Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Hitman GO: Definitive Edition

In a series as extensive as Hitman, there is one side entry that’s easy to overlook. Back in 2014, Square Enix released the series’ first mobile game, Hitman GO, which gained critical acclaim for successfully translating the Hitman formula to a portable device. In 2015, a console and PC port, Hitman GO: Definitive Edition, was released with improved visuals and all of the DLC included. This was the version I later bought for only $0.80 during a massive sale Square Enix held when the game’s developer, Square Enix Montréal, was acquired by Embracer Group. With the chance to finally play this lesser-known title, I’m now left wondering why I didn’t do it sooner.

Due to the game’s development taking the behavior of mobile players into account, Hitman GO smartly doesn’t have any overt story or narrative. Instead, it divides the game’s levels into seven chapters presented as board game boxes, with each box presenting a loose narrative of Agent 47 overcoming obstacles until he takes out his main targets. Notably, however, the fifth box is based on the “Curtains Down” mission from Hitman: Blood Money and the seventh box is based on the “St. Petersburg Stakeout” mission from Hitman 2: Silent Assassin. As such, series veterans may more easily fill in the blanks for these faithful recreations.

In each level, players move Agent 47 on a grid-like path made of lines and nodes. As 47 moves towards the level’s exit node, he will usually face a number of enemies in his path, which he can kill by moving into the same space that they occupy. At the same time, however, enemies can also kill 47 by moving into the same node that he occupies. After 47 moves to a new node, some enemies will also move a node along a set path, which can spell death and a restart if the player isn’t careful. As the player gets comfortable dealing with certain enemy types, new ones are periodically introduced with new behaviors that players must take into account. Fortunately, each enemy type is color coded so that players can quickly figure out what they have to deal with at a glance.

Certain nodes will also grant 47 useful items that he can use to gain the upper hand. These nodes usually let him throw an item to an adjacent node to distract enemies within a certain range, though later levels may also contain a sniper rifle that lets him shoot certain nodes for different effects. Later in the game, levels may also contain a briefcase that 47 can collect for an extra challenge.

Levels get increasingly complex.

Although the gameplay setup isn’t what one would typically expect from Hitman, Hitman GO perfectly translates the core concepts to a board game style. Much like how the main series forces players to think ahead to most effectively assassinate their targets, this game asks players to think ahead with their movements to better complete each of a level’s three objectives. The board game style effectively turns Hitman into a puzzle game, though players can think of the grid and turn-based movements like chess, and the design of each level achieves a good balance of difficulty and speed. On top of that, the game incentivizes players to continually improve, as new boxes are locked behind completing a total number of objectives and getting all three in a level usually requires multiple replays. Player improvement is also backed by discouraging the use of hints, as doing so locks you out of the “Silent Assassin” achievement, even warning that you’d have to then start the game over to get it. As such, I felt proud that I managed to get through every level without looking up any of the solutions. I also appreciated that levels that introduce new objectives are clearly marked, which lets players anticipate the new twists they’ll encounter.

The minimal controls also allow players to jump in with enough ease that you can play with either a controller or a keyboard and mouse. From the default camera views, which can shift depending on what node 47 is on, I did find that some movement inputs on a controller felt awkward enough that I had to switch to a mouse for further precision. I then figured out that if you rotate the camera, that can make certain inputs more precise, eliminating an extra step and potentially saving wrists from too many mouse clicks. The only downside might be the lack of an undo button, which can lead to the feeling of some time wasted.

What really helps sell Hitman GO though is its very consistent board game theme. Levels are represented as detailed dioramas on a game board. 47 and the enemies are game pieces with unique colors and molds. Enemies killed by 47 are thrown off the board. Level objectives are represented with cards that are stamped when completed. Best of all, every mechanic is explained simply and completely visually. Everything about the design fits perfectly within the style and world of Hitman and I couldn’t get enough of all the care and attention to detail from the developers. I even had fun simply looking around at the dioramas from every angle when the level started, which doubled as a way to plan certain routes. At times, I even wondered if Hitman could translate this way to a physical board game, which would actually tempt me.

Longtime fans will especially appreciate faithful
recreations of missions like "Curtains Down".

Along with the appealing visuals, the sound design stays true to the board game aesthetic, with various noises players would associate with different materials present in the medium. There’s also a very minimal score that not only fits the game, but doesn’t feel out of place within the Hitman series in general. As a nice touch, “Ave Maria”, a funeral song associated with the series since Hitman: Blood Money, plays during levels where 47 has to kill a target.

Whether or not you’re already a fan of Hitman, Hitman GO: Definitive Edition is a great puzzle game that was well worth the nearly five hours I spent on it for this review. For the length and amount of content, the normal $8 asking price seems pretty reasonable, but feel free to wait for a sale if it still feels a little steep.

No comments:

Post a Comment