Hitman Go Review
I’m of two minds about Hitman Go, a turn-based puzzle game based on the popular Hitman franchise. On one hand, it’s a lot of fun to play and I greatly enjoyed the complexity of the puzzles and the pace with which it introduced new types of enemies and scenarios to avoid things ever becoming boring or tedious. On the other hand, I have principles, and putting microtransactions in a five-dollar game is beyond the pale. However, those could be considered cheats and everything is easily unlocked in-game, so I’m (hesitantly) going to recommend the game. It’s definitely one to pick up on sale so as to not reward such greedy behavior too much, though.
Con number 1: no story
One of the great things about the Hitman series is the story, from main character 47’s origins to his strange quasi-friendship with Diana, who most often gives him missions. Hitman Go, on the other hand, eschews all of this; instead of including a plot and characters, it’s a mobile puzzle game in the purest sense of the world, giving you a handful of levels with 1-3 simple objectives and leaving you to it. In fact, there’s not a single line of dialogue or a scrap of voice acting to be found in the entire game. I suppose shoehorning in a story might have ended up being awkward, but I still consider this to be to the game’s detriment. After all, many of the later unlockable level sets are inspired by older games in the series, so the absence of even a simplified version of those games’ stories seems like a missed opportunity.
Even if they didn’t want to include a story, just including some characters or giving a reason for the assassinations would have been welcome. Instead, you’re just going around offing random security personnel to get to each level’s exit for no obvious reason whatsoever. Again, this is a puzzle game so that’s more or less par for the course, but this game could have been so much better had it strived to be more than just that. It never ceases to be annoying when you look at a game that could have been incredible—genre-defining, even—and have it fall short because it aimed its sights at “comparable to others in the genre on the same platform.”
Pro number 1: the gameplay
Despite my disappointment at the absence of anything resembling a story, I wound up binge-playing this game and finishing all levels and their objectives in the span of a few days. Honestly, the way the game plays is fairly brilliant, and the puzzles are just difficult enough to stump you at times without being so infuriatingly impossible that you become stuck. It works a bit like this: there are 7 “boxes” of levels, with later ones needing to be unlocked by earning seals that are awarded by completing certain mission objectives. Each box of levels has its own unique theme, some being inspired by former games in the series, and all contain either 8 or 15 missions to play through. Each mission (barring a few of the early tutorial ones) has 3 objectives which range from “kill everyone” to “kill no one” and “finish in under X number of turns,” with some obviously being mutually exclusive and requiring multiple attempts if you want to receive all 3 seals.
Hitman Go is turn-based, with enemies moving at the same time as you, and each mission has its own grid that poses a unique challenge. You fail if an enemy gets within one space from you while facing you or moves into the same space as you, and it’s important to remember that your movement always takes precedence. To illustrate this, imagine that there’s an enemy who switches from looking forward and back each turn. If you move in their sight expecting them to turn around that turn, they’ll spot you and you’ll lose. If, however, they’re looking away and you move within one space, you won’t be spotted despite them turning around to look at you from one space away. Because your movement takes precedence, they haven’t yet spotted you, and you can move toward them to dispatch them and remove them from the level. Another example would be a patrolling enemy two spaces away who’s moving in your direction; if you move closer to them, you move first and they move second, so you’ll end up one space away from them when it’s their turn to move and you’ll lose. It sounds complicated in writing, admittedly, but once you see it in practice it makes much more sense. Sadly, I can’t record video from my Kindle Fire HD, and my attempt to stitch together screenshots into a video proved awkward thanks to constantly-changing camera angles.
Pro number 2: great variety
When you first start playing, you’re only dealing with a few different types of enemies. As you unlock new level sets, however, new enemies and gameplay elements are gradually introduced. This happens slowly enough that you typically have enough time to familiarize yourself with how they work (though there’s a distinct lack of instruction, which I’ll cover later), and all of this ensures that playing is consistently challenging without allowing you to figure one thing out and steamroll through the entire game. From back-to-back guards who can spot you in two different directions, guard dogs who chase you once you come within two spaces, knife-wielding guards who spin 180 degrees each turn, and even snipers whose aim you often have to block with patrolling units, there’s enough variety to ensure that each level has a personality all its own. Later levels even introduce disguises, airport areas where you can’t be caught until you raise the alarm by killing someone, and escalators that allow units to move large distances in a single turn. It all works, too, and ends up coming across as much more polished and deliberately-designed than most other puzzle games.
Con number 2: the microtransactions and hint system
This is the big one, and I’m while I usually try to wrap text around pictures to make them stand out less, I’m leaving the below picture to stand out as a sign of shame. Microtransactions take two forms in Hitman Go: early unlocking of later “boxes” of levels (as shown in said below image), and walkthroughs for level objectives. Being able to unlock later content is no big deal, honestly, because completing every mission objective earned me 263 seals while only 140 were necessary in order to unlock all of the boxes of levels. This means that you can ignore almost half of the objectives in the game and focus on the easier ones if you’re stuck and just want to proceed (you only need to finish a single objective in order to move on to the next level). The second form the microtransactions take is the one I’d classify as being sinister corporate BS, because you’re given 3 free walkthroughs that show you how to finish objectives and have to pay for any more than that.
To put that into perspective, that means that there are 260 objectives that you’re either flying solo on or having to pay for. That wouldn’t be a big deal if Hitman Go was like most games and gave you enough information to understand things immediately, but new elements are introduced without any explanation whatsoever and you’re left to figure out how they work through trial and error. Given the polish apparent in the rest of the game, it seems like this was purposefully designed to frustrate people into paying money. For example, one mission objective requires you to lose a dog who’s trailing you. You do this by switching into a new disguise, at which point the dog loses your scent and stops following you. This is the only time in the entire game where you have to do this, and nothing ever explains that switching disguises allows you to get away from dogs. You can learn these types of new rules by watching the walkthroughs, but again, you’re only given 3 free ones that you’ll no doubt use up long before that point, and there’s no way to regenerate them or receive any new ones without having to pay. This is seriously shady behavior.
You get nothing for finishing
Like I said before, I completed every objective in the game. The reason I did this was because I was curious about what would happen once I did; it didn’t seem unreasonable to expect credits to roll, or maybe some kind of super-secret new box of levels to unlock once I had obtained every seal in the game. Instead, a whole lot of nothing happened. No credits, no unlocking secrets, not even a congratulatory popup. The game has credits you can navigate to in the menu—is it really so much to ask that they roll once someone’s completed the game to give them a sense of completion?
The graphics and music are a wash
Graphically, the game is gorgeous, with many levels being love letters to earlier games in the series. Even more impressive, the characters manage to look good while resembling board game pieces, which means they lack animation beyond the pieces spinning around or moving to a new space. That said, obtaining a new disguise or landing on a square with 47’s trademark Silverballers changes his piece to another, so the game manages to make its largely static pieces more dynamic than I expected going in. As for the game’s music, there’s virtually nothing to speak of. Levels consist of mostly background noise, and almost all level select screens reuse the same music. Even in the rare cases where they have their own music, though, it’s not anything noteworthy. All together, I counted something something like 3 or 4 different tracks in the entire game, which is a huge letdown compared the incredible soundtracks of previous Hitman titles.