If there’s one thing Kotaku can’t get enough of, it’s Hitman 3. Between the wide-open levels, rapid-fire costume changes, and throwable bananas, IO Interactive’s latest stealth sandbox has enraptured many of us. Three of us (staff writer Ari Notis, staff editor Lisa Marie Segarra, and weekend editor Zack Zweizen) snuck into one of Kotaku’s many (many) Slack rooms to talk about what we love about this tense, tough masterpiece.
Ari Notis: Hitman 3. It’s very good! I, a total Hitman novice, had no clue it was gonna be this good. Lisa Marie and Zack, how much prior experience do you have with Hitman—and why did neither of you tell me how fun it is?
Zack Zwiezen: I’m a bit of a Hitman hipster. I’ve been playing it before everyone loved it. Blood Money was the first game I truly got into, but I played earlier entries too. I would always tell people these games are magical boxes of fun and puzzles, but nobody listened.
Lisa Marie Segarra: I played Hitman 2 fairly recently actually. Then I started Hitman (2016) before Hitman 3 came out. I really liked it! But I felt like the first of the trilogy was somewhat written off.
Zack: I remember folks playing that first one in... 2016? And I was so excited and a bit angry. They were like “Wow, Hitman is great!” Yes. It is. It has been great. Where have you all been?! But I’m super happy that the game has exploded in popularity and that now it’s such a big deal. It helps that these new games are so much better to play!
Lisa Marie: Blood Money and earlier would have been too violent, according to my parents. It’s also why I think remakes actually work very well for gaming, unlike the endless movie and TV reboots.
Ari: Right: Agent 47 is a moderately recognizable character, at least for those who possess some familiarity with gaming, so you can easily entice new players while still providing something to those who’ve been fans for years. It’s my understanding, too, that this new trilogy fits in with the larger Hitman story, such as that even exists?
Zack: Ari, that is opening a can of worms, but yes, it does fit in with the previous games. The new trilogy is more like a soft reboot of the franchise.
Ari: I hate worms, so let’s stay far, far away from that.
Lisa Marie: All I know is that I love a game that allows me to slow down and think about my next move, and there are so many moves to make in Hitman. I enjoy the story behind it fine enough, but it’s just fine.
Zack: Yeah, Hitman games provide me lots of opportunities to ponder. Games don’t let you ponder enough. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve just sat my controller down on my lap and just watched the virtual world go on while thinking what to do next.
Lisa Marie: My first level playthroughs are always over an hour long because I just start exploring every inch, seeing all the people there, what everyone’s deal is.
Ari: Same! But each level is so tense—I feel like I’m going to fuck up and get killed at any second—an hour zips by. I can’t overstate how refreshing it is to play a glossy, big-budget game that’s not all “shoot this, punch that.”
Zack: My first runs in a level are focused on scouting out the location: figuring out the basic layout, rules, patterns, and key items. I have a little ritual where I don’t put on Agent 47’s suit until I’m in serious Hitman Mode. Then I start pecking away at story missions to help really crack the level open.
Lisa Marie: My ritual is scout, complete, all story missions, weird challenges, then work up to Silent Assassin, Suit Only. It’s funny how impossible it often seems until you do it or get close.
Zack: Yes! Every single time I start a new level I go, “Well, this is impossible to finish in just my suit.” Then a few hours later, I’ve done it and I feel so smart.
Ari: Okay, someone fill me in on this suit-only silent assassin thing. Is that, like, the gold medal of Hitman achievements?
Zack: It’s a fairly old community/player challenge that later games formalized with challenges in-game.
Lisa Marie: Pretty much. There are levels to winning. Silent Assassin would be no bodies found, never spotted, et cetera. Suit Only means doing that without changing outfits.
Ari: That sounds impossible.
Zack: And it will seem that way at first.
Lisa Marie: And yet!
Zack: But soon, it becomes pretty easy to pull off as you master a level. At one point I could nearly run Paris blindfolded.
Lisa Marie: It requires lots of distractions and silence.
Zack: Yes. My number one tip: grab everything. If it isn’t nailed down, grab it.
