Escalation missions test your mastery of each level with new targets, gradually increasing difficulty and complexity to make Hitman even better.
Once you play through Hitman 3's main story, you've seen a good chunk of each level. You'll probably remember where the important items, areas, and traps are located. And if you did most of the Mission Stories, or went through multiple attempts to complete some unique challenges, you have a decent grasp of how the clockwork-style design of every level works. Even then, you're missing out on a big chunk of what the modern Hitman games offer.
You may have seen the "Escalation" option in the menus of Hitman 3 (or any of the three games), or maybe you haven't since it's off to the side when you select a destination, or cycling through the main menu like an event notification. If you're not sure what they are quite yet, Escalation missions drop the normal objectives of their levels and instead give you all-new targets to eliminate, but that's not all. Each Escalation comes in multiple parts, gradually increasing the difficulty and complexity of the objectives by setting specific conditions that build off the previous part. Most conditions consist of assassinating certain targets with a specific weapon or trap while wearing a particular disguise--often with a restricted loadout and without saves. And I'd argue this is some of the best content Hitman has to offer.
Escalations aren't new to Hitman, of course. As someone who adored Hitman 2016 (and advocated to make it high on GameSpot's 'Best Of' list that year), I've been captivated by how they force me to examine and navigate levels in new ways, and challenge my ability to manipulate the game's systems. Those who are new due to the recent release of Hitman 3, I'd like to share this experience with you.
I'll take my run in the Chongqing's Escalation mission series, for example. It comes in three parts, and the first part simply tasks me with knocking out the chief of police who's on a rooftop, sniping a gang leader who's riding a skytrain, and eliminating another gang leader who only walks around in public. These are all-new targets that make you look at chunks of the level differently, especially when figuring out how to pick off an NPC on a fast-moving skytrain car you've never had to think about before. However, it's nothing too wild in terms of challenge since you can use whatever methods you want.
Things pick up in the second round. Now you need to snipe the gang leader riding the skytrain with a specific sniper rifle that you can only find near the chief of police who's scouting the rooftops. Also, another public target must be assassinated using that same sniper rifle--and only after examining his position and scouting the rooftops yourself do you realize that you can get the perfect angle for a shot away from the public eye. You also have to kill a brand-new target using a pistol but only after poisoning his food. And that gang leader walking the streets from last round? Now you can only eliminate him through an explosion--and since I couldn't find an explosive device, I created an oil leak from a nearby scooter and set it on fire to cause an explosion after luring him over. In addition to starting with nothing in your loadout, another condition is that you cannot change your disguise at any point, otherwise the mission will end in failure.
Once I pieced all of this together, it wasn't too difficult to see how you can pull it all off, although arriving at each solution was a cool tiny revelation about how the objectives were designed. However, the third part of this Escalation pushes your ability to calculate and draw-up the most efficient way to do it all over again. The only new condition here is that you have to hit all your targets with all previous restrictions...in under five minutes. What's the fastest route to encounter each target? When and where is the earliest I can pick up the required items for these assassinations? How do their routes line up for perfect timing to move from one to another without wasting precious seconds? It can be frustrating, but after the trial-and-error, I had this terrifying revelation that I might be a master assassin.
Figuring out how to execute the plan was like designing the perfect offensive play in a sport that only comes together after plenty of practice. Many have likened the Hitman games to a Rube Goldberg machine, but Escalation missions really are the best examples of how these games function similarly to one.
Not being able to save means I had to do this all in one go, too. If you've played previous Hitman games, you may remember Elusive Targets--challenges where you literally get one chance to complete. Escalations aren't as stressful since you can try them as many times as you want, but the absence of save-scumming makes you very careful about every move you make, especially once you get deeper into the mission itself.
Our good friends at Giant Bomb played Hitman just like this during the 2017 holidays as a makeshift game mode, pulling self-imposed conditions out of a hat, which turned out to be a ton of fun to play and watch. The enjoyment of Escalations really comes down to the conditions, because it can be easy to cheese your way to assassinations in the normal missions, or take a silenced pistol out to headshot your target and run away. So, it's the rulesets that force you to either get creative or test your mastery and understanding of Hitman's mechanics and levels.
It's one of the ways in which IO Interactive has been able to squeeze even more out of the intricately designed levels, giving us more of the good stuff we want out of Hitman. Currently, there are only three Escalation missions for Hitman 3 (Dubai, Dartmoor, and Chongqing), although we suspect that more will be available in the future. But if you're craving that challenge and have yet to dive into what the previous two games have done, pretty much every single mission from Hitman 1 and 2 has multiple Escalation mission series, providing a wealth of content and gameplay possibilities. They can seem intimidating at first, but if all you want is more Hitman and you haven't given Escalations a try, you owe it to yourself to become the Agent 47 you never thought you could be.