Does IO Interactive’s VR debut hit the mark? Find out in our Hitman 3 VR review!
I’ll admit, I thought Agent 47 had got in over his head on this one. VR seems like a natural fit for the Hitman series, but bolting it onto the side of the already-expansive third installment in the reboot trilogy? Not to mention constraining it to the PS4 and DualShock 4 tracking? A lesser developer than IO Interactive would surely be putting a hit out on itself.
IO, however, doesn’t fulfill a contract in half-measures.
That’s not to say Hitman 3’s ambitious VR support — which lets you play the entire trilogy inside PSVR should you own the older games — is a runaway success; it’s technically constrained and can be a handful. But for everything it takes, this thoughtful VR port gives something back too.
Hitting New Highs
Were this a review of that traditional version, I’d tell you that, like Hitman 2 before it, Hitman 3 adds new incremental layers to the series’ increasingly intricate sandboxes. Even the game’s opening Dubai level, which is set atop the iconic Burj Al-Ghazali makes this clear. It’s a multi-faceted wonder that feels like two stages of an older game packed into one with a dizzying number of strands to follow.
Freedom is the series’ core hook and it’s still a lethal concoction all these years on. In one run, I crash a family reunion to poison my target, split him off from his companions and execute him in the toilet while, in another, he takes a quick trip to the ground floor after mistakenly putting his trust in me. Meanwhile, in a stunning rendition of Chongqing, China, I negotiate my way up a series of tightly guarded corridors, swapping out uniforms, only to reach the top and overlook an entirely different path to my goal. This is Hitman at its most expansive, a logical escalation of the formula that began not just in the 2016 reboot but all the way back with the 2000 original.
The sprawling agency and pinpoint sequencing is as impressive as ever but, also like its predecessor, Hitman 3 rarely ventures into dangerous territory, instead choosing the usual safe routes. You’ll quickly spot all the same tricks that are present in almost every level; you could poison a target by posing as a waiter, for example, or use noises to get them into isolated spots before finishing them off. Most targets do have more inventive means of destruction which you can usually discover with helpful in-game waypoints that are entirely optional but do help combat any intimidation you might feel at the start of a level.
None of the new features (save, obviously, for the VR support) feel especially revolutionary and, tellingly, they’re all retroactively added into the remasters of Hitman 1 and 2 that you can import into the game should you own older versions. The original Hitman released episodically, adding new levels to the existing formula and, even though the series ditched that format, Hitman 3 is still simply adding new content to that foundation more than it is building something truly new.
There are some exceptions of course, including an unconventional but hugely enjoyable final level, and a much-touted murder mystery set to the rainy backdrop of Dartmoor, England. It’s a fitting tribute to its clear influences, swapping out the series usual obsession with Micheal Mann for Agatha Christie, though it puts a strain on the game’s systems; after clearing almost all the of suspects, finding plenty of evidence and then even catching the culprit red-handed, you’re not allowed to close the investigation until you’ve fully completed a checklist of clues.
But, really, do we need Hitman to be much more different than it already is? The reboot trilogy was, after all, built on the idea that IO had already perfected the formula with Blood Money and that we all just wanted more of it (and less of Absolution). On that, Hitman 3 delivers in spades. At its best, it’s a slick and empowering experience and, when it’s not at its best, it’s still joyously slapstick. All of that remains intact in the VR version.
The CliffNotes on VR are this – you can breathe easy, this is not another underwhelming AAA VR effort. Far from it, in fact.
Hitman 3 pulls off a decent (and at times enthralling) VR experience without so much of the baggage you’ve seen elsewhere, be it the painstaking load times of Iron Man VR or smeared visuals of No Man’s Sky. Provided you’ve got a good camera setup, the tracking is even pretty dependable considering it’s using the often-terrible DualShock 4 light bar.
How is it able to pull this off? Much like how 47 executes a risky job; with calculated compromise, often made in sensible areas. Gameplay, for example, uses motion controls very selectively. It’s mainly relegated to a pointer to interact with objects, quick melee attacks and aiming firearms, the latter of which is a rare occurrence if you’re playing Hitman ‘right’. Everything else, like opening doors, activating switches and grabbing items, is assigned to button presses (though some do have motion control options too). No, you won’t really be mixing cocktails yourself; it’s all done through the trusty X button.
