Hitman III

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: IO Interactive
Release Date: Jan. 20, 2021

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PS VR Review - 'Hitman III'

by Andreas Salmen on Feb. 19, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Hitman III is the dramatic conclusion to the World of Assassination trilogy, taking players around the world on a globetrotting adventure to sprawling sandbox locations, with Agent 47 returning for the most important contracts of his career.

Buy Hitman III

IO Interactive has recently published the final chapter in its Hitman series. If you've seen our review, you'll know that we loved the finale of the World of Assassination trilogy. While iterative, Hitman 3 provided some of the series' best level design and a compelling ending to the overarching story. That was all one could hope for, but PlayStation owners got something extra: an exclusive VR mode. The VR mode is substantial, so we decided to honor it with a separate review to determine if it's worth picking up for the VR alone.

Let's state the obvious: PSVR in 2021 is a bit of a mess. With Hitman, the system receives one of its most promising exclusive releases — all while having no immediate plans to further support the platform. If you're a PS5 owner, you can also play Hitman in VR, but you're tied to running the PS4 version in backward compatibility mode, which is included in all PS5 purchases. With no VR plans announced for the PS5, Hitman 3 VR releases in a weird spot in the PlayStation product life cycle. Thankfully, the game is surprisingly fun and immersive. The PSVR's significant technical limitations often keep Hitman 3 VR from being a much greater experience.

The content and story of Hitman 3 are largely unaltered. It's still the same social stealth sandbox that IOI has been creating for years, except you can see the world through the eyes of Agent 47. The game is still about finding the gaps in an elaborate puzzle to kill several targets. Find disguises and keys to access restricted areas and try to get in and out as stealthily as possible for a high mission rating. Each area provides ample opportunities to create chaos and confusion. Simply discovering and replaying the same stage is a fun and rewarding activity. The VR mode captures and emulates what Hitman is all about while offering an entirely new perspective and experience for all its content. If you like Hitman, you will likely love its VR implementation.

All you need to play in VR is a PlayStation version of Hitman 3. If you own the previous two entries, their stages can be imported into Hitman 3, so they are also available in VR. With 21 locations (inclusive of two tutorial areas) available across all entries, including a wealth of costumes and items, Hitman 3 VR provides hours of entertainment. The VR mode doesn't change any maps, although there are some very minor exceptions when the original level design wasn't as easy to navigate in VR. Navigation is one of the most important pillars of Hitman gameplay; since precise and reactive controls determine your success in a mission, the VR version had to get them right.

Hitman 3 VR can only be played with a DualShock 4 controller and opts for a unique hybrid control scheme. As Agent 47, we can interact with most objects in our immediate surroundings via motion controls, while all other actions require physical button presses. On paper, that makes sense. Since control over movement is pivotal in a game like Hitman, having analog sticks feels natural and precise. There are very few actions in the game that would require two independently tracked hands, so the PS Move controllers likely wouldn't work very well. That essentially means that only one hand is motion-controlled via the lightbar on the back of the DS4, so tracking is very limited. Every item in the game can be picked up and moved around via the motion-controlled hand, but that doesn't extend to random objects in the game world. Everything Agent 47 would hold in his hands in the flat version of the game can be handled in VR. The rest is as static as it has always been.

You can aim down weapon sights and shoot targets (there's aim assist), knock out enemies by various means, choke them, and use the trusty fiber wire for more abrupt termination of airflow. IOI also added new mechanics to interact with NPCs. They now react to physical contact, so they can be suspicious of you or, if you're quick enough, look in the other direction as you tap their shoulder. Tracking only handles interactions close to you, like pushing against doors to open them. Everything else controls like they regularly would. Throwing objects is still done via the DS4 triggers, and they show a visible arc to ensure items land in the intended spot. Every other interaction is a button press and has no VR benefits except the first-person perspective, which works well.

What is unfortunate is that a lot of parts are only available in flat mode. For example, signature kills are almost always a flat cut scene. The same is true for aiming through scopes or peeping through holes. In both cases, the game transitions to an awkward 2D cinematic view that doesn't work very well. Sniper scopes and the newly introduced camera gadget are not intuitive to use, since you have to shove the controller into your headset to transition to an awkward 2D view that is barely controllable. If you're looking for a great VR sniper experience, this isn't it.

One thing to consider before jumping into VR is the availability of comfort options. Hitman has a range of them, including different intensity blinders that can reduce motion sickness. The game offers several turning options, from snap to smooth turning, that should help reduce nausea. If you're susceptible to motion sickness or have never played in VR before, this probably isn't the best game to get your bearings. There are no options to teleport, so you need to be comfortable with continuous movement while wearing the VR headset. It feels like a dream for those who don't have to contend with motion sickness, since it provides a lot of freedom to move around and even sprint. Even with the variety of comfort options, Hitman 3 VR could be a tough experience for those with motion sickness.