Lisa Marie: It’s the only time I start with coins. More area mastery will help too, like with starting locations. Pick-ups are helpful too. That and raising your level, which will unlock better weapons and tools.
Zack: Yeah. Hitman levels are small games on their own. You should be playing these many, many times. If you try to get perfect runs right out of the gate, you will be frustrated and sad. Instead, accept the idea that you will fail, die, mess up, and miss stuff.
Lisa Marie: Yeah it feels much more like a roguelike than you would think.
Zack: This does bring me to something important. We need to address something, a very important question: Do you save scum?
Lisa Marie: I do not, but that’s more because I don’t think of it. My boyfriend does all the time, and what’s worse is he makes them all individual saves. Honestly, it’s amateur hour.
Ari: I guess I’m an amateur! I used up all ten of the save slots before I finished the Dartmoor level.
Zack: Ari! I save scum, to be clear, but efficiently.
Lisa Marie: I choose chaos.
Zack: Chaos is great! I try to only use save scumming when I’m going for a specific challenge.
Lisa Marie: I can see that! I also tend to get sloppy if I mess up three or more times (in all games). This does not help.
Ari: Ah, the yips.
Lisa Marie: I haven’t done a serious run of Hitman 3 since it came out. I took months to finish Hitman 2 because I would do each level over and over until I got Silent Assassin, Suit Only.
Zack: I actually think folks should try to run levels without saving a lot. It’s hard, I know. But you miss out on some of the most exciting moments. Getting spotted and having to think on your feet to get out of that situation is a blast
Lisa Marie: Yeah. I love doing the same motions over and over, I say as I never save. Does anyone else start killing all willy-nilly once you get caught?
Zack: Yup. My girlfriend yells at me.
Lisa Marie: And then everyone is dead so you just reload anyway to save your score.
Zack: If I get frustrated, I’ll load up a save and just go wild.
Ari: You two are monsters! I just let security do its thing (shoot me a lot) and end up reloading the latest autosave.
Lisa Marie: Now that’s what I call chaos. Security will never take me! I laugh in the face of security!
Zack: “Sure, I’m totally surrendering, bud...” [PUNCH]
Lisa Marie: I wish I could use people as shields like in The Last of Us Part 2.
Zack: You could in Blood Money. I miss it.
Lisa Marie: I suppose it would “put civilians in danger.”
Ari: Okay, so I’ve heard from both of you that the last level—that kick-ass one where you go all Uncharted on the train—isn’t exactly your favorite level of Hitman 3, precisely because of the chaos. But here you both are championing the idea that, once you get caught doing something illegal, you just sow as much chaos as possible. What gives?
Lisa Marie: Yeah, when we get bored. That’s not, like, our way of life.
Zack: Yeah, or frustrated. I think of those moments as Agent 47 dreaming.
Lisa Marie: You’re never gonna get Silent Assassin that way.
Lisa Marie: You need to hone your stealth skills.
Zack: Master the art of throwing soda cans!
Lisa Marie: If anything, it’s like taking a deep breath and then saying, “Okay, let’s do this.” And then you inject them with poison while they’re alone. The most embarrassing thing is thinking you’re out of sight, throwing something, and then getting yelled at for littering.
Ari: 10 points for environmentalism.
Lisa Marie: Or my favorite: dropping a newspaper and then NPCs looking at you like you’re “suspicious.”
Zack: You did mention you love that Hitman 3 train level. So that leads me to this question: What is your favorite level in this trilogy? I don’t think of Hitman 3 as just Hitman 3. It’s the culmination of all three games into one amazing murder sandbox. For me, the level I still love the most to this day is Sapienza (from 2016’s Hitman). I can’t get over that level. It’s special.
Lisa Marie: The vineyard (Mendoza, Argentina) was my favorite. I loved that I could set off all the alarms and no one would bat an eye.
Ari: Sapienza (and I’m basing this off cultural osmosis) offers such a good sense of place because, in the real world, it doesn’t exist at all…but it could so easily be any of a thousand little vacation towns on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. IO didn’t recreate a real location, and yet it feels more true than most settings from most video games.
