At last! A ranking of all 21 Hitman levels from the World of Assassination trilogy. Did you ask for it? No. Did the editors ask for it? Also, no. But what’s more Hitman than waiting for a loud distraction – the recent redesign of RPS – and using the confusion to slip you something unexpected. Of course, I hope this list doesn’t prove to be an emetic. That’s what Graham likes to call a website ‘no no’.
That I enjoy ranking (and endlessly re-ranking) Hitman levels is due to the decision to import and update previous locations in each iteration of the game. It isn’t a series that suffers from quality gulfs between installments. Yes, there are themes – Hitman 2 is big, bright and barmy compared to Hitman 3’s more melancholy mooching – but generally the 21 main levels (including two DLC stages) feel of a piece.
My criteria for quality? I enjoy the escapism of Hitman’s world travel, so some of the list doubles as dream holiday destinations. But I’m mostly drawn to levels that make specific use of qualities inherent to that place (so, not just dropping another chandelier on someone), that bring together individual targets into grand acts of chaos, and that let David Bateson deliver lots of arch line readings. Mendoza ranks highly purely for letting him describe wine as only a serial killer would. Oh, and levels that don’t over-egg the pudding with non-murder objectives. You know the ones.
And if you disagree with the list? Well good luck finding me to air your grievances. *vanishes into nearby crowd*
21. Carpathian Mountains (Hitman 3) Hitman 3 ends with some bangs followed by a whimper as Agent 47 shoots his way down a train. It’s a corridor on wheels with none of the flexibility of other levels: you either go in loud or spend a tedious amount of time hopping out windows and shuffling along the roof. Doesn’t do anything more interesting with the concept than Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow did in 2004. To end this celebration of sandbox ingenuity with a linear trudge feels like the last gasp of Hitman Absolution. Although stealing cans of fizzy pop to chuck at guards is quite cathartic considering how each costs eight billion quid on British trains. 20. Colorado (Hitman 1) The promise of four targets in a small training camp should make for a level stuffed with malice. But there’s little interaction between your prey and too much of the compound is given to a few standout set pieces – a car heist simulation with a malfunctioning battering ram comes to mind. It just feels like a big field. On the plus side, Colorado’s scripted exit sequence was made optional in Hitman 2, redeeming it a bit. And I do love how the level is repurposed for the Patient Zero DLC, where you’re plonked on a radio tower, given vague target descriptions and it becomes a bonus Sniper Assassin stage. 19. Santa Fortuna (Hitman 2) Despite containing the hilarious trope of ‘Agent 47 proves to be a surprise music virtuoso’ (he plays a conga drum to trigger the unveiling of a very unsteady statue) this is a location where opportunities feel too spread out and self-contained. It’s basically three stages stitched together: a building site, a drug farm and a luxury mansion. Each hosts big, playful murders – giving someone a concrete bath during a construction exorcism, feeding a drug kingpin to his pet hippo, mincing up a chap with a, er, submarine – but it lacks the killer overarching narrative that glues the best levels together. 18. Hawke’s Bay (Hitman 2) With its lone target and compact size this lonely beach house hit was the stage that got me into Hitman leaderboards. Get in, get out, feel good. Well, until Tom Francis performs some sickening coin play and locks that number one spot down. I don’t think this is a baked-in feature for every copy, so I won’t hold it against it. But it’s an odd tutorial for Hitman 2, given the vast size of the levels that follow. It also has one of the series’ strictest target routines – Alma returns home, watches TV and goes to bed – meaning lots of waiting in a bathroom cupboard as she settles in for the night. Makes ticking off the later challenges a bit of a drag. 17. Bangkok (Hitman 1) I’ve cooled on Bangkok. It’s an enticing simulation of a hotel and there’s a definite thrill to checking in and claiming your room as a murderous base of operations. Ringing room service only to steal their clothes is jolly. But one target, Ken Morgan, is underserved by colourful deaths (in his book he’s well-served by this, but you get the point) and the bodyguards make the hotel a slog outside of mission stories. It’s made up for by a top setpiece where you pose as a legendary drummer and dazzle with a solo. With his combo of rhythm and psychopathy, I wonder if Agent 47 is actually the kid from Whiplash all grown up. 16. Chongqing (Hitman 3) A flashy showcase for puddle reflections and rain-on-bald-head tech, but the urban sprawl feels wasteful given what’s there. One target hides in their lab at the top of a tenement block, the other in the lab in the basement of a high tech server farm. Between them: several buildings filled with too few novel asides. Getting the two targets to meet with some cunning sniping is a level highlight, but their respective hideouts lack memorable signature kills, and the underground lair is bogged down with a keycard system that only exists to give the camera gadget something to do. It’s as deep as those majestic puddles. 