Solving puzzles in Hitman Go simply isn't fun enough to recommend.
It's a disastrous outcome for a game that hinges so much on cracking its spatial conundrums, and a disappointing reality for a project that gets so many of its priorities in the right order.
Developer Square Enix Montreal nevertheless deserves praise for overcoming the complexities of streamlining Hitman onto a platform it wasn't initially made for. The game's immediacy, coupled with its elegant touch-screen controls, presents an excellent example of how to repurpose traditional triple-A content for iOS and Android.
More to the point, Hitman Go is a fine explanation of why console games must be remade for mobile, and not refitted.
Third-person action with those vulgar virtual analogue sticks this is not. Hitman Go instead imagines the stealth action series as if it were a kind of board game, with Agent 47 and his targets shrunken and embalmed into a shiny plastic miniatures.
Those who have played any of the Mystery Dungeon titles will pick up the rules fairly easily. Agent 47 is placed onto a small grid of squares and is only allowed to move between each vertex. Every move between these points is essentially a turn, which is followed by the AI moving its own pieces across the grid.
Players must ensure Agent 47 avoids stepping into the path of guards, and eventually reach a destination point somewhere on the grid. Crucially, if Agent 47 flanks a foe from the side, or if he moves in from behind, those pieces are 'killed' and taken off the board.
In typical iOS game fashion, each mission also has sub-objectives - reaching the goal in a certain number of moves, collecting a briefcase, or doing a no-kill run, for example - which contribute to a three star rating. Since these require different routes there's added replay value for completionists, but they provide no gameplay benefits or rewards otherwise.
Hitman Go's opening half-hour is brilliantly simple, and the gameplay template gradually builds and evolves into more complex scenarios at a perfect pace. Soon after, players are presented with items to throw (which, if landing near a guard, will steer them on different path) as well as certain disguises to wear.
Eventually, levels present sprawling grids congested with guards and seemingly unachievable paths to the end point. Much of the thinking is the same as chess - players must visualise the next three steps ahead in order to slip into a safe spot.
Yet, unfortunately for a game which gets so much right, at its heart the gameplay design is flawed and of limited appeal.
"This is not mental acrobatics - it feels more like admin work."
The core problem is that, unlike chess, Hitman Go presents an infinitely smaller choice at the start of your turn. At its very best, you will have four directions to ponder, and usually half of those choices seem out of the question.
Not that choice matters. Plotting a perfect route to the exit point first time would require exceptionally high-functioning thought processes of every piece on the board and its next ten moves, and certainly there is nothing to suggest that's the intended approach.
Instead, paths to the end are found through endless trial and error. Back and forth, up and down, left and right Agent 47 will go until something obviously advantageous happens. The core problem is, nearly always, it's far more time-efficient to experiment in all directions than to envision the elaborate moves of an entire board. The challenge is broken.
Success therefore evokes a sensation similar to overcoming a stubborn door lock by incessantly adjusting the key until it works. This is not mental acrobatics - it feels more like admin work. Try this. Try this. Try this. Try this.
Unfortunately, it's not a problem that Square Enix Montreal can overcome with tweaks or patches. At its heart, Hitman Go's design has very limited potential. The idea needs a complete rethink.
That's not to say Square Enix Montreal hasn't made the most of what it has. The visual design is fantastic throughout, and the idea of presenting each level as a static diorama gives it a unique, near-iconic look.
Most impressive of all is that Hitman Go is a completely unique approach to the series, but thanks to its expert use of colour and certain visual motifs, it's just the right side of familiar. There's an appropriate coldness to the aesthetics (the loading screens present each level as a half-opened board game box) and it does a superb job of subtly evoking the chill of crime scenes.
But everything Square Enix Montreal has achieved is inevitably built on a poor game design principals - ones which severely restricts playing and thinking.
There are many reasons to trust Square Enix Montreal will deliver on future projects - its developers' collective expertise and vision is obvious - but on this occasion the aim is all off.
Agent 47 slips onto mobile with perfect execution, but at its core the idea is flawed
- Excellent mobile-focused approach
- Eye-caching and distinct visuals
- Accessible with a fine difficulty curve
- Design inherently flawed
- Puzzles demand little thought
- Lacks a necessary playfulness