Hitman 3 for PSVR hands-on: A great, but slightly janky, change in perspective
It's been a long time since I've played a Hitman game. I've only ever played the original, which was released nearly 21 years ago, but have fond memories of my time with the game. So when it was announced that Hitman 3 would have a VR mode where you could not only play through the entire Hitman 3 campaign, but also the remastered Hitman and Hitman 2, I was immediately interested. Then I found out it was exclusive to PSVR and, not only that, but it only works with the PS4 version of Hitman 3 — which is at least included for free with every PS5 copy — and I suddenly wasn't sure about how well this would turn out.
As was said in our Hitman 3 review, the game tends to feel like more of a DLC pack than a brand new entry into a 20-year-old series. Because of that, the literal change of perspective from a third-person game on a flat TV to a first-person game in VR makes all the difference in the world. The base mechanics don't change completely radically, as the game still requires players to use a DualShock 4 controller. This ends up simultaneously being a strength and a shortcoming for this version of Hitman 3.
Hitman 3 for PSVR Gameplay and controls
So how does the gameplay translate into VR? To sum it up: very well, but not without its significant caveats. First and foremost are the limitations introduced by the PSVR, particularly the choice of controls. The PSVR is mainly designed to track your position right in front of the camera and to rotate 180 degrees without much tracking loss. Hitman 3 for PSVR tends to dial that rotation down, favoring a stationary position.
Because of this, you can easily switch between seated and standing positions without much difference in gameplay. However, I found that I had to adjust the height of the PSVR camera in order to keep the annoying bounding box from appearing at all times around my field of view. If your camera is too low, a grid will appear letting you know. If you rotate too much, this grid pops up, and if you lean too much it also pops up. Without any adjustment for this, I found myself not only getting annoyed at its presence but also at the fact that it constantly broke the illusion of immersion.
Hitman 3 for PSVR does not support the PS Move controllers, meaning a DualShock 4 controller is required at all times for play. It definitely feels odd at first, but I found myself adjusting to it rather quickly. After the first couple of tutorial missions, the DualShock 4's position tracking felt decently natural. Your in-game hands physically move in-line with the position of the PSVR controller and can be used to interact with the game world in many ways. The controller is, quite literally, an extension of your arm and how you interact with the world.
Interacting with objects by pressing all the usual buttons feels like standard video game fare, but the ability to physically push open doors, swing melee weapons, and aim down the sights of a gun add an extra dimension and sense of realism to the gameplay that isn't there in the standard version. Even interacting with inventory and usable items feel great, as you'll have a "pouch" sphere just below your field of vision at all times that you can drop items into. Need to quickly put away a crowbar or gun to avoid suspicious eyes? Just bring the controller close to your chest and press R1 and it's back in your inventory.
Movement is handled by the left joystick, just as it is on the standard version of Hitman 3, and could cause discomfort for some folks. I'd recommend staying seated while playing if you fall under this category. Crouching is toggled by clicking in the right stick — a movement that feels funny when you realize your virtual feet and the virtual floor don't line up with the real ones — and is ultimately the only way for crouching in a PSVR game to work because of the limited camera tracking range.
While most of these VR-centric mechanics felt solid, one completely eluded me for the hours: the fiber wire. What's probably considered Agent 47's signature weapon felt utterly useless to me in VR — as you can see in the video above — and I truly couldn't tell you how I even made it out of the tutorial level that required the player to use it. It also made me realize just how dumb the AI in this game can be at times.
The regular choking mechanic works just fine; sneak up behind an enemy, place your hands near the back of their neck, wait for the fingers to curl into a grab animation, then hold the trigger to do the deed. I've tried the fiber wire on different NPCs, tried using it several ways, but no dice.
Last, but certainly not least, is the bizarre choice to take out autosave from the VR version of Hitman 3 entirely. If you're a gamer who relies on autosave to back your steps up, you're going to have to relearn how you play. You can manually save at any time, and there are a generous number of slots so that you can backtrack and choose an entirely different path, but nothing automated at this time.
Hitman 3 for PSVR Visuals and sound
Visually, Hitman 3 on PSVR doesn't hold a candle to other versions of Hitman 3, especially the PS5 version. The game doesn't look bad by any means, but it does look decidedly last-gen. The PSVR version is, ultimately, held back by the PS4's hardware limitations. Even though I ran the game on a PS5, which can enable higher resolution and framerate than the same title running on PS4, Sony has disallowed developers from making enhancements that specifically target the PS5's significantly more advanced hardware.
Despite these restrictions, Hitman 3 is a game that's incredibly crisp looking — running at the highest resolution and framerate the ancient PSVR hardware can muster — but suffers from slow loading, especially of assets. This presents itself most obviously when moving through crowds of people where dozens of NPCs will suddenly pop into view only when you get maybe 100 feet away from them. This was especially jarring during the first full mission at the Burj Khalifa building in Dubai. You walk into the grand opening ceremony where hundreds of people are supposed to be standing and listening to a speech. What you find is a nearly empty room until you get close when, all of a sudden, dozens of NPCs start to appear out of thin air. While these visual flaws aren't game-breaking, they are certainly experience-killing in a way that only the limited controls of the game can rival.
That being said, there's nothing quite like personally stepping foot into a game world regardless of the visual fidelity. Tricking your brain into thinking it's physically in the virtual space is one of the best parts of VR and, as a result, the heightened sense of awareness that comes with utilizing your normal human senses turns the classic stealth-action formula into something completely new.
Instead of relying on visual cues like highlighting NPCs with a specific color or slapping a floating marker over their head, you'll likely find yourself peering around a corner or peeking through a door before making a grand entrance. You'll be able to hear NPCs talking in the distance more realistically and can better pinpoint their relative position. This, ultimately, makes you feel more like you've actually become Agent 47 rather than just playing as his avatar on a screen.
Unfortunately, I wasn't particularly crazy about how the game handles cutscenes and zoom scopes. While using your camera tool or any gun in the game with a scope, the game "zooms out" into a 2D theater-like view that's usually used for movies and other non-VR content when playing on PSVR. The result is a jarring transition that always feels weird, no matter how long you play, and I'd much rather have had a proper working scope. Cutscenes are, similarly, rendered in this 2D theater view and feel significantly less immersive than I'd like.
Hitman 3 for PSVR Is it worth it?
If you're a fan of the series and already have a PS4 or PS5 with a PSVR, there's literally no reason not to try this rather fantastic version of the game. It's included for free with either purchase and, better yet, IO Interactive created a system where save files can be pulled from one version of the game to another with no hassle. That means you can give the PSVR version a try without having to restart your save or progress and move between versions on a whim. That's something that we should absolutely applaud.
Personally, I hope this is just the beginning of VR entries in the Hitman series. Hitman's iconic stealth gameplay translates well into VR, especially given the heightened awareness you'll have thanks to your natural senses. It can even be a phenomenal way to play through the game to get those additional objectives and find new ways of completing missions. I just hope it's not on PSVR next time, as the limitations of this aging platform are certainly showing.
Becoming the hitman
This time, you're actually Agent 47
Hitman 3 for PSVR gives players the freedom of the entire Hitman 3 game with unique gameplay mechanics only possible in VR.
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