15. Marrakesh (Hitman 1) I went to Morocco once and a man tried to sell me an ashtray with my face printed on it. The notion of someone stubbing out fags on my eyes didn’t sit well with me. Which is also how I feel about Marrakesh. The clash of lively bazaar with the pencil pushing of the Swedish consulate is neat, but the physical divide is too keenly felt and it never comes together as a complete space. It’s a location I enjoyed more in escalation contracts, which keep you to one segment or the other, letting you appreciate the bazaar as a self-contained level. And sadly, for all its nooks, I’ve yet to find an ashtray with my face on it to brain guards with. 14. ICA Training Facility (Hitman 1-3) The game’s two tutorial contracts are not the most complex levels – though a better test run for what’s to come than Hawke’s Bay – but they are a triumph of concept. Set during Agent 47’s training, they offer recreations of two previous hits, but built out of plywood and populated with actors. The time shift is captured with some fun writing (one NPC can’t get enough of this new fangled ‘phone texting’) and a slight softness in Bateson’s central performance, capturing 47 before he was hardened by eight games of solid murdering. You also get to catapult a dweeb with a faulty ejector seat, which gets a hearty thumbs up. 13. Dubai (Hitman 3) Big Mission Impossible energy in Hitman 3’s opener, as you skydive onto Dubai’s latest skyscraper and hack servers to draw two targets to a secluded room. I really dig the upstairs/downstairs visual dynamic – the ludicrous opulence of the public space versus the stark efficiency of the corridors that make it function – and there’s a fantastic opportunity to turn the building’s evacuation protocol against both targets. And the fact you’re hundreds of feet in the air means you’re only ever one balcony away from hiding a body. Assuming no one on the ground floor spots the splats. 12. Whittleton Creek (Hitman 2) Amid the din of Hitman 2’s sprawling stages, this tribute act to Blood Money’s standout suburbs is a pocket of calm. But can you simulate mundanity too accurately? The block is beautifully realised, with multiple houses that reveal the quirks of each family living there. There’s even a hint of Blue Velvet in the weirdness lurking beneath the white picket fences. But the laid back energy seeps into enemies who cluster in too few places and are easily thwarted. Also suffers from an espionage objective that pads every playthrough with tedious chores. Fun garden rake-on-face action, mind. Very Sideshow Bob. 11. New York (Hitman 2 DLC) Bank robbing isn’t in Agent 47’s remit, but what could have been a repetitive story objective is saved by splitting the prize across a group of three employees. Yes, you can orchestrate a proper heist, but it’s more fun knocking out executives while hunting the villainous bank CEO. The best Hitman levels tap into the specificity of their location, and this is certainly a cathartic release after years wasted in NatWest queues. Knocking out an account manager, using your predatory mindset to get a job as a trader, crashing the stock market… all that’s missing here is stabbing someone with one of those tiny pens. 10. Berlin (Hitman 3) The most conceptually out there destination in the trilogy, Berlin gives you ten anonymous targets to hunt in a pounding nightclub. It’s a burst of aggressive, predatory stealth, more Bourne than Bond. Some criticise the absence of mission stories, but several of the signature assassinations hit satisfying narrative notes – like electrocuting victims with a DJ’s pyrotechnics. But it’s as a score challenge Berlin most impresses, as you not only try to pick five optimal targets from the ten, but take into account the specific gadgets each drops to potentially make the next kill that bit easier. Just don’t go in the bathrooms. Horror show. 9. Dartmoor (Hitman 3) Dartmoor is the flipside of Berlin: lacking in wild sandbox opportunities, but home to the series’ greatest scripted mission. A man is dead before you even get there, giving you the chance to earn an audience with your actual target by solving the crime. What follows is a lethal cocktail of hidden passages, obnoxious suspects and the ability to say that yes, the butler did it (whether or not he did). Outside of this killer mission story the level has fewer big assassinations to uncover, but as a pure stealth space – it’s a rare level where you aren’t welcome anywhere – it makes the suit only run and escalation contract a treat. 