Board to death
Fair or not, I distrust mobile games. Not portable games, mind you—I happily consume more than my fair share of PlayStation Vita or 3DS titles on a constant basis. I mean those games we pay a few bucks for, download to our phones or tablets, and then interact with using nothing but touch gestures or gyro sensors. Outside of rare exceptions such as Space Invaders Infinity Gene or Cave’s surprisingly competent iOS ports for their shooters, cellphones and smart devices are where games go to die, condemned to a fate of awkward interaction and half-baked execution.
That’s why Hitman Go caught my eye. For their latest offering to the mobile gaming space, Square Enix didn’t just slap an already existing Hitman game onto an Apple device, toss some virtual analog sticks and buttons on top of it, and call it a day. They’ve crafted a game that keeps true to the spirit of the franchise, but one that takes the series in an entirely new direction.
That direction? Board games. From the moment Hitman Go loads up, Square Enix Montreal’s dedication to style is apparent. Open the digital board-game box that’s presented to you, and the initial set of stages unfold via a series of dioramas—ones that look as if they’ve been created from wood, fabric, and plastic, but brought into existence in a way as only a videogame could. Agent 47 stands unmoving, a little molded figurine secured to a base. Meanwhile, trees sway in the breeze and birds chirp in the distance as digital markers show you what spaces you can move to next.
With the swipe of a finger, you move Agent 47 to the next space. The objective, at first, is simple: Move him to the goal, whisking our favorite bald-headed hitman to the next board. There, you’re suddenly presented with a guard blocking 47’s progress. Move to the space in front of the guard, and it’ll be game over; maneuver 47 either next to or behind the watchman, and you can take him out of the equation. When you do, you see the guard’s piece dropped onto the table—just like what would happen when playing a real-world board game.
Of course, the beauty of re-creating such an experience in videogame form is that, without the need for physical pieces or sets, stages and objectives can change completely for every level, and it isn’t long before your missions are far more complex. Suddenly, a new set of guards appears, ones that move one space every time you do. Locked doors require keys before they open the way to progression. Even some classic Hitman weapons and stealth tools show up, all implemented in ways that never break the board game illusion. While new twists or pieces are constantly added up until the end, the core gameplay remains clear and focused, keeping a nice balance between unpredictability and stability.
That commitment to the concept is one of the best aspects of Hitman Go. It would’ve been easy to have the idea of Hitman playing out as a board game, but then still make it feel like the series’ standard efforts—especially due to fear of being too far out there for longtime fans. The team at Square Enix Montreal stuck to the plan, and the result is a game that honors the core tenets of past Hitman games while also providing an experience that feels wholly new and unique—not to mention enjoyable even for those who’ve never played a Hitman game in their lives.
Indeed, no matter your familiarity with Agent 47 or his past adventures, Hitman Go will be understandable and welcoming to anyone who appreciates strategy games both real and digital. While the game’s core ideas seem easy at first, difficulty comes hard and fast. While just getting from start to finish on a particular board can be taxing enough, each level has three separate challenges, with those individual requirements changing from one level to the next. One challenge might reward you for securing the suitcase token before completing the stage, while another might ask you to slip through without killing any foes—or making sure you kill them all. Every now and then, a special stage shows up where you’ve got to take out a particular mark, serving as another boardgame interpretation of a Hitman staple.
Hitman Go’s puzzle-solving is the one time the game really pushes you to pay more than its $4.99 cover price. (At least for now, since additional DLC is promised but not available yet.) If you can’t clear enough objectives to earn the required points to unlock the next game box and its contents, you can do so for a buck. Meanwhile, if you’re stuck on a particular level, you can get hints for clearing it for a price—or you can pay a hefty fee ($15) to unlock those strategies for every single level and challenge in the game.
For myself—and I’d assume your standard player—this will never be an issue. Sure, some levels really stumped me, and I’ve still not cleared every challenge available in the game. However, more often than not, it just took a little time or creative thinking (or both) to get past the points that had me stuck. Hitman Go’s solutions aren’t always easy to find, but that’s true of any good puzzle or strategy game. And, without question, this new twist on the Hitman mythos is good. While I was initially captivated by its visual design and creativity, I kept going back to it because I was having fun—and that’s the best thing a game can do, no matter the platform it’s delivered on.
|Developer: Square Enix Montreal • Publisher: Square Enix • ESRB: NA • Release Date: 04.17.2014|
Square Enix Montreal has created a game in Hitman Go that avoids the trappings of so many other attempts to bring popular franchises to mobile devices—and the result is an experience that feels fresh, unique, and exciting from start to finish.
|The Good||A fantastic concept that integrates a depth of challenge into an utterly stylish presentation.|
|The Bad||The game’s length may feel unsatisfying if played for longer than short bursts.|
|The Ugly||Crawling to YouTube to find the solution to a seemingly impossible challenge.|
|Hitman Go is available on iOS and Android. Primary version reviewed was for iOS. Review code was provided by Square Enix for the benefit of this review.|