Death by plastic figurine. That’s a straightforward summation of Hitman Go, Square Enix Montreal’s iOS-only (iPad 2 or higher, Android version to come) take on Eidos Interactive’s long-running sneak-and-murder series. It re-envisions the basic tropes of Hitman in the context of a puzzler, then wraps it all in a beautifully stylized board game-inspired interface.
Like some bizarre, single-player take on chess, Hitman Go is easy to learn and difficult to master. Each stage amounts to a puzzle, presenting you with an isometric view of the game board. Solid black lines mark paths that Agent 47 and his enemies, all realized as virtual plastic game pieces, can travel along, and dots mark each space that a piece can end its turn on. The basic goal is to guide Agent 47 to the stage’s exit while avoiding any enemies that happen to be lurking around the map.
You “kill” a piece by moving into the space it occupies, but you’ve always got to be mindful of the direction a piece is facing. If Agent 47’s turn ends with an enemy turned his way and in an adjacent space, it’s game over. Every time you move one space, the enemies around the board – which come in a variety of flavors – follow suit. It’s all color-coded, so yellow-jacketed enemies always patrol back and forth along a straight line, light blue jackets always stay in one spot but perform an about-face every turn, and green jackets follow a set circular path.
Death by plastic figurine.
There are others too, armed with dogs, sniper rifles, and more that inject added complexity into each stage. Agent 47 isn’t completely helpless, however. Stages are often adorned with various single-use distractions (like thrown bottles), trap doors, and weapons that appear in fixed locations, allowing you to disrupt movement patterns and even take out enemies from afar.
You’ve got to think carefully about each move you make in Hitman Go’s thoughtful dance of death. A lot of trial and error is involved, especially when new concepts are introduced. Will the alerted enemy piece take the left path or the right path when you toss that bottle? You’ve got to work out little quirks like that as you go. Fortunately, individual stages are brief and restarting one is as simple as tapping an ever-present icon in the corner of the screen.
This isn’t a war of attrition, however. There are too many variations to simply brute-force your way through a particular puzzle. Luck may find you on occasion, but success in Hitman Go generally hinges on visualizing your moves in advance. It’s like chess in that way.
There’s no tutorial for the simple, swipe-to-move mechanics, but Hitman Go eases players in. New concepts and types of enemies are introduced gradually, often appearing for the first time in short, easily solved puzzles. This is a game in which you learn by doing.
Full completion is tricky to achieve, but the overall pacing manages to hit a sweet spot for the escalating difficulty. There are three objectives in each stage, though only one – which involves reaching an exit location or assassinating a particular piece – is required to advance. The other two vary from stage to stage; complete a level within a certain number of turns, collect a briefcase, escape without killing anyone, or only after killing everyone.
Completing the required objective for one stage unlocks the next one, but you also earn a Hitman token every time you knock out any objective. These tokens mark your progress. They can’t be spent, but hitting certain numeric milestones unlocks additional contracts. There are four contracts in total with 15 stages in each, plus a fifth “bonus” contract, with 9 stages inspired by the “Curtains Down” opera house level in Hitman: Blood Money.
The spirit of the series is ever-present in this mobile-friendly adaptation.
Having multiple objectives increases the replay value and pads out the overall length of Hitman Go (roughly 2-3 hours). If you just complete one out of the three for each of the 15 stages in a contract , you won’t have enough tokens to unlock subsequent maps. There’s a shelf life though. There’s really only one solution per objective, even when you account for occasional slight variations. The puzzles themselves are all well designed, but solve one once and there’s no reason to tackle it again.
That’s Hitman though. This is a series that is all about observation and careful planning, sure, but each mission in a traditional Hitman game is fundamentally just a choose-your-own-adventure of relatively scripted paths leading to the same goal. There’s challenge in the stealth, but figuring out how to “win” is a matter of working out a mission’s layout in the context of the script.
It’s no different here. The gameplay is wildly different, of course, but solving each of the three objectives is a matter observation and trial-and-error. There’s not nearly as much variety to these murderous puzzles as there is in one of the console/PC releases, but the spirit of the series is ever-present in this mobile-friendly adaptation.
The unique visual style really helps make the turn-by-turn play feel engaging, with virtual plastic figurines sliding around the board exactly like the game pieces they appear to be. “Killed” enemies are tossed aside, their toy-like bodies landing outside the board with a satisfying clatter. The same is true of Agent 47; when an enemy takes him out, his piece simply tips over and rolls a bit before settling, like he’s a king who’s been checkmated.
Each stage in Hitman Go is rendered as a diorama-style game board, complete with a plaque mounted on the base that notes the level and stage number you’re on, Mario-style. There’s also a larger overworld map for each contract, visualized in the same style, that gives a better sense of the physical location your contract is set in. There’s no story to tell you why you’re in a place, but the larger maps help make each contract feel distinct. Cleverly, the contract select screen wraps the whole aesthetic together by presenting each one as a sealed board game box.
The real problem with Hitman Go is the obnoxious presence of in-app purchases. New levels unlock automatically as you reach certain token milestones, but you can also pay real money – $0.99 apiece – to unlock each one if you prefer. It’s especially tempting to do so for a fifth “bonus” level, inspired by the “Curtains Down” opera house mission from Hitman: Blood Money, since its token requirement is just slightly higher than most players will probably get to with moderate effort.
There are also consumable “Hints” that essentially walk you through a chosen objective when you use one. You get a handful when you purchase the game, but you’ll have to spend money if you want to re-up. It’s more an annoyance than a design shortcoming, but it’s especially irksome because the game is so strong otherwise. In-app purchases are a toxic presence in a paid app, even relatively easy-to-ignore ones like these.
Overall, Hitman Go is a triumph. Square Enix Montreal makes its debut with a stylish mobile puzzler that capably prods the right buttons to attract series fans, but in a distinctively unexpected way. The ol’ sneak-and-murder isn’t anything like how you’ve seen it before, but death by plastic figurine turns out to be just as satisfying as a perfectly executed hit.
This game was reviewed on a second-gen iPad Mini using a code provided by Square Enix.
- Distills basic Hitman tropes into a puzzler format
- Difficulty ramps up nicely thanks to strong pacing
- Board game aesthetic fits perfectly with the play
- In-app purchases are obnoxious, unnecessary