When I load Hitman 3’s new VR mode for the first time, I have a specific plan in mind: Sneak up behind a guard with my fiber wire drawn, choke them out, and smoothly stuff them into a dresser like I’ve done hundreds of times before on a flat screen. I find a nice secluded guard peacefully patrolling a hallway and wait for an opening. I retrieve my fiber wire, grip both hands together and separate them to extend the wire, skulk up behind him and… wait, where did my fiber wire go?
I look down and notice I’ve dropped it, and then look up to see the guard turning around to face me. I panic, and coldcock him in the face, knocking him out instantly. I am a master assassin.
Just about everything you do in Hitman 3 is harder in VR. Shooting, picking things up, walking in a straight line—I’ve spent hours in Agent 47’s shoes and still haven’t committed these basic tasks to muscle memory. Doors are inconsistent (sometimes I can walk straight into them to open and sometimes I have to press B) and throwing things is needlessly complicated. This is certainly the jankiest way to play one of the best stealth games of all time, but it’s also my favorite VR experience since Half-Life: Alyx.
For one, it really is all of the modern Hitman trilogy in VR. All 19 maps are fully playable with the same pool of tools, disguises, and mission stories as the regular game. If you’ve played a lot of Hitman, the virtual tourism alone makes VR mode worth the effort.
Walking around Sapienza in virtual reality totally altered my perception of the setting. Hitman’s maps look pretty big from behind 47’s shoulder, but the first-person scale is staggering. I’ve ascended Sapienza’s church bell tower countless times in pursuit of the perfect sniper kill on Silvio Caruso, but never have I reached the top and paused in a “holy crap” moment of awe until I had a headset on. VR has always been better at scale than a flat screen—it’s the platform’s one easy win in my book—so it’s a wonder few VR games actually take place in large spaces like Hitman does. The last time I had this much fun ogling at realistically tall buildings and meticulously detailed rooms was Alyx’s City 17.
To be clear, Hitman’s VR mode is several leagues below Valve’s tentpole VR game. This is clearly a VR mode happening inside a typically non-VR game—meaning you can’t pick up most objects and there are plenty of textures that were never meant to be seen so close up.
The game also seems to be running on low settings, which is fine and expected, but less fine is that all objects more than 30-or-so meters away are blurry and prone to popping in. This is less noticeable on maps with shorter sightlines, but it was very noticeable as I was trying to pull off my favorite kill on Miami: shooting Sierra Knox’s car. I snuck up to the scaffolding above the race track and readied my pistol to shoot the car as she drove by. I knew it would be a lot harder aiming with my actual hand, but it didn’t help that the race cars only rendered into my view a few seconds before they sped by and disappeared again. Still, landing the shot by “holding” the gun was way more gratifying than moving and clicking a mouse.
Unlike standard Hitman, I’ve had a lot of fun messing with guns. In normal play I use 47’s pistol like a human off switch that’s nearly impossible to miss with, but having to manually line up iron sights and manage my shaking hand introduces tension to the most ordinary Hitman moments. One missed shot and my target will turn around, which inevitably leads to me awkwardly sprinting up to their face for a pistol whip.
Hand-to-hand action is the one area that Hitman VR actually does pretty well. You can make a fist and knock out any unsuspecting target with a punch or whack them across the head with a wrench. This feels really good, and I like that I have to land an accurate head bonk to KO in a single strike. I learned this by missing the first punch a lot and resorting to a 4-hit combo that would still knock the person out, but made more noise than intended and classified them as an “unconscious witness,” something you really don’t want to have if you’re trying for the Silent Assassin rank.
HOW I PLAYED
I did all my playing on a Quest 2 headset through the Oculus Link wireless mode. I had a weird thing where my Hitman profile wouldn’t load if I tried to launch the game from the Oculus app, so if you have the game through the Epic Games Store like me, make sure you launch it from there. Once a headset kicks on you see a prompt to switch to VR mode, and the rest is (relatively) smooth sailing.
Hitman’s unique social stealth mechanics are also a great fit for VR. A faster, more acrobatic stealth game like Dishonored would probably be disastrous in a headset, but Hitman has the advantage of already being a game about slowly walking from place to place, holding down buttons to watch 47 do canned animations. Half of the game is pretending to be a normal guy in a place you don’t belong, a feeling that I can intimately relate to when I’m waving controllers around in an empty room with a goofy box strapped to my head.
Living in 47’s head gave me a new appreciation for how hard his job is. Without a third-person camera keeping me hidden while I observe guard patrols from around a corner, I have to expose my bald head with an actual lean and retreat when I make awkward eye contact with the guy I’m fixing to punch.
It’s important that Hitman VR mostly works in these moments. I have a high tolerance for VR jank—which is sort of required to enjoy some of the coolest VR things out there—so I’m hardly bothered by imperfect graphics, stubborn doors, and wonky controls. I suspect your personal tolerance will be the biggest factor in enjoying Hitman VR or closing it forever the first time you try to pick up a wrench with your left hand and remember you’re only allowed to do that with your right (a major VR sin).
I’d be madder at what Hitman VR gets wrong if this were some hyped-up $40 side game dedicated to VR support, but this ain’t Fallout 4 VR. This is a new mode included in a free update to a trilogy of games that I’ve already put well over 150 hours into. It’s not only a novel way to explore places I’ve only seen from a distance, but a legitimately cool remix of Hitman’s traditional gameplay.
I hope IOI finds a way to increase the level of detail and clean up its most annoying quirks, because Hitman and VR are an excellent mix.