Hitman Go appears to be the answer to the question of what happens when you through Agent 47 into a pot and let him boil. All of the marketable stuff like explosions and gunfights start to evaporate and simmer off into the air. It reduces down further and further until you’re left with this strange little experiment. But in the weirdness, it manages to capture the essence of what makes the Hitman series so good and, unfortunately, what makes it wearisome.
The trailer does an adequate job of conveying the tone of the game in its sleek and stylish shell, but here’s the gist of its mechanics. The game presents to you a series of boards in which you have to complete a main objective alongside some optional ones. You are still our ever present and bald Agent 47 intent on killing and collecting. But instead of a third-person view with guns and the occasional running, you’ll be moving along set paths.
Dotted along the boards (which are really diorama-esque facades of offices, backyard decks, and rooftops) are spots for you and your enemies to stand and move between. Each piece only moves when you move, effectively making you the gear that turns this clock. If you catch an enemy from behind or the side, you’ll eliminate him. If he moves onto your spot after your turn, you’ll be eliminated instead.
It’s an incredibly interesting distillation of the core concept of the Hitman games, which is poking and prodding until you find the most desirable/most attainable solution to a problem. Every enemy has his own behavior. Some only move in the direction they’re facing until they can’t go anymore and then they turn around. Others stand vigilant watch and smash you like a freight train if you cross their paths.
The entire ordeal of watching how patrols and movements line up as you shift around the board is very much identical to playing the full console versions, hiding in dumpsters and observing from a building over how guards and cops live in their environments. It’s a much more fascinating—and successful—translation of a Square Enix property than they’ve cooked up before. (I’m looking at you, Deus Ex: The Fall.)
The problem is that it also has the same issues that are inherent with the wait-and-observe strategy, which is when you miss your opportunity, you have to sit around twice as long as the stars align once more. Especially once you start trying to accomplish the secondary objectives like no kills and whatnot, missing your chance is one of the most frustrating things you can do given that there is no undo button. In the main series, you can just say fuck it and start shooting stuff, but with Hitman Go, you’re locked into the noble stoicism of hiding in a bush.
Luckily, you don’t run into that problem very often. It’s really only a thing once you get into the later (but not super late) levels and try to do more than what is needed. The game has a great ability of layering things on rather quickly without overwhelming you. You’ll deal with guards with knives and you’ll get disguises and use trapdoors and throw rocks but it all works within unflinchingly consistent rules and a static framework, so the game manages to get you into more interesting predicaments with less handholding quickly.
Once you get to the later levels, you often find that every move counts, forcing you to think four or five moves ahead. Personally, it’s something that I don’t find as endearing so much as a chore, but that’s just a personal thing. I really like the trial and error process that allows me to continue after an error, not one that dumps me at a brick wall.
The aesthetic, though, is a great joy. The entire game is made to look and feel like a board game with a hyper-minimalist look and a slight tilt-shift effect on the entire viewport. Whenever you’re taken out, you just topple over and gently roll to a stop. When you eliminate an enemy, you’ll often find them placed to the side of the board, waiting with other discarded pieces. Even your movement input of swiping up and down, left and right mimics the feel of moving pieces along a board. It’s just great.
As a mobile game, though, the payment scheme doesn’t seem too great. None of it is at all necessary (especially since we have the Internet and this is a puzzle game), but the things to be bought feed directly into progression. You can buy hints to replenish the five you originally start with and instead of earning goal cards to unlock new box sets, you can just buy your way in. It feels like buying a car and then the dealer still asking for money as you drive off the lot.
But that and the terrible test of patience infused in the practice of systemic observation aside, Hitman Go is a good game. It does so well what many other mobile counterparts of traditionally console and PC-based franchises fail to do, which is capture the essence of its lineage. Instead of knowingly failing to recreate a controller or mouse and keyboard experience, Hitman Go tried to find the foundation of the series, and it does so with aplomb. It’s just that it already—and always did—has a few cracks in it.
+ Looks fantastic and really pulls of the board game aesthetic
+ Truly captures the base experience of playing a Hitman game
+ Lays out its rules very clearly and expertly, allowing quick learning
– Inherently causes a lot of waiting and toe tapping
– Payment structure is really annoying and doesn’t feel great
Final Score: 7 out of 10