Monday, 22 February 2016 00:00

Hitman GO: Definitive Edition Review

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Hitman: GO is an important game.

In fact, it seems pretty damn important to the history of this whole electronic entertainment thing, if looked at for its place in the canon.

I mean, it's probably not the greatest thing anyone will ever play, but it absolutely is great. It is a title that claims one very important and difficult-to-achieve thing that very few titles, even among great ones, can claim.

Hitman: GO is a platform prover.

It is, in my and many others' opinions, one of the first two straight-up classic non-arcade video games to come from mobile gaming, along with Monument Valley. This new Definitive Edition available on PC and consoles is also the first time that I think a mobile title has gone from its original platform to the more “hardcore” platforms and felt like it was totally at home; like it wasn't missing anything. Like it wasn't, to tell the truth, a mobile game at all. In that way, Hitman: GO The Definitive Edition is a bridge between mobile gaming and the rest of gaming; a landmark in gaming history for being so lovingly and well-crafted on a platform that has thus far been almost exclusively populated with simple, cartoony entries.

So why is Hitman: GO so unique? Well for one, it's is not cartoony at all (though it does have a bit of humor). That's where its quality begins: it is simply gorgeous to look at, and instead of going the traditional hand-drawn route for a mobile title, Hitman: GO is fully 3D, but its models are crafted with such painstaking detail and aesthetic flair that it is certainly (again along with Monument Valley) among the most beautiful titles ever created for mobile. It's designed to look, and to play for that matter, like a tabletop game, with each character appearing as a finely crafted minifigure and each level laid out in a grid. Each scenario (of the seven The Definitive Edition comes loaded with) is selected by choosing its “box” from the selection menu. It is just the kind of perfect, unnecessary but delightful touch that you find throughout Hitman: GO.

Speaking of, the levels themselves are without question the visual highlight of hitman: go, as they are downright amazing to look at.

Each of the many (well over 100) different levels in The Definitive Edition is designed like a high-art diorama cutaway, like something you'd see in Juxtapoz or on the artier, less-porny/political side of Tumblr. These scenes through which your bloody strategies must play out are static, except for the characters involved in the combat. However, they absolutely breathe with life because of their detail and exquisite aesthetic attention, down to the perfect color schemes, the poses and activities of the background characters that tell stories in themselves, the architectural fine points and even the excellent lighting. I found myself sucking in my breath and just staring at more than a few, just zooming in and out and rotating around, taking in the feel and the look. I think they'll go down as some of the prettiest levels in turn-based gaming history, and on the bigger screen of a PC, they look dynamite.

Now, Hitman: GO truly is quite stunning visually indeed, but on the function side, I also see some real beauty in its approach to gameplay. Because it had to play on mobile devices with limited tactile inputs, the title feels like it breaks gameplay down by asking what a game really needs to be compelling. By necessity it cuts and pares play into its most important components- or conversely you could say that it works from the two basic thoughts of “What can gaming can be?” and “What resources do we have available?” to be the best it can.

The result is a true strategy entry that I really don't have much to complain about when it comes to being fun and deeply strategic, despite working within the limits of mobile gaming. Essentially, all you're trying to do is to either move your Hitman from one part of the board to another, or to kill your mark in the assassination levels, and there is a series of enemies between you and your goal that you'll have to deal with. Each enemy has a very strict and particular set of rules that it plays by (such as a unit walking eternally back and forth over a set line, or a unit always attacking you if you move in front of it), and other than a small set of one-time use items that can be found on some levels and a few level features like trapdoors and locked portals, these enemies are the only thing you'll interact with in Hitman: GO.

However, starting from these humble and simple ideas, hitman: go's developers have created and refined the title's rules into something elegant and very deep, but, and this is hard to do, never frustrating.

It feels like single-player Hitman chess with a modern approach to fun and variation. Puzzles are sometimes quick, often tricky, but I never once felt stuck forever. The winning approach always feels only a turn or two away, just one decision made slightly differently to get to victory, and I consistently felt challenged instead of frustrated if it took me a sec to figure something out. You can see how everything works in Hitman: GO- it's very transparent about the rules- but it makes you want to play more and get better at it instead of making it too easy, which is the sign of a good strategy title. Even the introduction of new units, items and systems is fun bordering on delightful, with each new addition paced out nicely over many missions.

