If there’s one thing it feels like Hitman 3 will prove, it’s that IO Interactive themselves can be just as much a chameleon as their cueball mascot manages to be. With a James Bond game in their future, the team will have to adapt to a much more cavalier style of gameplay than has been found through their long-running Hitman series, where Agent 47’s eternal patience is mirrored through his stern, but emotionless face.
OK, I know I’m putting the cart in front of the horse by talking about their next big game, but you can’t help but see the hints of their growing ambition in the opening level of Hitman 3, the climax to their World of Assassination trilogy. The first mission sees Agent 47 having to infiltrate the tallest building in the world, its upper floors piercing through the clouds, its gleaming gold decor sure to appeal to a certain kind of egotistical maniac. How else would you go about doing so, but to skydive and land on one of the external support structures? It’s a classic Bond/Mission Impossible style scenario.
So too is a new tool that Agent 47 has at his disposal, hinting at the kinds of gadgetry that we might expect to see in their recently announced Project 007. A camera phone that can hack digital locks is something Q would dismissively hand over to a certain Bond, though it admittedly does also seem like something that anyone and everyone in the near future of Watch Dogs Legion can get their hands on. It’s also a relatively limited tool, simply scanning a lock to trigger it, or being able to scan images and text in a later level.
Don’t expect to Aiden Pearce your way through a level, jumping from CCTV camera to CCTV camera, in other words, but you might have an element of that for narrative purposes. Agent 47’s path blocked by a keypad lock – honestly, why did nobody think of this kind of thing sooner? – he has his supporting cast of Diana Burnwood and Lucas Grey on hand to hack the cameras for him and quickly dredge up the code.
It’s all part of the established gameplay formula that IO Interactive have really developed through the trilogy, creating these broad sandboxes that you can play around in and revisit, taking on a mission time and again with new and inventive solutions. However, they also give players enough environmental hints and mission-led waypoints so that you can simply see a mission through and move on, perhaps coming back to follow a different ‘Mission Story’ assassination opportunity through to its end.
There’s a more cinematic feel to that first Dubai level, should you follow Grey’s lead and manage to bring both your targets to a room for a narrative face off. It’s satisfying as a linear experience, but still giving you enough leeway to feel like you’re discovering the solutions to get past a few sticky situations for yourself.
The second mission in Dartmoor then plays in direct contrast. IO Interactive changing out of their suave spy infiltration costume and putting on that of a whodunnit murder mystery detective. Again, you have total freedom to go off the rails here, to explore different opportunities, but the whole premise flips the script on a typical Hitman mission, as Agent 47 has to don the outfit of a brilliant detective and then scour a luxurious manor house for clues, interrogating the whole family of suspects and finding enough evidence so that you can pin the death on one of several people.
It’s actually surprisingly tricky to find all the necessary clues and rounding off the various alibis to figure out who actually dunnit. Along the way, though, you might find enough evidence to pin it on someone else, and just get to your real goal in the manor… a second murder. You probably won’t be sticking around long enough to solve that one, though.
But again, you might come back, and IOI really would like you to do so. As in the last two Hitman games, you earn level mastery, which unlocks new options to let you spawn at different points, with disguises, have equipment drops for you to access once you’re past security and more. There’s also Escalation missions, which give you completely different targets and tasks within the same sandbox, not to mention there will be the return of Elusive Targets, time-limited events where you have just a single attempt to reach your target and get away alive.
Added to that is just a little slice of the kind of environmental growth that you might associate with a Soulslike. Now, as you play through a level, you might be able to open up new pathways, dropping a ladder, opening a locked door or access point so that you can take advantage of on future incursions into a level. Rewarding exploration, it’s a natural extension to the other gradually growing range options that you have while playing (even if none of it makes sense for a game without a multiverse theory at its narrative core).
Playing these two opening levels gave me a taste of what’s to come from this game. There’s the drama of the overarching story and the revenge that’s being wrought upon Providence (as detached as that tale can still feel from the moment to moment gameplay), and immediately there’s two very different feeling levels that leave me excited to see the direction IOI might take through the rest of the game as well.
Also Project 007. I’m excited about that too.