Agent 47 may be the playable avatar and star of the Hitman series box art, but I’d say he’s not the main draw. This distinction must go to the meticulously designed levels that IO Interactive has offered for years. These are sandboxes in the best sense of the word, providing interesting, beautiful, and varied backgrounds for players to practice their sinister craft. Each level is purposefully designed for replayability, rewarding players who fully explore each setting with not only unlocks, but a greater take on the myriad of little stories that populate each location. One of the most notable locations for Hitman 3 is its mission to Berlin, which separates Agent 47 from the resources it has relied on until this point in the trilogy. It’s a baffling change of pace, and there are some interesting stories behind its development.
We spoke to several members of the development team during our Hitman Cover Story 3, and we were able to make our way through the game’s first three missions. We’ve written at length about the levels of Dubai and Dartmoor, but a lot of things about Berlin were off limits for our coverage before launch. Now that the game is out, we’re ready to share some of the behind-the-scenes glimpses of the mission.
First a quick spoiler warning: If you are planning on playing Hitman 3, I recommend that you come back to it after playing this particular mission. There are some surprising things about it, and much of its impact could be lost if you read too much ahead of time. I went there without any knowledge of what was to come, and I think the experience was stronger for it. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I wanted to talk about this as soon as possible.
By the time you start the game’s third mission, Apex Predator, you’ve probably already had a feeling that IO Interactive is stepping out of its comfort zone with these levels. The first mission features a lot of verticality and a pair of targets that can be brought together for a memorable double kill. The second mission, Dartmoor, allows players to try their hand at being a detective instead of their usual role of independent executioner. The Optional Murder Mystery is a complete change of pace, with optional interrogations and investigations that can take place in the open.
At IO Interactive, every assignment begins with the team defining a few key thematic words and phrases. For Dubai, Game Director Mattias Engstrom gave level designers and artists a few short terms including “on top of the world”, “open and airy” and “an inviting start”. The thematic direction of Dartmoor included the phrase “a house full of secrets” and the words “disturbing” and “vulnerable”. As the third mission arrives, players are dropped off in a location where the words “loneliness” and “isolation” have been used as creative springboards. Once you’ve played the meaning is clear.
Halfway through Hitman 3’s story arc, Agent 47 finds himself alone. His former colleagues are dead or are working against him. What was supposed to be a meeting turned into a massacre. There is no friend on the other side of an earphone. Players don’t even know who their targets are when they emerge from a wooded area to find a sprawling club built into a disused power station. “It was always meant to be a cold and a little surreal opening to what’s going on,” Engstrom says. “You really have nothing and no one here, and 47 is defining its own mission for the first time.”
Even though Agent 47 has no tactical support, he is far from alone. As you walk into the establishment, you begin to appreciate the number of people who have gotten carried away. “This is our venue,” says Engstrom. “Like, Paris has a fashion show, it’s the rave event.” Music can be heard as it approaches, the bass echoing through the concrete. When you step down to the actual club it’s an almost overwhelming feeling. The music is loud and accompanied by a syncopated light show.
“We put a lot of effort into making it an authentic rave in Berlin, and a lot of effort in the music, and we put a lot of effort into making this crowd,” Engstrom says. Players have to observe the NPCs to determine who the targets are, which can be tricky given the overall density. Of course, Agent 47 can also use this to his advantage, slipping into the middle of the crowd to hide if a guard notices the suspicious bald guy.
Executive producer Forest Swartout Large has said that seeing the full version of the rave content for the first time is a highlight of his career. “I feel like it’s so, this experience lives up to this revelation. And then you walk inside and you’re like, ‘Oh my god! The mind is blown away! She adds that she felt like seeing it all working together was something special. “I cried when I saw the rave, and when I had the ‘I’m here’ moment. It was totally moving. It hit me like a ton of bricks.
In a first for the series, Hitman 3 composer Niels Bye Nielsen also wrote all of the other music for the game instead of incorporating tracks from other sources. One of the details easy to miss about the rave is the reaction of NPCs to its work. As the music rises and explodes, the crowd will adjust their movements to, finally, simulate the dance. Their moves are pretty convincing, although Swartout Large remembers it wasn’t always quite like that. “We have this very great Viking / Norwegian animator named Morten [Helgeland], and he made the first blocking animation mocap – and it was hilarious.
This placeholder animation – which, to be clear, was never meant to be included in the game – made the dance floor look like it was populated by “fucking dads,” Engstrom says with a laugh, so that he mimics some decidedly. uncool maneuvers.
Dancing Dads notwithstanding, the rave streak looks impressive on traditional screens, but the team says it shines even more on PlayStation VR. “Without a doubt, this rave level is something where we grab people and say, ‘Can you please come over and take it down to the dance floor?’” Says senior game designer Eksil Mohl. “Because you can [make a fist], everyone just stood there [mimes pumping a fist to the music]. And they say, “This is crazy. This is insane. ‘”
Chief game designer Sidsel Hermansen adds that being able to experience the club in virtual reality is a good reminder of how things were before the Covid-19 pandemic. “I haven’t been to a rave in a long time, I haven’t been to a party, I haven’t been to a concert, and I often do this often,” she says. “It’s actually kind of a reminder. It was a great thing to be able to go.