Hitman is about being cold-blooded. It's a series of stealth games about sneaking around so that you can murder people, and the new mobile spin-off Hitman Go manages to capture that satisfying feeling that comes from expertly plotting a route, maneuvering around guards, and quietly taking down your mark. This fact is surprising not just because it's a mobile game, and console titles rarely make a seamless transition to the small screen, but because Hitman Go completely reimagines the series as a strangely compelling board game. It doesn't look like any of the other five Hitman games, but it sure feels like it.
As always, the game puts you in the role of Agent 47, a cloned assassin with a barcode tattoo and a closet full of identical black suits. Go is made up of a series of disconnected levels, where the main goal is simply to get the agent to the exit at the end of the stage. But instead of controlling him from the traditional third-person perspective, you're moving a tiny playing piece around a board. The Agent 47 figure moves along a predetermined track, restricting where you can go, and every time you make a move the patrolling guards will move as well. If you approach a guard from behind you can knock it off the board, essentially killing it, but if you get close while the guards are facing you they'll take the agent out and you'll fail the level. It's a simple system, but it manages to expertly distill the Hitman experience into a game about moving tiny pieces around a virtual game board.
It makes you feel like a cold-blooded killer (in a good way)
Each level takes place in a different location with new guards and a new layout. As you progress, new mechanics are added that dramatically alter your strategic options. There are colored keys required to open certain doors, trap doors that let you quickly jump to the other side of the level, and even disguises that let you sneak amongst the guards without them realizing. These are things you can do in the main console Hitman games, of course, and while they're mechanically different in this board-game interpretation, they do a remarkable job of evoking that same sense of stealth. Go is really a turn-based strategy game as opposed to an action game, but it still makes you feel like a cold-blooded killer (in a good way).
Not only are there plenty of levels to play through, each of which feels distinct and requires a different strategy, but there are also incentives to go back and replay stages multiple times. There's always a core objective required to complete a level — usually it's to get to the end of the level, though occasionally you'll need to assassinate a specific character — but there are also numerous side missions. These range from collecting a briefcase before leaving a building to making it to the exit without killing a single person. These challenges help make the game harder and extend its play time, and you'll need to complete at least a few in order to unlock levels later on in the game.
Stealth is a hard thing to pull off well in any game — the smallest design mistake and a game can turn from tense to frustrating incredibly fast. And only a scant few titles have managed to do it well with touchscreen controls. Hitman Go may not look like your typical stealth action game, but its clever board game-style setup makes it a perfect way to sneak around on your tablet. There's no blood and no violence, but that doesn't make the kills any less sweet.
Hitman Go is available for $4.99 on iOS now. An Android version is expected to launch "shortly" afterwards.