I am never happiest than… well, no, I’m never happy. But for the sake of this article, let’s just say that I’m never happiest than when a game has an unusual name that makes me giggle.
Hitman has done this twice recently. There’s the forthcoming Hitman, which I refuse to refer to as anything other than Hitman 6: HITMAN, and there’s Hitman GO, which sounds either like a strangely named dog being ordered to move, or like everyone’s favourite slapheaded “cleaner” has found himself trapped in a Japanese board game.
The latter is actually not too far off the mark, at least insofar as Hitman GO is stylised like a board game. Really, though, I suspect the name is more because it was originally a mobile game that would be played “on the go”. But that’s less funny.
Yes, Hitman GO: Definitive Edition is a PC version of a mobile game. Good news: it is not a terrible port, nor is it a terrible game, nor is it massively expensive.
For your £6.49, you get 91 levels of contemplative puzzling, with all bonus content (which I believe comprises three extra “areas”, two of which are based on past Hitman missions) and all the stuff that was an in-app purchase (like hints) included for free. This is possibly slightly more expensive than the original mobile version, but trying to work out what was included in that and what had to be bought separately gave me a headache, and in any case this version looks nicer and £6.49 is still a really good price for the content you get.
Hitman GO is one of those games that can be annoyingly described as “easy to learn, hard to master.” You play as Agent 47, across a number of his contracts. Every turn, you move one space. If you move onto a space containing an enemy, you “kill” them (as with chess). You cannot wait; you must move every turn. Generally speaking, your goal is to make it to a certain point on the board, which is either an exit from the level or a place where you can attack your intended murder victim.
As I said, it’s simple. Every turn, you move a space. That is, quite literally, all of the controls.
Things start off really simply, too. Initially, the only resistance you’re likely to come across are guards that stand still and face a certain direction; if you move onto the adjacent space that they’re facing, they’ll kill you… so you have to go around them, or attack them from the side. (Also, “kill” sounds so very weird with the board game style, but “take” sounds really weird with the Hitman theme. Let’s stick with “kill”.)
More mechanics are gradually introduced as you go on. You’ll find stones that you can lob to attract attention, moving guards out of your path. There are guards that patrol back and forth, and guards that rotate on the spot, and dogs that will follow your footsteps and spot you if you’re more than one tile away. There are trapdoors that can move you to the other side of the board, and guns, and disguises, and… well, lots of stuff.
Excellently, there is basically no text in the game, which means no long and boring tutorials. Pretty much all of this stuff is actually taught to you through the game mechanics itself. Whenever a new enemy is introduced, you’re not told “This enemy is a sniper! If you end your turn in a space that he can see, he will shoot you! Try to get around behind him or only move into a space he can see when someone else is blocking his view!” You get to work that out for yourself, with the level design subtly arranging things that you will notice this. With the sniper, for instance, I’m fairly certain that you’ll almost immediately be forced to move onto a space he can see, while someone else is blocking his line of sight. You discover the mechanics through play and level design rather than through annoying pop-ups. This is great.
It’s also really well balanced. On the one hand, I made it through almost all of the game’s levels without actually getting “stuck”; I think only seven or eight levels actually presented me with a great deal of difficulty. Progression is rarely hard.
But! Every level also contains a pair of sub-objectives, and these are routinely quite difficult (and are often mutually exclusive). The most common are “finish the level in a certain number of moves”, which pretty much requires you to figure out the absolute fastest way of doing things, and “get the briefcase”, which usually means you need to deal with a few extra guards and make things a bit trickier for yourself.
Sometimes, the sub-objectives ask you not to kill anybody. Sometimes, they ask you to kill everyone (which is a little weird for a Hitman game, now that I think about it). There’s a fair variety in these sub-objectives, and the real challenge lies in completing them. Generally, my first run-through of a level would have me trying to beat one of them, if it looked relatively simple – get the briefcase, say. Then, with an idea of how the level worked, I’d try to deal with the other objective.
I was regularly unsuccessful, but I haven’t yet stooped to using the game’s hints system. Wonderfully, there are lots of those “Aha!” moments where, after 10 minutes of silent contemplation and stupid moves and restarts, you realise that if you lob a can over here, and then duck through the trapdoor, and then duck back through it again immediately, you have just enough time to get past that guard, and…
Also great is the board game aesthetic. Levels are presented as genuinely gorgeous dioramas, with guards, targets, and 47 all represented by little unmoving plastic models. When something moves, it’s as though an invisible hand picks up the model and plonks it onto the next space. It’s a nice stylistic touch, and it’s also really nice seeing a pair of old Hitman levels (the St. Petersburg assassination from Hitman 2 and the opera house from Hitman: Blood Money) done in this way, too.
Slightly less great is the insistence on using the same “swipe” controls as the phone. To move 47, you need to click on him and drag him in the direction you want him to move. It’s fair enough, though I’d honestly have preferred to just be able to click on the spot to which I want him to move. It’s a minor thing, but it’s one that occasionally bugged me.
But still, considering how positive I’ve been, if you’ve cheated and peeked ahead at the score you’re probably wondering why it’s so low. First: shame on you. That’s not a low score for us. A 5 and above is a recommendation, of sorts; if this sounds like your sort of thing, then it’s likely worth the asking price.
Second: it does what it sets out to do, and it does it well. But it’s not a hugely engrossing game, nor is it a particularly lengthy one.
If you set out to 100% things, then sure, you’ll probably be there for quite some time. But I finished every single level, doing at least one of the sub-objectives on almost all of them and completing all of the sub-objectives on around 40 of the 91 levels… and Steam tells me I’ve played it for four hours.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m fairly certain trying to 100% it would probably take me another four to six hours, because most of the remaining sub-objectives are bastards. But I’m not sure I’ll bother doing this. I might dive back into it once or twice more to attempt a few particular challenges, but I feel like I’m pretty “done” with the game.
Hitman GO is also the sort of thing that’s really designed to be played… well, on the go. It’s not the sort of thing designed to be played for hours at a time. Obviously, if you have a laptop and are looking for something to mess about with on the train, or need something you can dip into for 20 minutes during a lunch break, then this’ll work rather wonderfully for you. But it’s not going to keep you occupied for an entire evening, or anything.
Still, for the time it lasts, Hitman GO: Definitive Edition is a cheap, entertaining, and genuinely good-looking little brain-teasing diversion, and it’s definitely worth considering if the idea of it appeals.