When Nvidia announced the latest batch of games getting ray tracing support earlier this month, I was heartbroken to learn that Hitman 3 wasn't among them. I'm still quite early on in my Hitman 3 adventures, but you only need to take one look at its gorgeous opening Dubai level to know that this would make a great ray tracing game. Just look at those polished floors waxed within an inch of their lives! They're crying out for some ray traced reflections, those. And all that glass! It needs to happen.
The good news is that Hitman 3 will be getting ray tracing support at some point in the future. We still don't know when it's going to arrive just yet, but developers IO Interactive did, in fact, confirm last November that they'll be adding ray tracing to the PC version of the game after launch "later in 2021". Naturally, I'm hoping this will be sooner rather than later, but I imagine we'll probably get it at the same time next-gen consoles do, as IO Interactive's CTO Maurizio de Pascale recently told Xbox Wire that, "We’ve already started working on RT technology for the renderer in our Glacier engine, and once that’s deemed ready for prime time, we’ll definitely bring it to the Series X|S hardware."
Whenever it ends up happening, though, I will absolutely be replaying every single level with it switched on, because holy moly, I can practically taste how good it's going to be already.
In truth, Hitman 3's reflections are already pretty stunning. As our friends at Digital Foundry explain in their detailed tech analysis video, Hitman's combination of rendered-to-texture and screen space reflections do indeed reflect the environment around Agent 47, even when the reflected objects aren't necessarily in frame. It's actually a very similar effect to what ray tracing would bring to the table when it eventually gets added into the PC version, and you may be thinking, well, why bother with ray tracing at all if its default reflections are already so darn lovely?
After all, you can still see individual character models and its lush scenery reflected pretty accurately in the polished marble floors beneath Agent 47's feet, and you don't need a special, ray tracing capable graphics card in order to do it, either. Sure, your mileage may vary depending on how you configure the game's Mirrors Reflection Quality and SSR (screen space reflections) settings, but fundamentally it's an effect that's open to everyone and not just the select few with an Nvidia RTX or AMD RX 6000 card.
It all paints a gorgeous and handsome picture, to be sure, but there are still a few lingering imperfections that ray tracing could potentially solve when it eventually arrives. For instance, as great as Hitman 3's reflection tech currently is, you can still see shadows and reflections fading in and out of view as you move the camera, which wouldn't happen with ray tracing. Keep an eye on the right most side of the GIF below to see what I mean.
It's less noticeable when you've got your eyes trained on Agent 47's back, admittedly, but when Hitman 3's environments are so stuffed with intricate detail and pure visual splendour, there are still plenty of occasions when your attention wanders elsewhere - and the camera along with it.
There also seems to be a lower limit to what Dubai's floors will actually reflect, too. You can see it most clearly in the image below where the number of stairs and metal wall to the left eventually disappear into the smoky abyss of the floor's natural texture. It sort of makes it look like Agent 47's walking on a rolling sea of fog rather than a hard floor - although again, it's hardly something that's going to ruin my enjoyment of the game. Instead, when I think of ray tracing in Hitman 3, I envision it being like a cherry on top of an already delicious cake. It's sumptuous and filling on its own, but I'd also love to see how ray tracing might enhance the game's sense of realism even further.
I'd also be intrigued to see what ray traced shadows would bring to the game, too. Again, Hitman 3's default shadows are already pretty top notch in this regard, with a combination of hard and seemingly soft lines criss-crossing Dubai's spacious glass atrium as the sun beams down from above. Look a little closer at where characters meet the floor, though, and there's often just a black haze around their feet. The reflections do a lot of heavy lifting to help make them feel grounded and part of the scene, but I can't help but wonder if more realistic shadows might deliver an even more stunning picture overall.
Perhaps I'm nitpicking where there's nothing to be nitpicked, but when Hitman 3 is such a visual tour de force, I think it deserves to look as sharp as Agent 47's trusty piano wire. All that will come in due time, of course, but I think it's precisely because Hitman 3 looks as good as it does already that I'm excited to see what ray tracing will bring to the table.
Indeed, of all the currently released games that have been confirmed to be getting ray tracing support sometime in the future, Hitman 3 is the only one I'm itching to dip back into when it finally arrives. Doom Eternal is a lovely-looking game, for example, but I'm not sure I'd play it all over again if and when id Software add their promised ray tracing support for it. The same goes for Mortal Shell and Observer: System Redux, too.
Of course, Hitman is naturally more replayable by design than some of those other soon-to-be ray tracing games, and heck, maybe it's just because I love Hitman so much that I'm so gosh-darned excited about its upcoming support. Either way, I'm glad that more developers are finally getting to grips with ray tracing for PC and next-gen consoles, as the number of truly great ray tracing games that have been released so far is still few and far between. Here's hoping that IOI manage to get their RT tech "ready for prime time" soon, and that it doesn't cut our PC's performance in half like its intense (but also brilliant) Dartmoor benchmark test when it finally arrives.