Originally finding much critical and commercial success on mobile platforms, it is easy to see why Hitman GO might well replicate such good fortune on PlayStation hardware, even where a ‘full-fat’ Hitman experience already exists. A fearlessly bold, yet jarring reimagining of IO Interactive’s flagship series as a turn-based board game, Hitman GO’s aesthetic simplicity belies an almost rudely confident effort that expertly parlays the series hallmarks into a brain-tickling array of turn-based conundrums.
By trading the series creatively free-roaming, third-person murder playgrounds for what appears to be a much more pedestrian turn-based puzzler, Hitman GO succeeds in appealing to those folks who might have previously existed outside the series traditional spheres of influence; the twitchy stealth and ultra-violent action of the console games replaced here by slower-paced thoughtfulness and an attractive minimalist veneer that borders on whimsy.
Taking place from a tabletop isometric perspective that allows the player to manoeuvre the camera to a limited extent, Hitman GO tasks the player with assassinating targets spread through the game’s ninety-one differently themed stages. On the face of it, the titanic genre shift from action adventure to turn-based tabletop puzzler really shouldn’t work on paper and yet, it manages to do so wonderfully thanks in no small part to just how well the developer of Hitman GO has managed to infuse elements from the core franchise into the game.
In ascribing to a well-judged difficulty curve Hitman GO starts gently enough, getting the player used to navigating the barcoded butcher around the board before slowly introducing additional elements into the mix. Each turn permits our balding assassin to shift one space in a direction dictated by a series of preset lines on each board, the catch though, is that with every action Agent 47 takes, so too do the opposing pieces on the board also make their move, resulting in the player having to devise increasingly more sophisticated stratagems based on their movement patterns in order to succeed.
You see, this being a board game there is a bespoke ruleset in place that dictates what the suave slaughterer can and cannot do. Chiefly, if Agent 47 moves directly into a space that an enemy piece is both adjacent to and looking at, he’ll be knocked off the board, resulting in mission failure. Thankfully, as with all the best puzzlers, a restart is just a single button press away and this together with Hitman GO’s bite-sized missions means that frustration is kept to an absolute minimum. Conversely, Agent 47 is able to take other pieces off the board by stealthily approaching them from behind, the side or by using a number of different items that lend further sophistication to each stage while fondly recalling the core series that Hitman GO is spun from.
Agent 47’s twin ballers for example, when collected allow him to remove any pieces from the board that exist in a straight line in all directions from where the guns are picked up from. Likewise, our protagonists penchant for dealing long-range death from sniper-rifles is present and accounted for in Hitman GO, with these firearms able to target one or more foes who find themselves sat on specific sharpshooter squares dotted around the board. Elsewhere more pedestrian objects such as rocks and cans can be used as distractions to lure groups of foes away for either a mass kill or as a means to skulk on past; in every case though, these items, whether they be murderous or mundane in nature, are finite in their use and so must be employed frugally in order for the player to succeed.
Further layering the proceedings are the different enemy types that must be planned for. Stationary guards prove to be the simplest foil as they are easily flanked, however the roaming guards which follow a set route, knife-wielding thugs that spin around every turn and soldiers that cover each others back soon increment the difficulty of every scenario. Naturally, this being a Hitman game, disguises also figure heavily into the proceedings, with our shiny domed killer able to walk past like-coloured guards without harassment so long as he is wearing matching threads, while other environmental objects such as bushes and trapdoors provide manage to provide additional opportunities for concealment.
It’s only when all these elements are brought together that an epiphany occurs; this just isn’t any puzzle-stuffed turn-based affair, this is a Hitman themed puzzle-stuffed turn-based affair and the introduction of such gameplay mechanics arguably infer a closer to kinship to the core franchise than the substantially offbeat appearance of Hitman GO might otherwise suggest.
Still, while the developers of this spin-off clearly show a learned and practised hand for all things Hitman, the one element which cannot possibly survive the transition is any sort of narrative. While each stage is thematically unique, they are all essentially isolated puzzle boxes with none of the narrative thread to link them up which their older, more expansive series stablemates can boast of. Likewise, once the trio of objectives has been completed for each mission, including such tasks as completing a stage in a certain number of moves or by avoiding any sort of killing for example, there is little else to make you return to Hitman GO’s intricately structured puzzles since the game has no other modes to offer.
Technically speaking, Hitman GO’s bold aesthetic reinvention is a visual treat quite unlike any other previously seen. With gardens, penthouses, mansions and much more besides all lovingly rendered as diorama style set-pieces that boast ridiculous pin-sharp detail that shines even on PlayStation Vita, Hitman GO’s table top veneer is as blissfully engaging as the meticulous turn-based conundrums that underpin its charming splendour.
Elsewhere, the ‘Definitive Edition’ tag hasn’t simply just been bolted onto the game’s PlayStation debut for kicks. Including all the DLC levels which were released sometime after the release of Hitman GO on mobile, these missions are not only inspired by earlier Hitman titles such as Hitman 2: Silent Assassin and Hitman: Blood Money, but they also happen to be a selection of the most challenging stages the game can offer; fully taxing the grey matter of even the most calculating armchair assassin. Adding further value to the package is the fact that the game is fully Cross-Buy and Cross-Play compatible, allowing you to take your Hitman on the GO and back again without paying the extra dosh for the privilege of doing so.
In an arguably risk-averse industry where big, sweeping changes of multi-million dollar blockbuster franchises are few and far between, Hitman GO is quite the anomaly. Born from typically stigmatised mobile origins and taking a famous franchise way out of its assumed comfort zone, the unlikely result is a wonderfully left-field effort that should appeal to both franchise newcomers and veterans alike, even if much like Agent 47 itself, its appearance is beguiling enough to make less keen eyes blind to the familiar killer that lay beneath its ruse.