Pencil in Hitman as a series that I’ve always wanted to get into, but never really had the patience for. It’s a real shame too, because I love the idea of Hitman; a murder sandbox where there are always a dozen different ways to approach any given situation. In my case, I always went with the “crouch walk until spotted and then become Rambo” option, which never seemed to get me very far.
Still, there’s a connection there between me and Agent 47. Maybe it’s because he’s the only video game character I could ever realistically cosplay…. well, a fatter alternate universe version maybe, but that’s beside the point. I have this constant urge to keep trying new entries in the series, wondering if the next installment will be the one that finally grabs me.
Ironically enough, Hitman GO has probably gotten the closest.
Transferring the feel of the series to mobile presents a unique problem; do you try to simply mimic the other games in a low-res environment, occasionally pestering the player to spend money on disguises? You do turn it into a tower defense? A collectible card game, perhaps? Okay, that last one would probably be pretty good, but instead they went with something a bit more ingenuitive; distilling Hitman down to its roots as a pure puzzle game, no longer giving the option for panicked gun battles but also making it infinitely easier to replay after failing. Agent 47 is now a piece in a kinetic board game, forced to move along a linear grid whilst trying to find a path that doesn’t get him spotted. It’s a combination of stealth and puzzle gameplay that works surprisingly well, with the added bonus of starting from a position that’s much simpler to understand. Typically one of the most common frustrations in a Hitman game is not quite knowing your limits, constantly wondering where your boundaries are with NPCs and not having the intuition to know when high-risk moves are necessary. GO makes it very clear from the start how much you can (or can’t) get away with, one wrong step into enemy eyesight signaling the end of a level. The magic lies in how you dance in between those near-fatal interactions, always making sure to be, quite literally, one step ahead.
As expected, things don’t stay very simple for long, adding more mobile enemies that are nearly impossible to pick off and then offering new mechanics in which to deal with them. Soon enough, you’re hiding in plants, throwing rocks as a diversion, and changing costumes. In other words, you’re playing a Hitman game. When that veil came off, I found myself once again resorting to the trial-and-error tactics that had allowed me to eventually make my way through Blood Money, the same boiling frustration from that game making an occasional return as I aimlessly tapped my way towards another failed mission. The difference is that I still wanted to try, the instant replayability and bite-sized nature of the game making for something that felt a lot more low-risk.
Even at my lowest points, I couldn’t stay angry at it. It’s just too inventive, too cool to look at; a reinvention that actually works while retaining the spirit of its namesake. The innocuous nature in which Agent 47 tumbles to his side when caught probably helps, as well. After all, it’s hard to punch a wall when you have zero points of articulation.