8. Mumbai (Hitman 2) Like Berlin, Mumbai revolves around a target unknown to you. Annoyingly, unlike Berlin, you have to rediscover him every time, which is a slightly narrow task that blunts the map’s otherwise killer edge. It’s a vast, exciting world to explore, with two other (known) targets hiding in a film set/construction site and a trainyard that could be standalone stages in their own right. But it’s the interplay that I love here. There are several ways to orchestrate meetings for double kills, and one of the trilogy’s best side stories, where you trick a rival assassin into doing your dirty work for you. 7. Isle of Sgail (Hitman 2) When I started the list Sgail was in the teens, but after a few hours of dropping gargoyles on people and popping out of coffins I better appreciate this for the wild ride it is. It’s basically an audition tape for the Bond game IO is now making: a luxurious party held by society’s elite, with the fatal error of including masks in the dress code. It’s got the lot: deadly toasts, treasure hunts, jewel heists. Big, silly fun. And sneaking into the upper echelons of the Ark Society brilliantly captures the danger of entering the lion’s den with a noticeable hike in difficulty that turns mission stories into juicy payoffs for all your hard work. 6. Haven Island (Hitman 2 DLC) I think of Haven Island as a more successful Santa Fortuna: three targets on an island packed with distinctive killspots (death by backrub! Jacuzzi drowning!), but with routines that cross paths in fun ways. Sniffing out the storylines to bring conspirators together gives you plenty to discover. Throw in the huge sniping sight lines of this island cluster, the elitist thrill of getting your private cabin (complete with obnoxious swimwear) and the tremendous sci-fi reveal hiding out of sight, and this playable holiday brochure is an ideal getaway. A shame that a level this good is hidden away as a DLC add-on. 5. Sapienza (Hitman 1) The definitive Hitman trilogy level: an absurd commitment to detail that brings an entire Italian town to life. From multiple flavours in the ice cream shop to beautifully rendered chorizo, there’s not a lazy pixel here. A stunning backdrop for creative kills with heaps of escalation contracts and a DLC reskin that make even better use of its quieter corners. The only dud note is needing to destroy a virus in every runthrough, turning one of IO’s greatest sandboxes into a repetitive chore in its final minutes. Hitman 3 solved this problem by making narrative objectives optional on a replay – any chance of patching that into Hitman 1? 4. Paris (Hitman 1) Ah, Paree, the city of shoves. Done some great pushing here: punted a man into a river, prodded a lady off a balcony, whammed a lady off a balcony and onto a man. Yep, good stuff. I sometimes wonder if the episodic nature of Hitman 1 induced Stockholm syndrome towards this, its first level. I played the thing to death. But even after two fresh games, I contend Paris is a perfect calling card. The visual clash of ornate grounds with obnoxious fashion show; stories that pull you to every corner of the stage; Agent 47’s preposterous catwalk strut as he poses as an iconic fashion baldy… you even get to murder Father Christmas. Truly, it has it all. 3. Mendoza (Hitman 3) You might call it recency bias. I call it the level with the button prompt ‘Ask about grape crusher’. Never before had I honked with laughter at the dramatic foreshadowing of a button cue. The Mendoza winery is not the most complex or tricky of levels, but it’s a pretty comprehensive list of things that can go wrong around grapes. The inclusion of an AI ally to help set up key deaths, and a tremendously Bond-y trip into a villain’s lair, are rare scenes where more scripted thrills really pay off. And exiting via the dance floor is such a swooningly romantic notion. Should have been the end of the trilogy. 2. Miami (Hitman 2) It’s true that some of Miami’s highlights take yonks to engineer, what with a real-time race having to finish to draw one target within reach. But building a level around a racetrack is an inspired touch, as you first try to assassinate a fast moving driver or wait to turn her victory celebration into a waking nightmare. Around this unfolds some horrible high tech mishaps in the roadside R&D centre (good to kill time while the race wraps up). But it’s the ability to use one target as a projectile against another – a series best murder – that sticks with me. The snap of Hitman’s clockwork trap has rarely sounded sweeter. 1. Hokkaido (Hitman 1) What a dastardly location this is: an elite spa atop a Japanese mountain, one target trying to get some R&R, the other on an operating table about to undergo a heart transplant. At first the latter feels restrictive. Too many eyes in the room. But this is a level you peel like an onion, its doors tied to chips embedded in uniforms that see new disguises punching through to deeper layers of the stage. Get the run of the place and there’s so many top ideas packed into a smallish space. Agent 47’s yoga routine, the sauna and fugu mishaps, and my personal favourite: leaving the level with one target technically alive, safe in the knowledge that you’ve doomed their operation to failure. A beautiful location, a neat mechanical twist and a huge laugh count per square meter – this is everything I want from a Hitman level.