PAX East 2014: Hitman GO has Square Enix flexing their franchise

Combine the words "Hitman" and "mobile game" and you're likely to get an audible groan from the internet peanut gallery. It's a notion surrounding not just Hitman GO, but Nosgoth, another Square Enix game that's forcing a franchise in a direction most people didn't ask for. Take a beloved series like Hitman and turn it into a mobile puzzle game, and people are going to assume you’re milking it for a quick buck.

But whatever intentions may have fueled Hitman GO’s initial concept, the result is shaping up to be anything but a cash-grab. This puzzle game doesn’t just honor the franchise in many ways, it also features one of the most stunning art styles I’ve ever seen in a mobile game. Developer Square Enix Montreal has crafted something shockingly tasteful and unique that manages to stand alongside the core Hitman series. Think of Hitman GO as the Puzzle Fighter of the franchise and you might have the right idea.

The game is divided into level packs, much like other puzzle games, but each pack is presented as a board game. Opening it up brings you to a level select that resembles a large board game with figurines to represent Agent 47, guards, targets, and the occasional landscaper. As you progress through each puzzle level, it’s as if Agent 47 is traversing a full size Hitman stage.

Hitman GO

Within each puzzle stage is an isometric view diorama featuring the figures moving along a board. Your movements are turn-based along a grid, and whether it’s Agent 47 or his enemies, they all move around the board as if they’re being repositioned by hand. The graphical treatment is perfect -- it looks like a clean, brand new board game -- it’s minimalist, classy, and I love it. Don’t tell Square Enix, but if they offered actual diorama scenes of Hitman GO that I could buy and put on a shelf, I might not be able to help myself.

As for the actual gameplay, you move Agent 47 along the aforementioned grid to get behind guards, or simply stealth past them to reach an exit or eliminate the target. Along the way you may find a rock you throw to redirect guards, or a costume you can steal to blend in and move past guards of the same color. Square Enix Montreal managed to fit most of the key Hitman elements into the game, from his iconic Silverballers, to music that plays as Agent 47 reaches his target.

As a special treat for fans, one level set is a recreation of the Curtains Down mission from Hitman: Blood Money. You’ll even use the same tools, such as a prop gun and a deadly falling chandelier. One of the cooler touches is the way each puzzle operates as a smaller piece of the larger story of Agent 47 navigating the level. It’s impressive how it all fits together, builds on the puzzle gameplay, and remains faithful to Hitman.

Hitman GO

The final game is coming to iOS on April 17th, with an Android release down the line. It’ll cost $4.99 for the full game, which is a little steep for a mobile game, but that premium price is reflected in what I saw of the gameplay and visuals.

Completing side objectives such as avoiding kills or finding an extra item will allow players to earn extra points which go toward unlocking later levels. If you get stuck trying to find the ideal path through a level you can pay to see the best route. That’s...a little gross if you ask me, because I think a flat $4.99 feels right for this game and the additional monetizations just doesn’t seem necessary. But I guess if it bugs you you just shouldn’t use it, right?

Agent 47’s next adventure may not be what Hitman fans were asking for, but the appealing art and leap to the puzzle genre seems surprisingly worthwhile. For Hitman fans, this may be a fun entry point into puzzle games or turn-based strategy. For puzzle fans, the mechanics reflect the core Hitman games well enough that I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hitman GO players getting a taste for the mainline games as a result. This Hitman mobile game may fly in the face of core gamer logic, but it seems like a really smart move to me.

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Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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