Hitman 3 is a game where players assume the role of Agent 47, one of the world’s deadliest and also baldest assassins. Whether from alopecia or diligent grooming, 47 is completely hairless, making the signature barcode tattoo he has on the back of his head the only means with which anyone can identify this brutal and efficient cueball killing machine. Agent 47 may have also been grown in a lab, hence the barcode tattoo, but I haven’t played any of the other Hitman games, so I cannot say that with any authority. It’s something that I choose to believe – that they engineered this man to be bald and hairless so his hairs wouldn’t catch on any of the vents he was forced to slither through on his assassination missions. I suppose he could have also singed all of his hair off manufacturing explosives, as I’ve done something similar once lighting the barbecue, so I suppose someone that regularly makes bombs could have had an accident like that, where his eyebrows, hair, even the pubic kind, were singed off when he crossed a red wire with a blue wire or something of that nature, leaving him shiny and seal-like, but not quite as blubbery.
47 isn’t the run-in guns blazing kind of assassin. He’s more similar to Sam Fisher or Solid Snake (absent the fabulous hair). Infiltration and assassination are his modus operandi. The game takes 47 to locations like a Dubai Skyscraper, an English mansion belonging to a prominent family, and the neon-lit cityscape of Chongqing China, where a shadowy organization hides unethical experimentation beneath innocent looking front operations. Each mission has a target, and 47 never misses his mark.
Completed missions give players additional tactical options like additional weapons and tools which are smuggled into certain areas of a building as well as new mission starting points to make chasing additional objectives easier. At the mission summary, players are presented with an overall score and agent ranking tied directly to mission performance. As Hitman 3 is an infiltration and elimination game, run-and-gun style gameplay is not as highly rewarded as mission objectives completed while the enemies never knew Agent 47 was there. Players are punished score-wise for killing innocents, so there’s less of an incentive for Hitman 3 to become a mass shooting simulator.
The weakest element of Hitman 3 is the storyline. There’s a moment in the narrative where 47 is faced with the dilemma of engaging a squad of soldiers to save a friend – something he’s clearly capable of doing successfully, as we’ve already seen him infiltrate and dispatch some of the wealthiest and most heavily armed targets on the planet. But his friends balk at the prospect of him being able to win the fight. This selective vulnerability is common with characters like these.
Agent 47 is one of those Clark Kentian protagonists, so powerful, perfect, and dangerous that it’s hard to match him against any antagonist, so writers rely on these moments of selective vulnerability to create tension in the story. The narrative event is jarring and illogical, but Hitman hasn’t ever been a notable story-driven game. Balancing a perfect assassin, incapable of any error against an enemy is difficult, requiring someone of at least comparable skill. Since there’s no one to fill those shoes, the narrative relies on a kryptonite like vulnerability for the venerable assassin. The biggest criticism of this is that it removes a player’s agency to impact the story. The events that unfold aren’t completely tied to player effort or skill but the outcome of an external event.
I haven’t seen such a striking imbalance between the quality of gameplay and the quality of a narrative in a game for a long time. The gameplay in Hitman 3 is stellar; the visual representation is spot on, and the missions are well thought out. Non-playable characters have conversations that make them come alive. There’s a tremendous amount of detail built into the world that lets players solve missions in a multitude of ways. For example, if Agent 47 happens to overhear a conversation between guards at a certain moment in the gameplay, they’ll provide clues like a door code, which opens up another avenue of attack for the mission. Or players can spike a target’s drink to force them from a public place to an isolated area:
Hitman 3 is also one of the best-looking games of the past two years. But the narrative is fragmented, poorly thought out, and poorly executed. The odd thing is, it doesn’t matter. The game still sucked me in, and I played through the whole story in a single day. Each time a mission is completed, it opens up new substories within that mission; new ways of completing an assassination using new tools, new entry points, and different goals from the last playthrough. For example, during a mansion infiltration mission, Agent 47 can take the place of a private detective hired to solve a murder that has just occurred there. Or he can incapacitate and assume the identity of a photographer hired to memorialize a prominent family. Each new completion unlocks additional tools and storylines.
The biggest downside to the game is the amount of content for the price. For a full-price game, Hitman 3 is very short. Unless you’re the type to re-play missions chasing a higher score or a slightly different mission storyline, the price might be too high at release. Nevertheless, Hitman 3 is an amazing game that I highly recommend both for fans of the franchise and newcomers to stealth games in general.