When the control scheme works, it's a whole lot of fun, but when it doesn't, things can get awkward. Since the DS4 has a flat lightbar compared to the spherical light on the PS Move controllers, turning slightly away from the camera can cause immediate tracking issues. When things (literally) get out of hand, movements are difficult to control because your body may have naturally repositioned itself at an odd angle where the lightbar cannot be tracked anymore. I resolved most of these issues by strictly playing seated and having the camera positioned approximately at the height of my headset. The setup improved matters quite a bit, but ultimately, there are still plenty of moments where it doesn't work well. The most notable action that was frequently troublesome was using the fiber wire. Garroting people from behind rarely works in VR and usually exposed me or triggered an alarm, so I dropped it as a viable option. It would be nice to play Hitman similar to Resident Evil 7 on PSVR — without any motion tracking and with regular DS4 controls for those who want more precision in playing the game.

Hitman VR is probably one of the most immersive PSVR games I have played, along with perhaps Skyrim VR. Its massive sandbox-style levels feel like a much-needed virtual world trip given the current restrictions with air travel. A lot of this achievement lies with the amount of love and detail that went into every on-screen object. Every item in the world is remarkably detailed, if perhaps a bit blurry at times, but there are details I would have never caught playing the flat counterpart. It makes the world feel much more realistic than I had thought possible, and it far surpasses comparable experiences like Skyrim and Borderlands. It cannot reach the heights of a native VR game, but it doesn't need to.

It's surprising to see how sharp and detailed Hitman looks when in a PSVR headset. Everything in your immediate vicinity is incredibly detailed and sharp for PSVR standards, and details decrease when objects are further away. Reading post-it's in office spaces or blurry messages on computer screens unlocks a new level of immersion. Much of the immersion hinges on the way the levels are constructed and displayed. Freely looking around an environment is one thing, but it feels different to do so at a level that looks and feels natural.

The draw distance is very aggressive, so be prepared to see obvious pop-in of details at every turn, including Hitman's impressive crowds. Unsurprisingly, crowds can break the immersion in VR since they're tied to draw distance. The result is that large rooms appear empty when you enter and slowly spawn in NPCs from thin air. The same can happen when quickly moving your head to either side, since the game only spawns NPCs in your view, so it can take a moment for them to reappear at the edge of your vision. It's remarkable that an aging VR platform on a last-gen system can remotely handle this amount of AI and NPCs, so workarounds are expected. Alas, this often pulls you out of the otherwise impressive technical achievement. I am hoping that we'll eventually see better PSVR support on the PS5 that offers an improvement in horsepower when running Hitman 3 VR. I would love to see a beefed-up version come to the PC, although there are no indications that will happen.

While the Hitman gameplay formula is fully intact in its VR incarnation, playing in VR feels different. It is perfectly suited to mess around or to scout a location while fully immersed, but it's not as precise and efficient to play if you're attempting a timed runthrough. If you enjoy Hitman as I do, this VR mode feels like a gift you never knew you wanted. Even with its obvious flaws and limitations, it's a load of fun to mess with NPCs. You feel like an infiltrator and assassin as you deal with every situation as it develops and adjust your approach accordingly.

Hitman has always been a great game to mess up in and try to re-establish your cover (or kill the witness), and VR elevates that tenfold. I keep taking pauses, listening to conversations, and finding nuances that are easy to miss when playing outside of VR. Each run took me three to four times as long as a regular run because I felt engaged by all of the opportunities around me. It's been great to get more out of the game by entering a location in VR, exploring the map, and switching to the classic experience to set a new high score.

The main attraction in Hitman 3 VR is essentially the same as before. The locations and level design make it a joy to figure out your best path forward. It is the same addictive gameplay of creating opportunities and exploiting NPCs to reach forbidden areas. It also includes every stage, although there are some minor exceptions. At the moment, escalation contracts from Hitman 1 and Hitman 2 and community-created contracts are not available in VR. I hope that a future update may unlock them, since the unlimited gameplay potential of contracts would make this an even sweeter deal.

Hitman 3 VR is easily the best free VR addition to any game yet. It has technical flaws, but if you're able to work through and around them, the result is nothing short of unadulterated sandbox fun as a globetrotting hitman. Owning a PSVR headset makes Hitman 3 on PS4 an even more remarkable game and seriously worth a look, especially if you're a fan of the series and its signature gameplay.

Score: 8.6/10

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