Agent 47's steely gaze and austere demeanor are far too threatening to be properly translated to a stoic board game piece. That, and given the nature of the Hitman series revolving around stealth and murderous intent, a mobile game that distills the finer points of assassination into a kitschy series of diorama puzzles seems laughable.
And yet, here I am to sing the praises of Hitman GO, Square Enix's bizarre addition to the franchise. It's a minimalist series of wordless, ambient vignettes taking place inside virtual dollhouses dotted with tiny figures representing the hunter and the hunted. It shouldn't work as well as it does, but the end result is a satisfying blend of strategy and turn-based problem-solving that should appeal to a much larger demographic than that of the classic Hitman ilk.
Hitman GO (iOS)
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: April 17, 2014
Playing through one of the included fifteen scenarios feels a lot like messing about in a serial killer's macabre dollhouse, viewed through copious amounts of Instagram filtering outfitted with new-school HUD icons and menus so clean they're almost surgical. Five board game boxes await you at the onset, with four requiring unlocks as you work your way through each scenario. Should you choose to skip straight to your favorite, unlocks are available as in-app purchases, but there's no dire need to since Hitman GO moves at a reasonable and organic pace.
Every ornate game board is set up with a grid on which limited navigation is possible. Lavish mansions, dingy basements, and plenty of other seedy and sometimes exotic locales are up for exploration as you move 47 one space right, left, up, and down per turn. Each assassination is split up into several puzzle sections you'll have to power through in order to have a go at your main target.
Kills are so straightforward it's scary, requiring you to simply walk into an enemy into their blind spot. For instance, to take down a target, you need to position 47 so that his next move intersects with an enemy board piece. As long as you're not facing the enemy, you're golden. The only trick is that you're forced to move 47 one space ahead during each turn rather than hiding in a strategic hiding spot and waiting for guards with AI as dumb as a bag of rocks to maybe spot you like in the regular games. There are places to hide, though, as well as shortcuts that may or may not place you exactly where you need to be in regard to an enemy's location. A well-timed move through these "chutes and ladders" could be the key to victory, or starting over again.
Pickups vary from board to board, and are one-use items that must be used once obtained. In some situations this works out well, and in others it's disastrous -- you may find yourself armed with a tennis ball to use as a distraction, but it might not be the best time to use it. It must be deployed during the turn you pick it up on, so planning your pickups accordingly is required if you want to use them to aid you in your quest to reach the goal space on each board. Whether it's a rock, a tennis ball, or a silenced pistol, timing is everything.
Each mission plays out until either all targets are eliminated or 47 is taken out in the same way. As you progress, you'll find that once-docile targets may suddenly possess traits like the ability to turn and face 47 at different increments, and some may patrol the board in a manner that can make even the most seasoned of stealth vets nervous. It's as tense as it is stylish, and sometimes you have to be able to make the call and restart the mission before you're inevitably caught between an enemy and a hard place.
But perhaps ironically, what makes Hitman GO work so well as a board game also strips away much of what made the rest of the franchise so much fun: the ability to choose your own pathway to victory. Some missions are adamant that you not harm one hair on one guard's pretty little head, and as someone who regularly powers through enemies and terminates with extreme prejudice, I was a little disappointed that there weren't options built in for a little more carnage.
That appeared to be the same direction Hitman: Absolution was headed in, and stealth obviously makes sense for a board game situation, but it would have been an interesting addition for players with a powerful thirst for blood to be able to tackle missions with a little less finesse and a lot more shots to the head.
Still, I was more than enamored with the numerous nods to classic Hitman moments, additional costumes, and the amount of polish lavished upon this bizarre yet savory addition to the Hitman universe. It's not perfect, and it certainly won't appeal to everyone, but if you're jonesing for your next taste of the life of an assassin, Hitman GO is the hippest way to emulate everyone's favorite sharp-dressed agent.
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