Hitman 3 (5 stars)

Hitman 3

The World of Assassination trilogy ends on a high

IO Interactive's Hitman franchise has had mixed fortunes over its 20+ year history, from the high of 2006 fan-favourite Blood Money to 2012's Absolution, an entry that ditched many of the series' playful mechanics in favour of much more linear gameplay. Hitman (2016) rebooted the series as the first part of a trilogy dubbed the 'World of Assassination'. It was a remarkable return to form, laying the groundwork for a vast, sprawling masterpiece which Hitman 3 caps off in spectacular style.

As the enigmatic Agent 47, you're encouraged to scope out your surroundings, locate your target/s and plan your assassination using any weapon, tool or environmental feature you so choose; the scope of possible executions is extraordinary, and you're encouraged to execute the most elaborate deaths possible. In order to progress through the various environments, you'll need to isolate staff, tradespeople, security, bodyguards, etc. away from the prying eyes of the hundreds of NPCs that populate each map, then subdue them, hide their bodies (optional but recommended) and don their outfits. After gaining entry to a secure location you'll then need to swap clothes with a higher-level NPC, and the closer you get to your target the trickier this becomes. Thankfully, after five years of technical iteration, the game's mechanics are reliable and predictable (in a good way). Multiple stories play out across each map and by eavesdropping on conversations you can glean vital intel; a target might have a penchant for a particular drink which you could poison, or you could assume the identity of someone who's about to meet your target in person.

The first two parts of the trilogy both featured a sublime set of levels, including a racetrack in Miami, an impeccably detailed Italian town and a Parisian palace hosting a fashion show. Hitman 3 features five main levels plus a linear epilogue; these maps include an isolated English mansion, the setting for a wonderful Agatha Christie/Knives Out-style murder mystery, and a rain-soaked, neon-lit Chinese city which ingeniously segues into a highly secure underground facility. The game's standout mission is set in a Berlin nightclub located outside the city and occupying an enormous multi-level underground arena. The usual dynamics are reversed here as you become the target for a cadre of assassins who you need to identify and dispatch before they do the same to you.

There's no real need to play the previous two games beforehand as most levels are stand-alone adventures and the overarching storyline isn't that interesting, although if you do already own them then it's possible to integrate them into Hitman 3 from the same game system. It's a tremendously replayable series, with challenges, 'mission stories' and leaderboards all teasing brand new ways to approach each level. IO Interactive recently announced their next project: a brand new James Bond game, a licence (to kill) for which they're clearly a brilliant match. For now, their legacy is a trilogy of perfect stealth action-adventures. It seems inevitable that one day Hitman will return.

Out now for PC, Nintendo Switch, Stadia, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S.

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