 certainly feels like a wink to the recently announced James Bond adventure from the Danish developer. But once 47 is inside the tower --the Burj Khalifa in all but name-- it is back to the murderous business that recent Hitman games have become so remarkably potent at.
47 is at this kitsch soiree to assassinate two members of the shadowy organisation Providence and, as ever, Io's remarkable sandbox gives you a multitude of methods to do your work. Ditching your skysuit for a stolen tuxedo, you can mingle at the bar, catching snippets of conversation that may open up other opportunities. Quietly knock out a maintenance worker and steal his overalls to blend in backstage and find a way to get closer to the targets.
Much of the pleasure in Hitman comes in the discovery of these killer threads to follow and see where they lead. As in the previous games, some are gently served to you by the game knitting together 'mission stories' to follow. While others still are discovered by experimentation.
I wouldn't want to get too much into the details and spoil the fun; but the options for a coveted Silent Assassin rank are plentiful. Possibly involving an accident by an open window, a falling chandelier or an exploding golf ball.
To discover more inventive ways of offing folk and experimenting with the environment, 47 has a couple of new tools and tactics at his disposal. The high-tech camera can remotely unlock those skycraper windows, or scan areas of interest to give you clues (as well as taking snazzy snaps of your wetwork). The Dark Souls-style persistent shortcuts weaved through the levels, meanwhile, help you move between areas more efficiently once unlocked.
These are demonstrated with some aplomb by Hitman 3's second mission. A quite extraordinary visit to a lavish country pile in Dartmoor. 47 is this time targeting the domineering matriarch of the Carlisle family, the brother of whom has just died in a mysterious 'suicide'. Taking a clear direction from murder-mystery yarns like Rian Johnson's Knives Out, you can pose as a detective called in to investigate the death and embark on a quest to solve the case. You have almost free reign of the mansion; scanning clues with your camera, interviewing the ghastly Carlisles, eavesdropping on staff and finding secret passages between the sprawling set of rooms.
It is tremendous stuff, an intricate whodunnit that would make a solid basis for a detective game in and of itself. And yet it is one method of many in a single mission. It is a fine illustration of what Io have been doing with Hitman since they rebooted the series in 2016 and continues to deliver its sequels with an eye on completionists.
Hitman 3 comes with the expected visual spit and polish, as well as a new ranking and XP system that further encourages experimentation with new 'style' rankings that take into account things like whether you decided you fancied being a sniper for the day. If you are coming into Hitman 3 already owning its two predecessors, the new features are retrospectively added to those games with you able to mix-and-match missions, gear and progress across the whole trilogy. And, if you're new, you can start with the first Hitman reboot as if it were released today.
It is a smart and player-friendly way to add to an existing series, particularly one as consistently well-received as this, and there aren't many games that operate in the same way. Which is true of Hitman as a whole, really. The commitment to continuation does mean that Hitman 3 won't be a revolution in and of itself --this is a deliberately iterative game-- but it matters less when the level of design invention is so high. Io has said that Hitman will take an extended hiatus after this concluding chapter. But as the developer turns its eye to 007, it seems that 47 is going out in some style.
Hitman 3 is released on 20 January for Xbox One/Series X/S, PlayStation 4/5 and PC