The Hitman series has been around for over two decades, spanning over multiple games set in various exotic locations. While Agent 47's tactics have evolved over the decades, the thrill of being a silent assassin, blending in with the environment, shows no signs of fading.
Since most of the Hitman games, be it recent titles or the old ones, are divided into small levels where the task is to eliminate the target and get out unnoticed, it's easy to forget about Agent 47's personal story that is entrailed within the chronological order of all the Hitman games, staring with the Hitman: Codename 47 from the year 2000 all the way up to the latest game in the series, Hitman 3 that was released in 2021.
Today, we're going over the complete chronological order of all the Hitman games. While the release order of the games is also the chronological order of the games, there are a few personal events of Agent 47's life that mess with the timeline. So a few events of in the games are set years apart and another title fills that plot hole. This is mainly true for the original Hitman games (before Absolution) but may the later reboots are not completely free from this ideology.
In the end, we'll also go over the best play order for all Hitman games.
Warning: There are various major (and minor) Hitman spoilers ahead.
Hitman: Codename 47
2000's Hitman: Codename 47 was the game that started it all. The first level of Hitman: Codename 47 introduced the silent assassin, Agent 47, and his induction to the International Contract Agency. The game entails how Agent 47 escapes his 'creator', learns the basics of how to be an assassin and then start the contracts in the semi-open levels we know and love.
The first level of the game is the true introduction to Agent 47, but there is a slight plot gap where 47 goes from a trainee to a world-class assassin. This plot gap was later filled by the training levels of 2016's Hitman reboot which followed Agent 47's training at the International Contract Agency.
While Codename 47 wasn't the first stealth game that the world had seen, it was a revolutionary breakthrough. Instead of just hiding from the enemies, players could blend among them with the help of disguises to access otherwise inaccessible areas. Kids who grew up with Hitman Absolution and later titles will have a hard time guiding their way through the complex maze of original Hitman titles, and that includes me.
Codename 47 ends at a cliffhanger at the shootout in the laboratory, but Hitman 2 doesn't really tell us what happened next. So in order to know what happened next, we need to skip to Hitman Contracts' first level.
Hitman Contracts (the first level)
The first level of Hitman Contracts picks up right where Codename 47 left-off, that is the shootout at the lab. Agent 47 was the sole survivor of the shootout and your job is to escape the asylum. Contracts also featured a few of Agent 47's past contracts not featured in any of the first two games. All these contracts are told through flashbacks, which 47 experiences after the shootout.
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin
Hitman 2 takes place after the asylum shootout in Paris but does not recount any of the previously mentioned events. In fact, Agent 47 had retired from the International Contracts Agency at the beginning of Hitman 2: Silent Assassin and was leading a peaceful life where he befriended Reverend Emilio Vittorio. But when Vittorio was kidnapped by unknown assailants, 47 strapped on his leather gloves and put on his suit for the ICA in hopes of tracking him down.
It was a major technical improvement as compared to the first game. For starters, the game also released on PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube in addition to PC. The AI had improved and the option to incapacitate enemies instead of killing them was also added. For the first time ever in a Hitman game, there were missions with multiple possible approaches and outcomes.
Hitman Blood Money (the first three levels)
The first three levels of Hitman Blood Money, namely Death of a Showman, A Vintage Year and Curtains Down, take place after the events of Hitman 2: Silent Assasin but before the second level of Hitman contracts.
The third level of Blood Money, Curtains Down, is set in Paris where 47 was followed by a man in a Police uniform through Paris.
Hitman Contracts (the rest of the game after the first level)
After assassinating his two targets in Curtains Down from Blood Money, Agent 47 was trapped by police who had been pursuing him for a while. These are the very officers that were pursuing Agent 47 in the Curtains Down level of Blood Money. In the end, Agent 47 manages to flee Paris alive and return to the agency in America and continue working as an Assassin.
After he was shot, 47 lees to his hideout, an apartment in Paris. The developers make perfect use of Agent 47's dying state to tell the stories of his past contracts in the form of flashbacks. In addition to being a new game, Contracts also featured a remastered version of Hitman: Codename 47 with better graphics and tougher AI.
Hitman Blood Money (the rest of the game after curtains down)
Once back in America, Agent 47 continues to work for ICA. The main story follows an elaborate plan to bring down the Franchise, a rival contract killing organisation that was first hinted at in Hitman: Contracts. The Franchise plans to obtain the cloning technology that ICA used to create agent 47 and make their own army of silent assassins.
