Alongside today’s release of Hitman 3 is a welcome bonus – a mode that allows you to play through the entirety of IO’s World of Assassination trilogy in virtual reality. That it works at all is a wonder, but there are a handful of caveats along the way, so here I’ll run through what’s good, what’s not so good and whether it’s worth investing for the VR experience alone.
If you didn’t already know, Hitman VR is currently an exclusive for PSVR on PS4 (a timed exclusive, it would seem, though we don’t know when exactly other headsets will be supported). If you own any of the Hitman trilogy games on PS5, you will only be able to play them in VR if you download and run the PS4 version of the game. And, if you are playing on PS5, you will need the PS5 PSVR adapter in order to get your headset working on that console. It’s a faff, but you can claim the adapter for free from Sony – although it typically takes a couple of weeks to arrive.
So how good does Hitman look in VR, considering it’s essentially a last gen build running on what amounts to be the lowest resolution VR headset on the market? Well, it’s a mixed bag. Take the glittering Dubai level, which when played in VR is devoid of any reflections. This is one of many corners that have been cut to make Hitman work in VR and while it doesn’t affect the gameplay in any way, it does diminish the sense of presence. Draw distance also takes a big hit, meaning you’ll spot a lot of pop-in on distant objects and, most jarringly of all, crowds. Once you’re in a crowd, though, things are great. On the Berlin dance floor, there’s a surprisingly large amount of NPCs in play, but on the approach most rooms are fairly empty until the NPCS suddenly ping into existence. This happens more frequently if you’re rushing through a level, but taking things at a slower pace helps minimise the problem.
Despite all that, when Hitman 3 is behaving itself it’s one of the best looking PSVR games I’ve played to date. The fabulously detailed environments look gorgeous in VR – China, in particular, left me gobsmacked. The distant cityscape, the light from the neon signs shining on the rain soaked floor, the countless buildings you can enter and explore; there were points where it felt like I was wandering around a real, living, breathing city and the sense of scale and the possibilities for exploration felt overwhelming.
Another noticeable cutback to the VR version is how limited 47’s Instinct vision is when compared to what you see in flat mode. Activate Instincts in the normal version of Hitman and the game will show you both the outlines of NPCs through walls, and it will highlight objects that you can interact with or pick up. In VR, none of those interactive objects are highlighted, and instead of the outlines of NPCs, only hostiles and your targets are shown on screen and these are marked with small icons only. When you factor in the lack of mini map in VR too, this limited HUD can actually make the VR version harder to play.
Another bone of contention for Hitman VR has been its control scheme. Instead of plumping for motion controls with twin move controllers, or a relatively simple Dual Shock 4 control scheme like that of Resident Evil 7, Hitman in VR opts for a hybrid of both. It’s an odd choice and it definitely has its ups and downs, but basically put, you control the majority of 47 with normal controller movements but his murderous right arm is motion controlled using the light bar on the DualShock. Moving around the levels with the thumbstick is pretty easy and veteran assassins should have no problem at all, even though some of the button placements have been shuffled around slightly in order to account for VR. Performing most environmental kills or interacting with objects is done by a quick press of a face button, while R1 will allow you to pick things up from a distance – which is great if you’re playing seated – or to drag and dump bodies.
Aiming guns and melee combat is done via the aforementioned motion controls – and it’s important to know that this means you can’t use a DualSense if you’re playing on PS5 as this scheme relies on the DualShock’s lightbar for tracking. It’s an interesting approach but it often feels rather wonky – especially as it makes 47 wander around with one arm outstretched at all times. The below par tracking of the PSVR makes aiming down the sights of guns inaccurate and using 47’s new camera gadget is especially aggravating as you have to mash the controller right up into your face in order to activate it, and in moments of high action it’s not rare to find the game getting quite confused about where your hands are supposed to be. It would be nice to think that, if a future PC VR port does come out, it will include full motion control support that takes advantage of the improved tracking on PC platforms.
this all leads me to the most important part of VR – the immersion, and this is where Hitman VR really shines. I’ve touched on how things can be a bit sparse graphically, but even then, the detail to the levels here is outstanding. In China, for instance, from tall walkways you can peek into people’s living rooms and see what they’ve got on their dinner table, you can lean over the railings and watch trains and cable cars go by, you can wander through an old arcade or go check out the menu in a restaurant. All these little details combine to bring the levels bursting to life.
The Berlin level is probably my favourite to inhabit in VR though – it takes place in an underground club which is built on the ruins of an old power station and it provides an experience which feels incredibly authentic. Walking through the entrance corridor, through some dingy halls and then heading down the stairs all whilst hearing the pumping bass get louder and louder felt just like going to a real club.
Similarly, combat – when you’re not struggling with the motion controls – can be utterly intoxicating. Hunting a target, or indeed being on the receiving end of a hunting yourself is so much more intense in VR. Grabbing and choking out your targets can be a bit hit and miss due to the unreliability of the motion controls mind, but holy crap, when I went guns free to escape a secret research facility in the China level, my heart was in my mouth the entire time and I thoroughly felt like the unstoppable, unfeeling killing machine that 47 is meant to be. These playgrounds are perfect places to indulge in chaos, but more than that they are meticulously crafted virtual worlds that feel both alive and lived. To have achieved this, even with the limitations of the PSVR, is quite the accomplishment.
Hitman VR is a top notch virtual reality experience, sure it’s scrappy and clumsy at times but when it hits its mark you can easily lose yourself inside it for hours at a time. Its wonderfully detailed sandbox levels provide countless opportunities for experimentation and this freedom only accentuates the immersive nature of the gameplay, letting you truly feel like you are a part of the game world IO has created. Don’t turn your nose up at it just because it’s on PSVR or just because you can’t use twin Move controllers, because you’re missing out on something special if you have the means to play it but are holding off due to those reasons.