This isn’t the fully immersive two-handed experience, and that is a shame. Hitman 3 only ever pulls you halfway into its world; your head is in VR but the rest of your body usually feels stuck outside. In trade, its loses the uncertainty of VR motion controls. In a game where the slightest mistake can cost you everything, it’s an understandable trade-off that avoids many of the potential pitfalls others have fallen into.
The result? Hitman 3 is a VR game you’ll properly experience more than you will fight it, and that is a huge relief to say. There are times here, be it disguising yourself between crowds of unsuspecting party-goers or loosely tailing your prey from a distance, that you will, remarkably, feel like Agent 47. Your eyes are practically an in-game item, surveying a scene as you lean against a balcony railing, or poking your head out from behind corners to keep tabs on guards without fully revealing yourself. Hitman is a series about surveillance and it speaks to the platform perfectly.
In these moments, VR is an incredible way to experience Hitman 3. Less so in the spaces between, where you’re lost in a sprawling complex just looking for the slightest hint of where to go and who to kill, in which the platform’s own cumbersome issues have you longing for the days of old. Plus the automation of a lot of tasks sees a lot of missed opportunities, even if it is fantastically hilarious to hurl crowbars at unsuspecting heads with spotless precision via a lock-on system. There is a case to be made for a smaller, more refined Hitman VR experience where every item is interactive and immersion takes center stage, but IO’s efforts do even out to a worthwhile experience.
…And Taketh Away
But, solid as the VR support is, it’s not without issue. Inevitable technical faults rob 47 of some of his usual proficiency. When the game does implement motion controls they can still be messy; I simply gave up trying to use the iconic fiber wire after several tens of attempts to execute targets, only for the wire to phase through their neck and land me in trouble. Plus, remarkably, sniper scopes and camera lenses don’t work seamlessly with VR but instead transfer to PSVR’s 2D cinematic screen when in use, which is incredibly jarring. If standalone Oculus Quest games like Onward can handle realistic sniper scopes, PSVR should too.
Plus, to compensate for the no-doubt exhaustive demands VR puts on the PS4, levels have a lot of pop-in, be it items suddenly appearing on tables and cabinets, or crowds of people appearing through an invisible mist in party sequences. It makes some environments that are bustling even from a distance on the standard PS4 look like a ghost town in VR, though it’s only a problem in a select few areas. Still, it’s frustrating, given that there’s a PS5 edition of the game that would no doubt give VR performance a big boost, and I’d imagine IO is equally irritated by Sony’s choice not to allow PSVR support in PS5 games as many of its fans are.
Despite those issues, though, Hitman 3 is still easily one of PSVR’s best-looking and most polished games, aside from the odd (and often disturbing) bug. Massive sandbox levels manage to keep most of their sheen inside the headset as you walk from one end to the other. The trade-offs are hefty: you’ll lose reflections, certain lighting effects, overall sharpness and distant details but, for VR, it still looks and runs incredibly well. IO pushes the PS4 to its limits; not since Blood & Truth have we seen something so visually ambitious hit PSVR without any deal-breaking sacrifices. Even the loading times are very reasonable, coming in at between 20 – 30 seconds a lot of the time.
Not to mention that there is a lot of VR here. Played properly, a run-through of Hitman 3’s campaign takes between 12 – 15 hours and, as per usual, IO squeezes each level for all its worth, giving you reasons to revisit and complete them in new ways. Sadly the handful of bonus missions don’t work in VR and I couldn’t see if the usual Escalation modes worked. But when you combine the campaign content with imported levels from the last two titles — which we’re not putting huge emphasis on in this review considering they each come with their own price tag — you’ll be playing Hitman in VR for a very long time.
Hitman 3 VR Review Final Impressions
I went into Hitman 3 VR with my hands clasped over my face, eyes peeking out between fingers in fear of an impending train wreck. But the more I played, the more that anxiety subsided. IO’s VR debut is far from perfect; visual hiccups, small interaction issues and half-in DualShock 4 controls are collateral damage in the battle to get the thing to simply work. But, against the odds as always, Agent 47 emerges victorious. Hitman 3’s slick professionalism and lethal efficiency make for an empowering, exciting VR caper with plenty on offer.
It’s a bit like the way most of us will stumble our way through game itself; not quite to plan, often scrappy, mostly reactionary and at times with unforeseen pain but, when all’s said and done, the contract is fulfilled.
For more on how we arrived at this score, see our review guidelines. What did you make of our Hitman 3 VR review? Let us know in the comments below!