There are plenty of ways to dispense death in Hitman 3. Will you use a sniper rifle to pick someone off from afar, or perhaps poison their expensive glass of wine? Each of the game’s five new maps provide distinctive methods of execution. Many of which are simultaneously devious and charming. There’s a narrative through line tying these maps together, but you’ll often find yourself more invested in the worldbuilding of each individual level. Most of them are simple riffs on “Person X is a rich scumbag, so don’t feel bad about stabbing them,” but one mission in particular elevates this concept to something you’d find on a murder-mystery bestseller list.
This is the second level of Hitman 3. It’s also easily one of the best in the entire series. Drawing inspiration from Agatha Christie mysteries, Dartmoor tasks Agent 47 with exploring an old, English estate in order to kill the family matriarch, Alexa Carlisle. Yet things are not as they appear when you arrive. The player learns that Alexa’s husband, Zachary, has allegedly killed himself. With only her family members left as suspects, a local detective is dispatched to solve the case. Like an actor stumbling onto a film set (Knives Out jumps to mind), Agent 47 can assume the role of the investigator and unravel the truth himself. While this is ultimately a means to reach Alexa, the mystery itself is an elaborate, lengthy quest that has you poring over every inch of the mansion.
It’s remarkable how well-constructed this Mission Story, as IO Interactive calls it, appears in practice. You need to visit each room, uncover clues, read notes you find, and follow-up on leads. Most story-driven assassinations take around 10 minutes to finish, if you know what you’re doing. This one easily takes at a little under an hour on first playthrough. There’s something so engaging about being both murderer and detective — allowing Agent 47’s unique skills to add some pulpy flair to the dialogue. How did he know what kind of poison a certain flower makes? Probably because he’s used it before. It’s a terrific exploration of his character that beautifully highlights just how terrifyingly intelligent he is, while injecting ironic humor like a deadly syringe.
Major spoilers for the second level of Hitman 3 follow, towards the end of this article.
The family members are equally entertaining. Each is just suspicious enough that you could easily see them killing Zachary without one clearly standing out. Do you believe the wayward son, too choked up by fear about impressing his mother? Or is it the brat teenager just trying to kill time in this technologically starved countryside? There’s also a good case to be made for the butler. His apparent indifference to the situation starkly contrasts the rest of the grieving family. Just like any good detective, you need to gather their statements and compare them to the hard evidence you collect from the house.
But it’s more than just a good dime novel. This quest allows you to actively determine the outcome of the story. Abut halfway through your exploration, Agent 47 will be informed that he has enough evidence to frame a specific family member. This can speed things up if you want to just get to the (second) murder, but if you dig deeper you can uncover who’s really behind the killing. Diving even deeper, you’ll discover the person who killed Zachary might also have it out for someone else.
Normally this type of information would simply be a nice bit of background world-building. In Hitman 3, it’s an opportunity. Instead of simply discovering the culprit is and reporting it up the chain, you can leave the whole situation alone. This eventually allows your target to, after a very long wait, drink a poisoned glass of wine and die without you ever getting your hands dirty. It’s a surprising, macabre twist that caught me off-guard the first time I played through this mission. Yet, as I grew to understand the different narrative threads you can weave 47 between, I came to appreciate the avenues for player agency.
Hitman 3 has always been a franchise about killing targets in elaborate, often bombastic methods. While we have had a few instances of other NPCs killing your target (such as the famous “Curtains Down” mission from Hitman: Blood Money), it was never without you directly involving yourself. This is different. You can simply let events unfold as they would have without you. Sure, it’s not by your hands, but this frees players up to soak in the knockoff Downton Abbey and invest themselves in the residents’ miserable little lives.
Inversely, this also presents a unique situation for players who are less adept at Hitman gameplay to overcome. You’re now on the clock — forced to understand the world around you and look for an efficient method of killing Alexa. It’s a nice way to test our would-be assassin skills, acting as a “training wheels off” type of level. As you replay missions you’ll undoubtedly come to master their multiple floors, secret passageways, and uncomfortable amounts of security. However, that’s half the fun of Hitman. It’s a puzzle that constantly rearranges itself, providing new challenges to the Agent 47 faithful.
Dartmoor is a brilliant showcase of how Hitman 3’s level design, storytelling, and gameplay can cohesively meld into the kind of experience you can’t get anywhere else. Even for someone like myself, having played these games to death, this map continued to surprise and delight as each layer peeled away. It’s a masterclass in what makes this franchise so damn good.