Cute isn't a word I'd normally use to describe a Hitman game, but there are definitely elements of cuteness in Hitman Go. It's presented like a board game, with every set of levels shown in a cardboard box (complete with a barcode – how appropriate). You control an Agent 47 figurine, moving one node at a time on a set grid of possible paths, in an effort to avoid or kill similarly turn-based guards. Get shot or caught by an inanimate plastic man and your similarly inanimate self gets upended like a chess piece. It's rare to laugh at Agent 47's demise, but I couldn't help it. It's so undignified.
If you're wondering where you've heard the name before, Hitman Go was initially released on iOS. What you're getting here on PS4, Vita and PC is the full iOS game plus its Opera, Airport and St. Petersburg add-ons. It's fundamentally very similar to Lara Croft Go, if a little more static-feeling than Lara's beautifully-animated puzzle adventure.
Still, the same basic principles apply. You navigate a grid of set pathways around a small, enclosed diorama. If you can work the sequences so that 47 approaches an enemy from the side or behind (or the front if it's a knife guy), you kill them. Get caught by an enemy and you die. Such clearly-defined rules make the game easy to understand, and allow you to think several turns ahead, which is where the puzzles really come to life.
New ideas are deftly drip-fed into the gameplay and you can tell when a board is there simply as a tutorial. Aside from the pseudo-stealth, you'll get to throw items as distractions, use manholes to travel across the board, or fire single-use weapons. You even get to wear different costumes, to allow you to pass one colour of guards without trouble. But there's no real freedom to such devices. Every level has been designed with a set route for completion, so it's more about working out what you're meant to do, then duly inputting the correct sequence of button presses, rather than using your own devious, freeform tactics like you would in a regular Hitman game.
The Vita version
The game is identical on PlayStation Vita, although the frame rate isn't quite as silky-smooth as it is on PS4. The comparatively basic graphics look good on the smaller screen, and the ability to use the touchscreen like you would on a phone means the Vita version is much closer to the original vision. The best of both worlds.
The restart button gets a lot of use, as sometimes you'll work out what to do after you've made it impossible to actually do it. However, there is a small loading screen every time you hit retry, which quickly gets very annoying. There's no way PS4 needs to reload everything again – these levels are tiny and have very, very basic textures. But it does.
The second problem is far greater. The new controls don't always work. On Vita you can still swipe 47 in the direction you want to go, which is fine, but the d-pad has major problems. The camera sometimes swings around, changing which way up, down, left or right will move you. Sometimes you'll push right expecting it to go diagonally up, but it will go diagonally down, costing you a move. But worse than that, sometimes a direction simply won't respond. No button will send 47 in the direction you want to go, unless you use the left trigger to activate the overhead view, so trying another one in case somehow you got it wrong will invariably work perfectly and get you killed. That's inexcusable and really should have been picked up before launch.
When it works, which to be fair is 99.9% or the time, it's a quietly enjoyable puzzler. Though you might elect to make it even quieter, as although the female voice and haunting harp music in some areas is absolutely beautiful on first listen, it repeats way too quickly, making the mute button very, very tempting after just a minute or two.
All of the game's problems stem from the game's iOS roots, but they're still problems. And while the little things like the plastic police dogs or the bup-boop-bip of completing all three objectives fill me with happy feelings, I can't quite get past the feeling that I'm playing a board game on my own. Nonetheless, cross-save functionality, a Platinum Trophy and a blissful absence of microtransactions makes this a decent conversion of a good mobile game. If only Agent 47 always did what he was told.
This game was reviewed on PS4.