Key art for ‘Hitman III’ | Source: IO Interactive

It was a very peculiar feeling, the first time I watched this video of someone beating the first level of Hitman III in 8 seconds.

I myself had just spent the better part of 75 minutes in that level — acclimating to the controls; basking in the gorgeously rendered Dubai skyscraper locale; and snaking up and down hallways, shedding disguises and beaning security guards in the head with soda cans on my way to carefully eliminating the two targets I had been sent to terminate before parachuting off into the clouds. And then I see this schmuck do it in 8 seconds! In the time it took me, he could have beaten the level 500 times and still had enough minutes to spare to make himself a bowl of pasta! And look, on one hand, it was frustrating, sure. But on the other, the sheer inventiveness of it all pulled me into the game even deeper. That’s the magic of Hitman III: It’s a game with no wrong way to play and so many right ones. 

A still from ‘Hitman III’ | Source: IO Interactive

Hitman III is the eighth game in the series developed by IO Interactive, and the third and final installment of the World of Assassination Trilogy, a sort of narrative reset of the series that started with Hitman in 2015. In each game, players take control of Agent 47, a chameleonic assassin who slips into compounds around the world, disguising himself and carrying out hits on shadowy baddies by any means necessary. And I don’t use that phrase lightly — while the story of Hitman III is surprisingly powerful and focused, the franchise’s trademark, sandbox-style of letting you find your own way through every mission is as electric and entertaining as ever.

The campaign of Hitman III is a quick playthrough, but the story it tells is rich, compelling, and full of memorable locales and challenges. It’s important to know that there is definitely a narrative arc at play here — if you want to fully enjoy the game’s story and its cast of characters, I suggest you play the previous games. (Or, at the very least, do a nice, vigorous Google beforehand.) But, in short, your mission is to remove the heads of a sinister secret society called Providence and, in doing so, expose to the world a shadow network of power and corruption. Your enemies, of course, won’t go down without a fight, and the ensuing battle throws Agent 47’s friendships, safety, and very sense of self-identity into question. The story is a tight and crackling ball of energy — one that is full of humor and action, but also a surprising amount of emotional depth and resonance. Hitman has never been a game that front-loads its story, but III is the best of the bunch, and the game is better for it. I found myself digging deeper into levels to uncover every possible interaction and twist and turn.

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But the bread and butter of the game, as it has always been, is the sheer breadth of options you have at your disposal to work through that story and to carry out the assassinations at its center. Each level — there are six locations in total — is painstakingly designed to be as narrow or broad as the player wants it to be. Want to be all business? You can carry out your work in the shadows, brandish your silenced pistol, and hide the mess away with no one the wiser. Not in the mood for bloodshed? You can disguise yourself as a waiter, sneak some poison into your target’s wine glass, and slip away undetected. Want to literally play as the fourth stooge? You can dunk a guard’s head in the toilet, make a second guard slip on a banana peel when they come to see what’s going on, then pluck a unicorn horn off of a statue and chuck it through your target’s forehead (okay, that isn’t exactly stooge-y, but it is whimsical.) When you complete a level, you unlock a number of new locations to start from, disguises to sport, and gear that you can sneak in, further increasing the number of options you have to cause mayhem. It’s a consistently winning formula that rejects repetition and forces you to stretch your mind as a player, then stretch it again. There were times when I completed a level, sure I’d explored it top to bottom, only to find that I had literally dozens of challenges still to complete. 

A still from ‘Hitman III’ | Source: IO Interactive

This all unfolds in a game world that is stunningly realized on the Playstation 5. The graphics and gameplay are smooth and crisp, the load times imperceptible, and the handling is easy to pick up and master. This is the first game that feels like a PS5 game without having to shout, “Hey, look! We’re a PS5 game!” And if this is the kind of quality we can expect on the console, then there’s plenty of reason to be excited about the future. Coupled with a deeply satisfying orchestral score that swells at key story moments of the game, it’s an excitingly cinematic experience. It’s no surprise that there have been multiple attempts to adapt Hitman into a movie franchise. 

Hitman is not for everyone: There will be people who are, no doubt, turned off by a game that is meant to be spent mostly in stealth, and still others turned off by the frequent — and at times gratuitous — violence that the game demands, against evil forces or not. But for people who love a spy thriller, and for gamers who enjoy being challenged to open their minds to new, brain-bending possibilities at every turn, Hitman III is a gorgeous thrill ride of a game. Whether that ride takes you hours or 8 seconds is up to you.