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Hitman Go looks amazing on Gear VR, but it’s exhausting

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Part of what made Hitman Go such a surprise hit in 2014 was how it felt perfectly designed for mobile. It didn’t try to recreate the Hitman experience — which hinges on finding creative ways to stealthily assassinate targets — but instead reimagined it in the form of a turn-based strategy game set in a series of wonderfully rendered dioramas. It just felt right playing Hitman Go on a phone or tablet, and now the experience has made the transition to virtual reality with a release on both the Gear VR and Oculus Rift. It’s the exact same experience, but from a brand-new perspective. As is often the case with VR, that means it jumps back and forth between being very cool and very frustrating.

If you haven’t played Hitman Go before, the premise is pretty simple. Each stage is like a tiny snapshot of a location — a fancy house party, an airport waiting area, a tennis court — filled with people and objects you can interact with. There’s also a track that you move your assassin, Agent 47, along. Each time you move him, it counts as a turn, and the patrolling guards on the board will move as well. Your goal in most stages is to get Agent 47 to the exit, undetected, and occasionally you’ll also need to take out a specific target. Most stages have optional goals as well, like collecting a briefcase or finishing it without killing anyone. The game slowly introduces new mechanics over the course of more than 90 stages, and by the end you’ll be using trap doors, throwing rocks to distract guards, and wearing disguises to sneak around.

This all remains unchanged in VR. What’s different is your perspective. On mobile it felt like you were holding a diorama in your hands; on VR it’s like you’re standing in front of one. The levels of Hitman Go have always seemed like handcrafted objects (and some of them kind of are) and that’s only amplified in virtual reality. I played the game on Gear VR, and even without the benefits of full motion tracking, it was still extremely cool to be able to look around the level as if it was a real, physical thing. On Gear VR you can rotate the level by holding the touchpad and turning your head; you can also zoom in and out the same way. It’s a great way to spot the tiny details in a level — like a couple hanging out on a balcony or a secret meeting between hooded figures — and it helps from a strategic standpoint, too, giving you a better idea of the level’s layout. It’s also just fun looking to the left of the board and seeing all of the guards you’ve killed in a neat little pile.

The problem is that constantly rotating your head, and pushing your neck in and out, goes from neat to uncomfortable to painful pretty fast. It’s just an awkward way to manage the game’s camera, though I’m not sure of a better solution on a platform that only has one real control input. Similarly, while it’s fairly easy and intuitive to move Agent 47 around — you just look at a spot and tap the touchpad to get there — this also means that you have to hold your hand beside your face for basically the entire time you play. It gets tiring after a while, especially since that’s really the only thing you do in the game.

Hitman Go on Gear VR is more of a curiosity than anything. It’s fun the first time you boot it up, but it’s far from the ideal way to play. While it’s really cool to see these impressively detailed, tiny levels up close, and to be immersed in a way that makes them seem like real objects, the act of actually playing is exhausting. The camera controls are a big part of the experience, but here they're mostly annoying. It's hard to be a calm, collected, cold-blooded killer when you spend most of the game twisting your head into uncomfortable positions.

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