There have been countless ‘holy shit’ moments in gaming this year, but the one which asserts itself most vividly in my mind is the moment I was first greeted by the blinding opulence of Hitman 3’s Burj Al-Ghazali. Now, I’m no astronomer – evidenced by me thinking ‘bloody hell, this building’s as tall as the sun’ as I entered its atrium – but I know star power when I see it, and developer IO Interactive certainly went all out on it for the World of Assassination trilogy’s concluding chapter.
While Hitman 3 didn’t reinvent the wheel – apart from adding a gimmicky camera that can open windows, but I’ll let it slide – it managed to go bigger and better in every way. From glistening skyscrapers in Dubai, to a murder mystery in murky Dartmoor, then onwards to a dingy Berlin warehouse rave, Agent 47 found himself shipped out to an incredibly diverse set of beautifully-crafted locales.
IO did a fantastic job of tightening up Hitman’s already solid gameplay loop, too, which is backed by new-gen improvements to the in-house Glacier Engine running beneath the hood. And while the game’s AI is better than ever thanks to these upgrades, that slapstick absurdity of a guard not recognising that his best mate has suddenly lost all of his hair and grown several inches was thankfully retained.
Between throwing someone into a grape grinder and setting someone on fire by overloading a light show, each of Hitman 3’s missions offer a plethora of ways to maliciously murder its NPCs – and they all rock. We all know that 47 could kill a man with a toenail, and IO really put the work in to give us as many options as possible to execute on that fantasy.
While Hitman’s story has always been a secondary focus to its gameplay, we were treated to a much more personal one for 47 this time around as he explored his past alongside Lucas Grey. It’s no grand narrative, but it’s good to see IO’s putting in the work for its bald Bond ahead of its actual upcoming 007 game.
For me, the thing which makes the Hitman series stand out is that it has a scratch for every itch. If you’re a casual player who wants to do things the ‘right’ way, you can slalom your way through each mission’s objectives, getting closer to your target bit by bit. Due to its sheer replayability, you’ll most likely end up exploring every choreographed scenario available, with intermediate players looking for every advantage to clear every locale on its hardest difficulty.
Then, of course, there are the hardcore players who impose their own challenges. Some may completely ignore all of the signposts, and instead seek out the blood of their targets in the most utterly bizarre ways possible, while others attempt to jump in, pew pew, and scarper in as little time as possible.
Indeed, thanks to its intoxicatingly-addictive gameplay, the sheer beauty of its sandboxes, IOs mastering of its engine, and the remarkable number of ways the studio lets you do someone in, Hitman 3 very much gets my nod for game of the year.