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Hitman 3 is the game I need right now.

For the most part, it’s still the same experience that developer IO Interactive delivered with Hitman and Hitman 2 in 2016 and 2018, respectively. But on top of the excellent new levels, it has a handful of smart new features. Most important, however, Hitman 3 strikes a balance between its guided authorial gameplay and its playful murder sandbox.

This is exactly what I wanted from Hitman 3. IO Interactive simply needed to entice me back into its world with the promise of new levels and all of the fun interactions therein. But the game goes beyond the minimum, thanks to outstanding additions like shortcuts and a sense of deep thoughtfulness in its design. Let’s start with the shortcuts because they are emblematic of that thoughtfulness.

Hitman 3 stages are now hiding a number of shortcuts you can unlock permanently for future runs. You usually do this by taking the difficult route into a secure location and then using something like a crowbar to unspool a ladder down to a lower level. You can now use this shortcut on any future attempts. This might not sound like a big deal, but it could encourage more players to engage with Hitman 3 as intended.

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The ideal way to play Hitman 3 is to play one stage over and over — as many as 20 times. The ostensible reason for this is to unlock challenges and feats or to play an escalation mission that puts a spin on the conditions and targets of the level. But those are just the incentives IO uses to ensure players get to the core of the Hitman experience, which is building an intimate understanding of the machinations of a level.

Shortcuts are an explicit invitation to players to imagine what their next playthrough might look like. So when you get done with your first run, you might decide to replay the same level because you already have an idea of what that looks like. And then Hitman does something funny: The more you play a Hitman stage, the more you want to keep playing it.

And this is the kind of relationship IO Interactive is trying to build between players and its game. While the shortcuts are an obvious example of these motivations, the direction is clear throughout the design. IO is always looking for ways to guide players toward a deeper relationship with its levels, because that’s how people build up the confidence required to explore the more creative and expressive side of Hitman.

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