But, instead of bringing down the Franchise, the ICA itself crumbles down to nothing. Diana, the handler of Agent 47 at the ICA, fakes Agent 47's death without 47 knowing about it. When agent 47 wakes up at his funeral, he is able to kill the man who destroyed the agency but can't restore the agency's former glory.
At the same time, a parallel story of 47's life and previously unseen contracts that he carried out is narrated by a former FBI director to a journalist, but it has hardly anything to do with the main chronology of the game.
Blood Money introduced to stuff like satellite map that revealed the topography, target location as well as enemy locations. Furthermore, excessive noise and violence were condemned by penalizing the player. That concludes the original Hitman series and, with that, the intermingled stories knitted between levels.
While the developers placed Hitman: Absolution, the sequel to Hitman Blood Money, in the original series, purist debate its position in the series.
Following the narrative Blood Money, Agent 47 receives a contract to kill Diana, his previous handler, for betraying the agency. Diana had sabotaged their funding and database, forcing them to reform and essentially collapse. However, Agent 47 later leans that Diana had done so to protect Victoria, another genetically engineered girl who was being raised an Assassin. Agent 47 thus takes it upon himself to save Victoria from a life of violence and stop the production of genetically modified assassins.
Purists simply don't argue about the game's position because of its story, but because of the fact that the developers had made the game insanely easier as compared to the previous titles. The game was more linear and "forgiving." The 'Instinct' feature of Agent 47, allowed him to see through walls and monitor AI patterns. Furthermore, if you ever felt stuck or couldn't sneak past an enemy, you could go full-on gun blazing. But did all that make Hitman Absolution boring? Absolutely not!
Hitman 2016 was a full-flashed reboot of the classic Hitman series. Apart from the first few training levels in the beginning of the game, Hitman 2016 and the complete "World of Assassination Trilogy" has a linear chronological order.
The ICA is back on track, with Diana at Agent 47's helm. The game was divided into six missions that were released episodically every month. Each mission was a contract that was given to Agent 47 by a "Shadow Client" The game was made easier and tougher at the same time. By that, I mean that the levels became so elaborate that is was easier than ever to kill the target but so difficult to uncover the intricate details that were required to get the perfect score.
Hitman 2 built upon the gameplay and story dynamics of Hitman 2016, but instead of waiting for six months to wait for the next episode, players could play through the game in one sitting.
In Hitman 2, Agent 47 is tasked with taking out "Shadow Client" from the previous game, in exchange for understanding his own past, while further exploring the troubled relations of Agent 47 and the ICA. The contract for the "Shadow Client" is given by an organization called "Providence" who seemingly 'control the world.'
Hitman 3 is the latest and final entry of the "World of Assassination" trilogy. Just like how the "Shadow Client" from Hitman became the main villain of Hitman 2, "Providence" from Hitman 2 becomes the main villain of Hitman 3. Through the game, Agent 47 is tasked with eliminating three "Partners" of Providence to restore peace.
The game features a loose end, which can only lead us to believe that there will be more Hitman games in the future. In a secret ending, if 47 injects himself with the amnestic serum while confronting Edwards, the second in command at Providence, he passes out and awakens in a padded room, greeted by Edwards' voice telling him, "Wake up. Wake up, my friend. It's the dawn of a new day, and you have things to do"; akin to the opening of Hitman: Codename 47, revealing that all the events after Hitman Codename 47 may actually have been just a dream.
Hitman 3 also introduced a VR mode as well a pack for the Hitman 2016 and Hitman 2. So you could get the entire World of Assassination trilogy in one pack.
Recommended Play Order for the Hitman Games
Through the course of 8 games and two main series, the Hitman franchise went around the world, exploring many destinations in various countries. However, the focus in all Hitman games, be it a title from 2000 or 2021, is the contracts while Agent 47's personal story takes a back seat. So, technically speaking, you can start playing any game and still understand what's going on for the most part.
If you are a purist, then play them in the release order. Only a few events interlude each other but the rest of the release order aligns with the chronological order of the events.
However, speaking from personal experience, the original series Hitman games (except for Absolution) are nothing like the modern reboots. They are tough, unforgiving and have no hints. If you do wish to play all the games, then don't be afraid to look at a guide where you feel stuck, because there will be multiple instances where you will get stuck.
Otherwise, just start with Hitman 2016 and play the World of Assassination Trilogy. I found them to be way more fun and filled with many more opportunities as compared to the original series.