Monday, 22 September 2014

What I'm Playing: Hitman Go

I dedicated the last four posts of What I'm Playing to an attempt at figuring out what makes a good mobile game. 

And then the very next game I played was another mobile game which didn't fit into the grand pattern I'd mapped out for the posts. Such are the dangers of trying to write honestly about every game you play, I suppose.

Hitmango (6)
Hitmango isn't a game about the popularity of tropical fruits, sadly, but a mobile adaption of the popular games franchise about leading professional killer, baldie and hide-and-seek champion Agent 47.

Before I drop in a screenshot, let's talk about the first thing you're going to notice about Hitmango. Namely, how uniquely gorgeous it is. A few months back, I talked about how Hearthstone went out of its way to imitate a physical card game, but Hitmango goes further still.

In an attempt to distill the Hitman formula down into something that will fit on the small screen, it miniaturises the whole thing – the disguises, distractions and player-engineered deathtraps – and turns it into a board game.

Hitmango (4)

From the game-box loading screens to the plaque on the wooden bezel of each level, this is something you could imagine turning over in your hands. Or admiring the craftsmanship of the sculpted figurines that stand in for 47 and his targets, like a tourist gawping at one of those elaborate mechanical clocks in a German town square.

Hitmango plays like a board game too. You move your piece along a set track, one marker at a time, and then your opponent – in this case, an AI-controlled squad of bodyguards – takes their move. Just like clockwork.

Which is to say, smooth and well put together, but a bit stiff and mechanical too. Hitmango almost feels like it's satirising the lack of choice offered by most games – how, for example, a lot of stealth games is just watching for the gap in a routine patrol pattern. But if taking a Bioshock-style jab at the illusion of autonomy genuinely is the intention here, the Hitman franchise is an odd place for it.

Hitmango (1)

The Hitman games have always thrived on giving players as much choice as possible. Do you want to put a bullet in your target from a rooftop half a mile away, or pose as a waiter and slip poison into their caviar? While Hitmango recreates these actions, it puts them quite literally on rails.

Being fair, there are some choices to be made here. Each level has additional achievements, which are often mutually exclusive – kill everyone, kill no one – to encourage replaying, but this only highlights how narrow the perfect solution is. Too often, the answer is bouncing back and forth between two squares a maddening number of times, until a guard's patrol slips out of sequence.

In a way, Hitmango is more like a handsomely-furnished Threes than any of the other installments in the Hitman series, and I'll give the same disclaimer as I did in my blog on that: maybe it's just a failing of my brain.

Hitmango (7)

Here's the thing, though. There's a bonus pack which which adapt possibly the series' high watermark: the Blood Money level 'Curtains Down'. Taking down two targets in a theatre, Agent 47 switches a prop gun for a real one, then watches from the balcony as an actor accidentally executes your mark, firing the remote min he's stuck on a chandelier at just the right moment to crush the another.

It's a moment of memorably inventive violence which Hitmango faithfully reproduces, but it doesn't have the tool set to replicate its thrills. After all, the joy wasn't in merely watching these assassinations play out. It was the knowledge that you could have just charged in with a sub-machine gun instead, the feeling that you'd discovered these alternatives yourself.

In Hitmango, these aren't choices. They're mandatory checkpoints you drag your Agent 47 figurine towards. You're not a genius professional killer earning his million-dollar bonus; you're a competent snakes-and-ladders player.

Hitmango (5)


Other games what I've been playing:

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London, United Kingdom
Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.