On top of just being fun and challenging in its own right, this title is also admirable because it takes a very complex thing (the Hitman style of play) and transmutes it to a new form with far, far fewer parts without losing its inner essence. This is, unmistakably, a Hitman game. There are Hitman staples like throwing things to make distracting noise and the iconic Silverballer guns. There are even Hitman-like goals to achieve (killing everyone, killing no one, etc.). I even wanted to go back and do each level better, nailing each of the goals, almost immediately after finishing a round, and I'm not even remotely a completionist. That ability to make me want to perfect a level, to feel like I can see how to perfect it, is absolutely textbook Hitman.

Even the way they priced and released Hitman: GO is good for gaming. The original price was barely anything for a piece of entertainment this good, but more than most mobile titles in order to cover the costs of a title this well-realized (it has been about $5 for most of its life). The DLC was cheap and worth it, and the definitive edition is just a few bucks more than the original, but not enough more to make the original purchasers justifiably mad, or too much for PC or console players to want to buy it for that matter. It's just worth the money, every time, in every format it's been released. This is the nice and rare thing you hope you can say about a "Definitive Edition" when it comes out, and you can say it with conviction about this one.

I think it's also a watermark title for not just the mobile platform, but for cross-platform gaming.

It's not the most fun or amazing thing you'll ever play, but it is unique and solid as fuck. It's good for serious players and fans of serious titles (like the Hitman series) because it shows what can be done with the mobile device, and what the future of the medium might look like. One can imagine other entries in the canon taken like this, especially if you've played tabletop titles like Talisman or even DnD. I mean, what would Skyrim look like in a turn-based grid format? Could we see another Fallout that builds from both this angle visually and play philosophy-wise (especially with the success of Fallout Shelters on mobile, and considering the segment of the fanbase that wishes the series had never gone first person)?

We've had a lot of stellar and likely classic titles go from other platforms to mobile (The Walking Dead and other Telltale Games, the Monkey Island HD remakes, Hearthstone, Machinarium, XCOM: Enemy Within, This War of Mine), the medium certainly is expanding its backlog of heartier fare (80 Days, Device 6, Fallout Shelter, Framed) and there have been heaps of famous and infamous arcade and time-waster "classics" for phones and tablets (I doubt I need to name any). But, there have only been two so far, in my estimation, that have taken the levels of care, detail, deep strategy and fun that have up til now been reserved for titles created first for the PC or console, and then brought to the mobile medium.

Hitman: GO is one of those two, and it is also the only mobile entry in a long-lived franchise to be as worthy of an entry in that franchise as any other title. It's also the only adult-oriented truly classic mobile title, and it's also arguably the most fun and well-made of the two best mobile titles of all time (if not being quite as visually unique as Monument Valley).

In all, Hitman: GO The Definitive Edition is outright gorgeous, it's highly complex while using the most basic controls possible, it's a true Hitman experience, and it's a hell of a lot of murdery fun. And, this new Definitive Edition is without a doubt the ideal way to get into it.


The Verdict

Spend the $8. If you like strategy and/or pretty things, or you just want to see what mobile is capable of beyond the cash grabs and the time wasters and the pretty cartoon colors, this title is worth at least those paltry eight. It may never get its due in the mainstream consciousness as a tremendously important title, as many platform-proving games have not before it, but Hitman: GO The Definitive Edition deserves to be considered a classic, as it is perhaps the best thing to come from mobile gaming in the medium's history to date. It breaks the mold of an entire way of creating digital entertainment and presents something better in most of the ways it could, and I'm not sure what more a game can do to be great than that.

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Trevor Talley

Trevor used to tell people that he writes anything 'they' pay him for and everything else. But, what he really wants to do is sit on his porch all day with a beer, listening to Berliner techno while pounding culture into his brain through a computer screen and then writing about it. Trevor subjects the internet to his musical tastes as editor of The Deli Austin and his credits include PC Gamer, the infamous Busted! Magazine and over a dozen books on Minecraft and sports (not together, though he thinks it could be done).