“Simplicity and repose are the qualities that measure the true value of any work of art.”
– Frank Lloyd Wright
The Hitman Series is a weird one. The first game came out over a decade ago, and there’s been four sequels since, all with interchangeable subtitles like “Absolution”, “Blood Money”, and “Silent Assassin” that conjure up a mind’s eye view of generic power fantasy blech.
In reality Hitman games are pretty heady – or at least want to be. From all kinds of religious subtext and orchestral arrangements, to trippy content and no-win plot scenarios, Hitman’s failing seems to be one of half measure. It can’t be the post-modern, dour, slow-burn thriller like the movie “Drive” is, and it doesn’t want to be the ballsy over-the-top campy game like “Max Payne” either. As a result the games live somewhere in the middle; truly bizarre titles with a variety of interesting – if not completely compelling, narrative ideas.
I bring this all up because despite what you may think, it has quite a bit to do with Hitman: Go, a simple, addicting, challenging, elegant, board game recently released for tablets.
First impressions are interesting. Without a tutorial, welcome message, or blinking cursor, Hitman: Go settles on its splash screen with quiet confidence. Upon hitting “Go” and selecting a board, the design will strike you immediately.
Imagine if Frank Lloyd Wright designed a board game where everything looks modern, retro, and minimalist all at the same time – it’s like you’re exploring a scale model of a house he was intending to build. It’s wild.
It’s this presentation that solidifies the fact the folks making the Hitman games are brilliant cats. This *is* a board game first, and a videogame second, and the details are sublime.
Guards all appear connected to some underlying mechanical device that moves them across the board on a track. Rocks you pick up for distractions are buttons you stand on to activate. Moving your character results insults in a satisfying click and clunk like you’re moving a high quality chess piece.
Video game concessions are of course made – guards will turn around on their own with a little black question mark above their head, and hiding in bushes completely hides your character from view – all largely unrealistic things that couldn’t happen in a board game. But at one point toward the end of a tricky level, “The Ave Maria” kicked in and I was hooked by this game’s….well…everything.
But what about the game part? Well, like the best board games, playing is simple in theory, but wonderfully complex in action. Each level presents a board, guards, a set few paths you can traverse, a goal, and often times a bonus objective like a suitcase.
Getting around guards lethally or non-lethally requires thinking two or three steps ahead, with many levels giving bonus points for minimizing your moves. The key to all this is interrupting the movement patterns of the people in your way. If you can find a way to get a single step ahead of them via backtracking, throwing a rock, or simply taking an alternate path, you’ll often break the level right open and be able to progress to the end – and feel instantly compelled to go back and do it again for an optimal score.
Completing a level feels quite a lot like solving one of those tinker-toy puzzles where you have to twist the interlocking bolts in just the right way to separate them and feel like a super genius. You naturally do it again and again so you can perfect it.
It’s quite soothing, and playing through a level or two of Hitman: Go is a wonderful stress reliever from a long A/V heavy work day, and a nice way to get your brain cranking in the morning on the train commute in without bombarding your eyes with bright colors and fast paced actions. It’s the kind of game that pairs well with a cup of coffee and bemused existential ponderment.
The word that enters my mind when I close my eyes and think of Hitman: Go, is elegance – so much so that I’ve chosen to write this review in the more elegant of fonts, courier.
This game’s choices in music, art and music direction, and gameplay and menu design show remarkable class and maturity. It’s wonderful that a game on a platform not particularly well known for its mature experiences, has such an unassailable identity – so much so that attempting to describe it feels futile – the experience is in seeing it and playing it and half-smirking the whole way through.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll be struck by the screenshots and check this game out for yourself and find yourself happily engaged in the first Hitman game that truly feels at home.