Licence to Kill: Hitman Go

The red guy is your target, but how to slip past the yellow guard?
The red guy is your target, but how to slip past the yellow guard?

The normal impulse from publishers looking to make a bit of money off their properties in the app market is to either port across a pre existing game, shoehorning high performance graphics and a fiddly control scheme onto a device wildly unsuitable for it, or to create a companion app riddled with micro transactions and superficial gameplay mechanics. Square Enix Montreal have bucked the trend with Hitman Go, by identifying the core gameplay of the series and abstracting it down to an elegant, minimalist puzzle game that is true to the parent game in spirit even whilst it plays fast and loose with its source in practice.

Here the board game presentation is an even more intrinsic part of the gameplay, which delivers an experience that embraces the core puzzle-like nature of Hitman, in which every challenge requires patient consideration of your options

The fact that Agent 47’s latest outing is such a radical departure from the series proper is all the more surprising in light of the fact that the latest mainline game, Hitman Absolution, is considered by many to be uninspired compared to earlier entries (such as Hitman: Blood Money, which Hitman Go references heavily even theming a level around it). But this isn’t the first time Square Enix have taken a risk with a well established licence that was in danger of stagnating. Before Crystal Dynamics thought to reboot the Tomb Raider series with such bombast, they had already broken from its roots drastically with Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, an ingenious co-operative puzzle game that was at its heart a twin stick shooter.

Hitman Go borrows aesthetically from architectural design and the world of board games, presenting levels as elaborate cutaway models and characters as sculpted figures. It’s an aesthetic approach that was recently used to interesting effect by Yusumi Matsuno in the 3DS game Crimson Shroud, which paid homage to the roots of RPGs by basing the game on table top RPGs complete with miniatures and buckets of dice. Only here the board game presentation is an even more intrinsic part of the gameplay, which delivers an experience that embraces the core puzzle-like nature of Hitman, in which every challenge requires patient consideration of your options. When you move your piece, Agent 47 frozen in a suitably suave pose, everything else moves one space along patrol routes. The object is to puzzle out how to slide your way to your objective unseen.

Later mechanics include disguises that can be used to pass guards of the same colour.
Later mechanics include disguises that can be used to pass guards of the same colour.

Also like a board game everything is governed by a simple rule set (testament to this is the fact that there are no written tutorials in the game), and different types of enemy will build on the base mechanics with their own behaviour in a very intuitive way. Whilst normal guards will march up and down and kill you if you step into their path, others will stand sentry, forcing you to take them out from behind. Meanwhile guard dogs can sniff you out from two nodes away and follow your scent until you disappear through a tunnel or distract them by throwing a bone, and snipers will shoot you if you step into the path of their laser sight. Although you can’t ever really wait out your opponents (everyone moves when you move after all), many of the game’s puzzles require you to mark out the guard’s movement patterns and wait for them to drift out of synch before you make your move.

The game makes no disguise of its table top influences
The game makes no disguise of its table top influences

The game has a generous amount of levels split over 4 areas, each represented by a board game box that can be selected from the menu, and mixes things up by regularly introducing new mechanics. Each level has its base objective and two other challenges ranging from collecting a hard to reach briefcase, to doing the mission in the fewest moves or to kill or not kill the guards. These bonus objectives often require some creative thought or trial and error, and some of them are downright fiendish.

With the app market becoming an increasingly lucrative draw for publishers looking to offset heavy production costs of mainstream titles this certainly won’t be the last example of a spin off we’ll see. Such radical deviations from a formula can inject much needed freshness into a franchise and hopefully other publishers will see the benefit of doing something a little different like Hitman Go.


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