Zack: The vineyard is great, but I feel like bringing Diana Burnwood into it and adding all the meta-narrative stuff into the mix soured me on it. I’m just here to kill rich people and wear silly outfits! Don’t make me save someone.
Lisa Marie: I actually thought you meant just Hitman 3 for a second. Mumbai (from Hitman 2) is my real favorite in the trilogy. It’s just so big. There are so many neighborhoods and areas that are so different.
Zack: It feels like, in a different universe, that could have been a whole open-world game on the Xbox 360.
Ari: Woah, really? I would very much like to play this level then.
Lisa Marie: It’s so wild. From the underground area to the towers, the village to the abandoned train station. The train area. Goodness. It’s magical.
Zack: It also has one of my favorite kills: The barber shop.
Lisa Marie: Yes! People give you gossip. It’s so good.
Zack: Yeah! You can just...do that job for as long as you want. Agent 47 is very good at it, too. They all compliment him for a good shave.
Ari: That is my favorite aspect of Agent 47: He seems to be amazing at… everything?
Lisa Marie: Right. I also love that the Maelstrom is a different NPC all the time.
Zack: He’s the best.
Lisa Marie: Agent 47 is a renaissance man.
Lisa Marie: Although, with that haircut, I’m not surprised he gives a good shave.
Zack: He paints, he plays the drums, he shaves people, can work any gun or machine, he can walk down a runway during a fashion show!
Lisa Marie: He can also change outfits faster than a magician.
Zack: I love that Hitman 3's opening level even pokes at that a bit, with that transition to the suit through the curtain.
Ari: That’s another thing that makes absolutely no sense to me. He disguises himself, often as people who have, um, noticeably different hairstyles, and yet people won’t see through the disguises. How do you two square that circle?
Lisa Marie: I mean, he fits in around the world as a tall, bald white dude. Clearly, they were not worried about realism.
Zack: It’s interesting, because Hitman (2016) tried to make people that look a lot like him. So it made more sense. But now they just don’t care.
Zack: And, in the game’s defense, most people don’t notice anyone if they are wearing a suit or uniform in the right spot. Agent 47 takes advantage of the fact most people don’t give a shit.
Lisa Marie: Oddly, that doesn’t take me out of the immersion because I’m so used to it. But one thing I could not get over was the German club where you have to put stickers over your phone camera, but he pulls out a full digital camera like it’s nothing? I was prepared for it to be marked as a no-no item and for people to react.
Zack: I think that is just an example of the game choosing gameplay over immersion—which is a good decision, I think. I would say, to any would-be drug kingpins or evil CEOs, hire all women as your guards and staff. Then Agent 47 is screwed.
Lisa Marie: I always get a little annoyed that he can’t wear women’s clothes, especially if they’re gender-neutral.
Zack: It’s an odd thing that I don’t quite get.
Lisa Marie: I think Agent 47 is secure enough to not be bothered.
Ari: Yeah, that annoyed me. I genuinely thought it was a bug at first.
Zack: I would assume it’s a technical limit and not the devs worried about putting him in a skirt, considering they let him wear and do so many other things. Maybe Hitman 4, when that ever comes out, will rectify this issue!
Lisa Marie: I don’t think there’s gonna be a Hitman 4...
Zack: They will make more Hitman! Maybe not Hitman 4...but Agent 47 isn’t gone for good.
Lisa Marie: Hitman 4 is Project 007.
Ari: Hitman 007.
[Editor’s note: Those two jokes were made at the same time, but Ari’s, clearly the better of the two, was held back by a shoddy internet connection.]
Zack: You can’t keep a good man down forever.
Lisa Marie: I like to think Agent 47 picked up photography after the events of Hitman 3. It sparked a passion in him. He could be a travel or nature photographer. A photojournalist.
Ari: He really does kill it at photography, huh.
Zack: Ari. Bad. Maybe he’s still shaving people in that barber shop. And all of Hitman 3 was a fantasy. What could have been.
Lisa Marie: Is that couple still passed out upstairs?
