But then there’s me in “Hitman 3,” as Agent 47, completely forgetting who I was supposed to kill in this mansion mission, because I was so engrossed in my impromptu role as a private investigator hired by the family to investigate a mysterious overnight death in the family. Suddenly, “Hitman 3” became an engrossing, “Knives Out”- and “Clue”-style murder mystery puzzle box. The mission is one of two we were able to test with a preview build of the final game.
Most murder mysteries might start with the murder or dead body. This one starts like a heist, Agent 47 outside the Dartmoor Estate, casing the joint and trying to figure out a way to get inside and find his target, the lady of the house. Within minutes, a player will ask themselves a series of questions: Where are the entry points? What’s the mood like?
And most importantly: Who else is on the grounds? Security guards. Family members. Estate staff and groundskeepers. And then there’s the hapless private investigator, not exactly sure why he’s there. Maybe I could do the job for him. Much like the earlier games, I can choose to either kill or knock him out. I incapacitated the detective with nonlethal methods, stashed his unconscious body in the bushes and took his detective clothes and hat. Voilà, Agent 47 is now the detective, and the genius of the series begins to unfold.
This mission fully realizes the much-admired “Hitman” series through its true form: a puzzle, point-and-click adventure game. “Hitman” games are about casing scenes and situations, like the luxurious party on the 150th floor of a Dubai skyscraper that opens up the game. “Hitman” games have always been about being where you don’t belong, making sure no one else knows it, and killing only your targets. Of course, the games allow for improvisation, and you can create as much collateral damage as needed or desired.
This all works in conjunction with the series staple of presenting clockwork-like systems of social routines, all carried out by artificial intelligence and developer rails to create this sense of a living, breathing space, unaware of the player, making the fantasy of the secret hit man feel just a bit naughtier.
Guards in the mansion will flirt with the housekeepers. A family photographer is outside setting up for an elaborate portrait. And then there’s the entire family of rich eccentrics, all there to be interrogated by your makeshift detective. The game scatters enough hints across the map to create intrigue that ends up being larger than you might anticipate. All this, just to get some alone time with my target.
Beyond the bugs and shady business practices, “Cyberpunk 2077” was widely criticized for its lack of non-player character intelligence. Players were expecting these NPCs to go through daily routines, as if they were actually living their lives. Instead they were braindead zombies shuffling across a large city. The “Hitman” games deliver on this exact hope. Almost every NPC in every level has their purpose, carefully plotted and designed to go through routines for the player to analyze and exploit.
The Dartmoor Estate level is so grand and well written, it’s hard to see how the game’s other levels in the final build will top it. But we can expect each one to be even bigger than the last. “Hitman” games are top of the industry when it comes to portraying parties and massive amounts of people across believable, everyday spaces. The last two titles took Agent 47 through NASCAR-like events on massive speedways, a fashion show in Paris, a civil revolution in Mumbai and even an idyllic American suburb, all crowded with people. The “Hitman” games come closest to achieving the grandeur of the dance party scenes in films like “John Wick” and “Collateral.”
The series has had trouble gaining an audience, but it’s maintained a loyal following through the early century. “Hitman 3” is just the latest example of how the series has been hiding in plain sight as one of the smartest games this industry can offer.