Hitman Go: Hands-on Impressions from PAX East

A departure that feels right

Hitman Go, the upcoming mobile-centric title from Square Enix, is undeniably an interesting departure from previous titles in the beloved series. Since 2000’s Hitman: Agent 47, the dapper, suit-clad Agent 47 has been one of the stealth genre’s most recognizable -and long lasting – characters.

In Hitman Go, everything video game fans know about the franchise is destined to change.

At first glance, the iOS and tablet take on the Hitman series is a strange sight. The traditional third-person view of the franchise has been eschewed in favor of a diorama-esque, tabletop game vibe. While this departure may initially leave fans scratching their heads, Hitman Go manages to not only capture the essence and atmosphere of previous Hitman titles, but also surpasses them in subtle storytelling.

Best described as a tabletop game turned digital, Hitman Go’s intriguing premise instantly draws the player in thanks to its decidedly unique appearance. From the game’s outset, it is clear that the developers have put every effort forth in creating a game that stays true to the established motif and art-direction the Hitman franchise hangs its suit on, while blending elements that feel wholly like a tabletop experience.

Gameplay in Hitman Go is where the title initially sets itself apart from previous entries. The diorama, tabletop styled presentation of Hitman Go instantly draws the players eye in, with bold, yet simple color palette. Agent 47, as well as other characters in the game’s world are represented similarly as board game like figures. These touches go a long way towards separating Go from other Hitman titles, yet still tethers the game to the franchise.

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In keeping with Hitman Go’s different direction, gameplay is a much closer to turn-based strategy than any other title in the series. Upon starting a level, Agent 47’s potential paths through the level are displayed. Similar to the Hitman titles of the past, Go offers the player numerous choices as to how they will conquer the game’s various stages.

Movement in Hitman Go is where the choice to bring the game to mobile platforms shines. Players guide Agent 47 along the level with simple finger swipes as he avoids guards, sets traps and finds shortcuts to aid in his ultimate goal of assassinating key targets.

Hitman Go contains five different stages – each presented to the player in a the form of a boxed set – with numerous individual levels within.

Navigating the early levels of Hitman Go does a wonderful job of acclimating the player to the challenges that are to come. Starting simply, Go quickly ups the challenge that the Hitman series has long been known for. With plenty of different ways to complete a given stage and numerous different enemy types to deal with – each represented by a different color so that players can instantly discern their potential movement patterns – the strategic depth that players must learn to adapt to is enthralling.

Each level in Hitman Go comes with varying sets of challenges outside of simply completing the stage. From completing the level within a set number of turns, to eliminating a specific number of guards, Hitman Go does a wonderful job of adding reputability and challenge to an already lengthy title.

Within minutes of playing Hitman Go any reservations that players may have had about the new direction of the series are quickly abated. Hitman Go plays remarkably well and fans of the previous titles in the series will instantly love the strategy within the game. Sliding your fingers to move Agent 47 is responsive and feels as natural as moving a chess piece.

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Another one of Go’s most interesting features is the decision to shy away from cutscenes and dialogue. Hitman Go chooses subtlety in terms of its storytelling, starting each level with a sweeping view of the stage’s layout and relies on interesting set pieces to allow the player to implicitly infer the game’s story within each setting. This choice adds a level of mystery and enjoyment as the player is left to study their surroundings to determine Agent 47’s mission.

All being said, Hitman Go’s new direction is a remarkable rebirth of a storied series. Thanks to the game’s intuitive, swipe-based controls and numerous different methods of navigating through each level, Hitman Go instantly panders to fans of the series as well as welcomes newcomers.

Hitman Go releases on April 17, 2014.

 

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