Zack: Who can say?
Lisa Marie: I also liked picking up all my coin tips from the barber shop because you can pay a cab to make a speedy exit.
Zack: We could honestly chat for hours about each level in this series. They are filled with stuff like that. It’s amazing.
Lisa Marie: Right, I always notice new details.
Ari: You asked us earlier what our favorite level was, and I listed Sapienza, because of the sense of place or whatever. But, I’ve gotta say, I’m with Lisa Marie: that Mendoza level is the best one. Did you all know that you can take out one of the targets with all of those wine machines? What other game does that?!
Lisa Marie: Ha! I did not! I need to go back and play it more.
Zack: Oh, and that level does add another thing to 47's résumé: sommelier. Dude seriously is the best.
Lisa Marie: I spent so long looking for a bottle of Pinot Noir. I also really like Pinot Noir and was very sad others did not feel the same.
Ari: So, tell me both about the most shocking kills you got in Hitman 3.
Lisa Marie: Oh, gosh. Easily Dartmoor. I was messing around exploring. At one point I fixed the poison machine. I’m scaling the house, and all of a sudden the target dies. I did nothing. So I had to jump down and run away.
Zack: Ghost kill!
Ari: That’s amazing.
Zack: I’ve poisoned things or set up bombs and then will get distracted, forget, and, suddenly, my target dies and I’m like, “Oh, yes, according to plan.”
Ari: Oh, yeah, even if you didn’t mean to, you have to take credit. In Chongqing—and this is the moment I realized Hitman 3 is just an all-timer—when you get to the ICA Facility, I fired a bunch of rank-and-file employees. I think one of them got pissed and fussed with some computer thing? And then my target walked into a room, and it mysteriously exploded, and she died! Definitely planned that. Yuuup.
Lisa Marie: They need a better HR department for sure. I’m wondering if you guys have other weird quirks you’ve come across?
Zack: One of my favorites is how, no matter how many guards you kill or people you butcher, the world tries to get back to normal. If you hide and come back, they will have cleaned up the bodies and guns. Even if a place is nearly empty, the folks keep working and living.
Lisa Marie: Wow. That felt really calming in a way that translates to our world. All I had was that it’s funny how if you pick up a letter opener in a conference room everyone will draw guns on you.
Ari: Yeah, yours wins, Zack. Mine was simply: bananas.
Zack: Oh the letter opener is a good one! Even weirder is, if you pick up an iron pipe, guards get mad. I can pick up so many dangerous items and they don’t care. Pick up a pipe, they call the cops and shoot you.
Ari: In fairness, anything in Agent 47’s hands is a dangerous weapon.
Lisa Marie: They don’t know that.
Ari: Yeah, the NPCs are so human, but also so dumb sometimes, which I guess makes them even more human. Speaking of: Do you two have any favorite NPCs?
Lisa Marie: Yes! In Dubai, the bodyguard who can’t find his clothes, because you find out he was a guard for Dawood Rangan the day you killed him in Mumbai.
Ari: What? That’s wild. I just thought he was a silly prop!
Zack: I mean, there is a correct answer to this question: Helmut Kruger. The man. The myth. The legend!
Ari: Helmut Kruger sounds like it popped out of one of those name generators you’d find on the mid-2000s internet, except specifically for fashion mavens.
Zack: This is Helmut Kruger.
Ari: Wow. I was right.
Lisa: He’s so hot right now.
Ari: Gotta say, I’m surprised neither of you mentioned this guy, from Berlin:
Ari: He’s just having a good time, just happy to be there, and, sure, okay, fine, maybe rolling his face off. But still! He’s the distillation of everything Hitman 3 represents: a dash of levity in a very serious situation.
Lisa Marie: I still maintain that guy whose life you inadvertently ruined twice is more fitting.
Zack: Wait, I take it all back. The best NPC is the reporter who you keep walking in front of. It never gets old. Always makes me laugh.
Lisa Marie: I...didn’t think to do that. I automatically went around.
Zack: Oh well, there you go! Yet another detail that is hidden in this game. It truly is the gift that keeps on giving.