Ah, Agent 47, how I’ve missed your deadly shenanigans!
This past weekend I was invited on behalf of CGMagazine to preview the Closed Technical Test for Hitman 3 Freelancer, a brand new, single-player roguelike game mode that will be free to all owners of the original Hitman 3 retail game to download on January 26th, 2023.
As someone who thoroughly enjoyed the story campaign and used to chase after the game’s limited-opportunity Elusive Targets and their unlockable items and costume rewards as if it were my part-time job, I was genuinely excited to see what IO Interactive has come up with to potentially rekindle player engagement in the game.
In essence, Hitman 3 Freelancer feels like a remix of the aforementioned Elusive Target mode that has been a fixture of the franchise since its soft reboot with the “World of Assassination Trilogy,” beginning with Hitman in 2016.
Continuing right up until the present, Elusive Targets are special, limited-time monthly or bi-weekly assassination targets that players get only one shot to take down in order to earn a rare item (such as an exclusive outfit for Agent 47’s wardrobe or a limited-edition version of a weapon or infiltration tool). Should the player be killed, fail to take down the Elusive Target and/or complete the related mandatory objectives, the mission ends with both the target and the reward disappearing forever.
It’s necessary to comprehend the above dynamic to understand how the new Hitman 3 Freelancer mode toys around with the concept. Unlike Elusive Targets, where players generally have only one target, one mission and, in most cases, know what their mark looks like thanks to intel from the pre-mission briefing, in Hitman 3 Freelancer, players are presented with the much larger task of taking out four global “Syndicate Leaders,” all whose identities are unknown.
To uncover them, players must first assassinate a number of associates working under said syndicates in preliminary missions across the world to force their leaders out of hiding one by one, ultimately initiating a “Showdown Mission.”
If the player fails to assassinate the target(s) or is wounded during a preliminary mission, the campaign won’t auto-fail, but the player will lose all weapons and items that Agent 47 currently has equipped as well as half of his or her earned Mercers, which are the dollar currency of the game. Worse yet, both the Syndicate Leader and targeted associates will know the player is coming for them and will be on high alert for the remainder of the campaign, making the act of getting close to them more difficult.
If the player fails to take out the Leader or is wounded or dies in a Showdown mission, however, the player not only loses all weapons, equipment and items that they have equipped plus half of their earned Mercers, but also the campaign will fail, meaning that the player will have to start again from scratch.
Win or lose, the only things that players are always guaranteed to keep are their XP, which unlocks Mastery Levels which in turn earn permanent upgrades towards Agent 47’s Safehouse (his new base of operations), as well as his Gear Capacity, which enables him to carry more equipment at higher Mastery levels. Weapons, items and equipment that 47 earns, purchases, or receives as rewards or brings back with him from successful missions are only safe when stored in the Safehouse; everything else is lost if a mission goes south.
So while failure in Hitman 3 Freelancer missions is not as “permanent,” the sunk time that players can potentially invest in a campaign only to have it fall apart at the end can make a loss feel far more devastating, especially considering that the further one progresses into the campaign, the number of preliminary missions, targets and game difficulty all increase.
Strangely enough, though, once I settled into Hitman 3 Freelancer over the course of a mission or two and learned to embrace the roguelike randomness of it all, I found the new mode far less intimidating and a lot more fun than I initially imagined it would be. Since most weapons and equipment in the game are acquired in the field via supply crates, undercover arms dealers and encounters with NPCs that Agent 47 either kills or incapacitates. There was no way of knowing what tools of the trade I might uncover in order to complete my mission.
“Once I settled into Hitman 3 Freelancer over the course of a mission or two and learned to embrace the roguelike randomness…”
Constantly having to make the best of the hand I was dealt, therefore, freed me from my old Hitman 3 Elusive Target habits of focusing strictly on dispatching my target a specific way with a specific weapon to satisfy a rigid mission objective and encouraged me to go with the flow instead, not to mention explore levels more thoroughly in order to find more supply crates and better my odds.
