Performance anxiety on Cloud 9.
While the third entry in the rebooted Hitman games isn’t the first in the franchise to grace a Nintendo platform (that honor goes to 2002’s Hitman 2: Silent Assassin on GameCube), it does continue the latest trend of major PlayStation 4 and Xbox One releases coming to Switch through the use of cloud servers. Japan saw Resident Evil 7 and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey release on Switch through this service, and last fall saw Remedy Entertainment’s Control mark the first such cloud-enabled title in the West. While I’m all for expanding the Switch’s library in new and unique ways, the frustration and sacrifices that are made to play Hitman 3 on Switch are, quite simply, doing a disservice to what may be the greatest stealth game ever made.
Hitman 3 represents the final entry in the World of Assassination trilogy, which brought protagonist Agent 47 to a wide variety of real-world destinations such as Paris, Mumbai, and Berlin. Here, six new locations function as veritable playgrounds in which to experiment and role-play to your heart’s content. Although there are summaries to help new players catch up with the overall story, I did feel somewhat like a fish out of water trying to understand the plot leading up to the third game. That said, the story cutscenes are provocative, concise, and engaging, and they represent the visual peak of what the Switch version displays. The overarching narrative and Agent 47’s motivation for eliminating every target feel very much secondary to the level design and gameplay, but that’s a strength rather than a weakness.
Every location generally has one or two primary targets that must be strangled, exploded, drowned, stabbed, or crushed (insert a variety of other verbs here). The sheer freedom you have to complete your overall objective is both liberating and invigorating. You can spend hours scouting out the buildings, rooms, and outdoor spaces to find hidden weapons and secrets, in addition to separate story missions that allow for fun and creative ways to infiltrate your target’s office or workspace, for example. After completing the second mission, “Death in the Family,” I was encouraged to return and take on the three separate story missions that involve disguising Agent 47 as a private investigator, a photographer, and an undertaker. The first of these actually plays out as a murder mystery, in which you interview members of the target’s family to uncover the grisly details of an apparent suicide that took place within the location’s old style mansion.
Dozens of challenges encourage multiple playthroughs of every location. It still boggles my mind how many different routes you can choose to fulfill your mission objective, and ultimately stealthily putting down your targets and extricating yourself from the building without being caught or killed seem to only scratch the surface of the Hitman experience. Did you set off the fireworks display to distract guests at a party? Did you discover the recipe for your target’s favorite drink, make it, and then disguise yourself as a bartender to serve it to them? Did you shoot down five drones with a sniper rifle? The scores of challenges fall under categories such as Feats and Assassinations, and they add incredible depth and replay value for those who want to extract every ounce of satisfaction from the game.
By almost any measure, Hitman 3 is nothing short of a masterpiece. However, the Cloud Edition on Switch is anything but, and the constant performance issues and limitations make it basically impossible to recommend, which isn’t even to mention the visual downgrades. First, a wired connection is essential at all times. Even when playing in handheld a few feet away from my router, there would be more frequent stuttering and regular prompts to switch to offline mode. Now of course, your mileage may vary when it comes to connection issues, but even when my Switch’s internet test is showing a download of 137.6 Megabits per second and an upload of 36.1 Megabits per second, I was still seeing major problems. To be fair, there were stretches of gameplay, 20-30 minutes perhaps, where everything would be running smoothly. Just as I would get comfortable, however, I would lose connection to the server, or simply be booted right back to the starting screen.
Overstating how problematic it is to play Hitman 3 on Switch would be difficult. You effectively eliminate the ability to play portably, and sleep mode doesn’t function properly since it interrupts your connection to the server. Even leaving the game idle for more than a few minutes disconnects you from the game. The Cloud Version feels like those laughably bad classic art restorations, like the infamous one of “Ecce Homo.” Playing in offline mode, which happens when you lose connection to the Hitman server, is pointless since you don’t unlock any challenges or earn any experience points. Experience gained is tallied up at the end of the level to open up new starting points and opportunities for that particular mission, so missing out on it is a major problem. Even though exiting a mission or turning the game off can fix stuttering and slowdown, having to do so with such regularity kills the joy of the proceedings. Knowing that at any moment your progress can be lost or the rest of your mission rendered moot makes playing the game more anxiety-inducing than anything Agent 47 is doing.
Hitman 3 - Cloud Version has converted me from a casual observer to an enthusiastic fan, and I will absolutely be making my way through as much Hitman content as I can, just not on Nintendo’s platform. Switch owners can purchase the content of the first two games as DLC through the eShop, but they probably shouldn’t. They simply shouldn’t spend any money on this inferior and maddening version of what will likely be a 2021 game of the year candidate. I implore anyone with a shred of interest in this game to pick it up on another console or on PC. I myself originally bounced off the tutorial sections of the first Hitman when it was free to PlayStation Plus members, but I’ve seen the error of my ways. Even though there may be a time when more people have better online access and cloud gaming becomes viable for Switch owners, such is not the case today. It doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes, a Poirot, or a Phoenix Wright to see through the disgraceful disguise that is Hitman 3 - Cloud Version. Seek out the genuine Agent 47 article elsewhere.