Death Is The Place
Death is everywhere in Hitman 3. It is mostly found in silent, muffled gasps for air and the clicking of shoes attached to writhing legs. Death is meant to never be discovered. It can be creative or blunt. Agent 47 is everywhere, he can be one, and with him, he brings death to those he’s been tasked to kill. This is what Hitman has been since the start and Hitman 3 is no different. Maybe it has just taken this long for me to realize what I'm about to write or maybe it is just more obvious in Hitman 3, but Agent 47 is only an agent of death. The places he inhabits are death made manifest—architectural and design wonders that just so happen to be avenues of killing. Beneath the sleek architecture and hyper-capitalist nature of many Hitman levels is the idea that these places are just Rubik’s Cubes of death. Choose your way and watch it unfold. The punchline is always the same. Someone dies.
Agent 47 skydives into the tallest building in the world. Its last few stories pierce through the clouds like some sort of hyper-modern, overly-designed Tower of Babel. It is breathtaking and it is what players are first introduced to. Agent 47 scales the building and makes his way into yet another party for the hyper-rich (Agent 47 has become quite familiar with these over the years). The rich are partying at the top of the world. Agent 47 is here to kill two of them. Like any level, he can go about this any way he sees fit, but the level has very specific ways for 47 to kill these two men. The story mission way is the most indicative and deserving way to go for these two specific targets. Agent 47 turns the environment and techno-capitalism to his advantage. He turns the comfort and useless luxury that endless money can buy into a weapon. Endless wealth rots people’s brains, it makes them feel limitless and above all else. So Agent 47 boxes them in and catches them in their own creation. He locks them in a hyper-expensive meeting-room-turned-saferoom. What they undoubtedly spent millions on in order to protect them ends up being what kills them. The walls close in, the room’s soundproofing kicks into effect, and Agent 47 dispatches of these two targets as they see fit. They argue with death, say that they are above at all and untouchable even. My Agent 47 shot both of them in the head mid-sentence. The rampant capitalism, wealth and grandeur of the Dubai level speak to the villains of Hitman 3. They are often the richest of the rich and are involved in secretive dark dealings and global manipulation in this “World of Assassination.” No manner of security or money can protect them. Hitman 3’s levels are very interested in the rich, capitalist decay, and how—quite honestly—the richest people have the poorest, most dogshit taste in literally everything. The places in Hitman 3 are death but they are designed and manipulated by the rich, and Agent 47 uses their wealth and comfort against them. They get what is coming to them.
The core outlier in this motif is the third mission—Berlin. This mission sees Agent 47 navigating a dense, industrial night club set in the outskirts of Berlin. It is clearly inspired by Berghain which is arguably the most famous electronic music pumping nightclub in the world. A dense concrete structure caked in graffiti and neon lights. What was once a factory or warehouse of some sort is now home to sweating bodies, party drugs, and head rattling bass. It isn’t a slick, modern soirée, high-end fashion event, or supervillain home in an exotic locale. It is just a club in a city full of young people partying. And it is one of the rare instances where the environment itself is not some form of death. The club feels and looks alive. It has substantive character and Agent 47 feels alien to it all. Yes, he can blend in as usual but something about it still feels off. He’s now in a world that he’s rarely had to navigate—everyday society. And the style of the mission hits that home. Agent 47 is a fish out of water both thematically and formally. He is no longer the hunter, but instead, he is the hunted. Various other assassins are hunting him in the night club and Agent 47 has to find out who they are, where they are, and how to kill them. The game doesn't point them out or really point the player in the right direction—Agent 47 must navigate everyday society in this night club and find out who, like him, exists in a nearly altogether different world entirely. It is when 47 locates these assassins that the Berlin level returns to being familiar. We must kill the assassins and so we find subtle (and sometimes) creative ways to do so. And while the level, of course, has those patented Hitman level traps and accidental death options. But the environment itself does not feel like a weapon in the same way that the other hyper-fancy, money-fueled locales do. Instead, this night club is just a place made of concrete & steel that feels dirty instead of sterile, alive in a way that no other Hitman level has ever been, and Agent 47 has to navigate that. But what of the level that feels most akin to death itself?
Enter Dartmoor. Agent 47 has to infiltrate Thornbridge Manor in order to kill an old rich British lady. That is the mission and it can be that simple if you want it to be. But, like any other Hitman level, you get out of it what you put into it. And like most other Hitman levels, Dartmoor reeks of excess, the upper class, and wealth as violence. The level itself is also a form of death. Unlike many other Hitman levels where this tangible and metaphorical death is hidden by sleek modernity or an exotic location, Dartmoor’s death is plain for all to see. The manor itself is an old, dying thing that only clings to life due to funneled wealth. The grounds of the manor feel poisoned, rotten, and in a state of death, too. Even the clouds hang low and grayness chokes the life from the level. There is a freshly dug grave in the old, crumbling cemetery (and one of the core story beats and mission types in the level centers on death(s) before Agent 47 even pulls a trigger). Death is felt in every nook and cranny in this level because this level is death. From beginning to end, death affects or is the sole purpose of nearly every outcome or interactive part of Dartmoor. None of this is masked behind grandeur, it just is. Yes, the mansion is vast and ornate, full of priceless trinkets and wares, and butlers and maids keep the place as alive as possible, but it is still dying. The process is slow but irreversible. Agent 47 expedites this death by walking the halls of the mansion, interacting with the home and its inhabitants, and by stalking the grounds of the estate. His sole purpose is to figure out how this dying home can turn on itself and those who have called it home. The target can be pushed off a balcony, buried alive in the cemetery outside, and more. They die in the house or alongside it, but they die all the same. And when they are dead and gone, the house will still be there, but not for much longer.
The level design in the Hitman series is legitimately second to none, and the past three Hitman games have really highlighted that. While Hitman 3 certainly feels like more Hitman, its levels feel almost unique to the series for better and for worse. Praise and qualms aside, what stuck out to me about them the most is how sad they almost all feel. Hitman 3 is a deeply zany game that tries to be serious whenever it is doing its not-so-good story stuff (read Cameron Kunzelman’s review for more on that), but I really can’t shake the feeling that the levels feel like a countdown of sorts. A countdown to what, I don’t know. They just feel like they are coming before an end. That might be the end of the world, the end of Agent 47, or something like that. All I know is that there is a tangible feeling of finality to Hitman 3 and that finality is rooted in death.