I’ve never looked down on people for being cynical regarding mobile gaming. Actually, I’ve always kind of encouraged it. After all, with all of the terrible things with mobile gaming in the name of profit, a little cynicism is just a bi-product of being a crafty consumer. It’s a defense mechanism that’s sadly more and more necessary.
But what I can’t abide is an inability to put cynicism aside when it’s truly called for. When a great mobile game comes along, it’s time to drop all of the melodrama, and stand up and support that game with the same tenacity that we denounce the endless stream of uninspired cash grabs out there.
And boy, is Hitman GO ever that game.
Hitman GO may feature Agent 47 of the Hitman series once again traveling the world to meet interesting people and kill them, but that’s about the full extent of its resemblance with the main games in the franchise. Instead, Hitman GO is aesthetically and mechanically much more similar to a board game. Specifically, chess.
I’m quite serious. Your objective in the game is to maneuver a figurine of Agent 47 around various board game levels one space at a time, in order to either reach an escape point, or assassinate your figurine target, by running into them and bumping them off the board. Of course, before doing so, you’ll have to either eliminate, or navigate around, a variety of guards. Some of them are stationary and will charge you when you enter within a space of their line of sight. Others patrol, and will remove you from the game if they move into the space you occupy.
That may not sound very threatening as far as video game opposition goes, but I assure you that the combination of those guard tactics, in conjunction with the one move at a time navigation system, makes Hitman GO quite the challenging little puzzle game. Finding the right path through each level requires serious amounts of patience, and a high tolerance for trial and error. Much like the Portal series, there are many cases where you can see what the solution to each level is, but will spend quite some time trying to figure out just how you are supposed to get there.
This style of gameplay will no doubt frustrate some, but to me itsit’s a big part of the reason this game is so very great. The usual Hitman games have long been in a downward slide towards the pure action genre, and hardly still bother to emphasize the idea of stealth-based strategy that the franchise was founded upon. Hitman GO‘s seemingly bizarre shift to an elaborate game of chess affords it the chance to get back to that particular style of play, and in the process provides one of the most original, and satisfying, strategic gaming experiences of the last few years.
Yet even if the execution of this concept wasn’t handled as well as it is, Hitman GO would be a triumph based solely on that very concept alone. Developer Square Enix could have ported over a more traditional Hitman experience to mobile,mobile and few would have blamed them, as the general consensus of what constitutes success in the case of mobile ports, seems to be how well they ape their more technologically superior brethren.
Instead they realized that mobile games are capable of providing experiences that no other medium is. That’s certainly the case here, as Hitman GO‘s incredible visual design and innovative approach to strategy may be perfect when experienced on your mobile device, but would be bizarre and borderline unplayable on any other platform. It’s not just a great game then, but a clear statement on the unique capabilities of mobile gaming, when it’s treated as an asset, rather than an obligation, or cheap vehicle for additional revenue.
That isn’t to say that GO is perfect, however. For one thing, it’s a serious drain on your device’s battery, and is best played in short sessions, or while plugged in. Worse than that, though, is the game’s inability to consistently convey certain pieces of information to the player. Aspects like menu functions, the exact use of level specific tools like hiding spots, trap doors, disguises, and occasionally weapons are left incredibly vague.
There is a help button on the screen that will tell you what your next move should be, but it essentially serves as the game’s easy button, when what GO really needed is a way to relay the game’s mechanics in a more intuitive manner. While this style of “figure it out as you go” gameplay fits with the trial and error nature of the game, there are many cases where a little more indication of just how things are supposed to work would have eliminated some unnecessary frustration.
This is especially true of the reactions of the guards. Even late in the game, I sometimes hesitated as to what would count as a safe attack on a guard, and what would provoke them to eliminate me. There is a method to their actions, but the specifics that define it aren’t as clear as they necessarily could have been.
Also while this is a thinking man’s game through and through, generally speaking the levels don’t allow for much in the way of creative solutions. There are really only two paths to success on each board; optimal and good enough. The use of additional level goals like collecting an out of the way briefcase, or finishing the level in a certain amount of moves goes a long way to lending replay value to each section, but it doesn’t quite make up for the creative freedom the main Hitman games offer at their best.
But really those are mere smudges on the beacon of hope that is Hitman GO. It is everything that I love about the Hitman franchise, filtered through everything that is possible when mobile gaming is treated right. Stunningly beautiful, truly innovative and just plain fun, this will likely go down as the best Android title of the year, at a minimum.
If it isn't, nothing else is.
A complete triumph in game design, Hitman GO is one of the year’s best.