To get started, players first need to pick a Syndicate Contract Type from an initial selection of, you guessed it, randomized options. Each Syndicate Contract is thematically different; with the theme not only describing the nature of that Syndicate’s criminality but also the contract’s preferred playstyle regarding interactions with NPCs and desired assassination methods, such as “explosive” or “made-to-look-like-an-accident” types. These playstyles are presented as secondary objectives that offer bonus Mercer payouts for their successful completion. Players don’t necessarily have to interact with or kill their targets in these specified ways to succeed, but they can earn significantly more Mercers if they do.
Once the Syndicate Contract is selected, players can now create a loadout, or not, if they so choose. Initially, players start with nothing, but after each mission, they are rewarded one supply crate, from which again they can pick one of three random items and choose to take with them on the next mission or store it at the Safehouse for later use.
It benefits players to think outside the box when selecting an item from a supply crate, as an otherwise innocuous item may be the only way to achieve one or more of a given mission’s secondary objectives and earn Mercer bonuses, like using a banana peel to cause an NPC guard to slip, or using an emetic poison to cause a bodyguard to get sick (but not kill them).
As mentioned earlier, players will find other weapons, items and equipment in the field during a mission, and provided that they successfully complete it, they can bring back as much as their current Gear Capacity will allow. Any items with rarity attached can be stored at the Safehouse for use in subsequent missions.
While the gun, equipment and tool racks in 47’s safehouse will look relatively barren at first, it won’t be long before players populate them with items they’ve procured from enemies they’ve incapacitated, earned or purchased with their hard-earned Mercers. Players will also be rewarded with a rare, randomized weapon or item for each completed Showdown that can potentially tip the odds of future success in their favour.
Hitman 3 Freelancer doesn’t appear to provide players with the option to save their game, nor does it offer checkpoints or temporary saves like Hitman Elusive Target missions do. Everything that happens in a Freelancer mission is immediately and irreversibly auto-saved, and quitting the game from within a mission will automatically fail that mission or the entire campaign if it’s a Showdown mission.
On the surface, this would appear to suggest that only slow, stealthy and cautious gameplay is rewarded, but once players learn to read between the lines of their chosen Hitman 3 Freelancer mission and campaign objectives, they’ll discover that Freelancer rewards players for getting things done, plain and simple, and doesn’t necessarily care how messy they might be while doing it, as long as they don’t fail to kill the target or become incapacitated themselves.
Case in point, not hiding a body, being spotted committing a crime or getting caught on security camera engaging in suspicious activity will obviously alert guards and might cost you Mercers if being discreet is a secondary objective, but such actions won’t auto-fail the mission, so players shouldn’t be afraid to wing it. Just run, hide, find a change of clothes and wait for the heat to blow over!
Finally, in Showdown missions, players must work off of intel that was somehow gathered from the preliminary assignments, which consist of clues such as the Leader’s “looks,” “tells,” and behaviours. These clues are used to track down, identify and successfully assassinate the target from a shortlist of suspects. So, for example, in one Showdown mission in Berlin Germany’s Club Hölle, I had to weed out the leader from four potential targets that shared similar tells and habits; and occasionally would walk off to have a “business meeting” with one of the other suspects in different areas of the club.
In the end, I was able to identify the prime suspect by shadowing all four of them, one after another, from a safe distance until one of them gave herself away by exhibiting an unmistakable tell, the target’s compulsion to snack on candy bars. It took a good amount of observation before I was finally able to catch the tell, isolate the leader, eliminate her and safely exit the level, giving me the impression that future Freelancer missions will be quite challenging and even more complex.
I’m looking forward to slipping back into Agent 47’s shoes when the Hitman 3 Freelancer update comes out in January. However, I’m a little concerned that this free update is mainly preaching to the converted rather than offering much that will bring in new fans.
Long-time active and lapsed players will definitely appreciate what Hitman 3 Freelancer brings to the table. But with Freelancer being a single-player-only mode, it will be interesting to see if this update is able to move the needle on expanding the Hitman 3 community or will just be a curiosity that only veteran players that already know their way around Hitman’s over 20 labyrinthine levels can genuinely appreciate the magnitude of.