The Puzzling ‘Hitman GO’ Is an Addictive Alternative to Its Parent Game

Out now on PlayStation 4 and Vita, Square Enix Montréal's mobile hit is both gorgeous and approachable in its 'Definitive Edition.'

Mar 9 2016, 7:35pm

There's a new Hitman game out, and I love it. No, no—not that one. Besides, we can't talk about that one yet. (Embargoes and everything.) I mean Hitman GO—and, no doubt, you're about to tell me that it's not new. And you're right, sort of.

The original mobile puzzler—in which the franchise's Agent 47 moves on rails around a board to position himself for the hit, while every turn you take also allows enemies to move—came out in April 2014 for iOS before being ported to Android a few months later and Windows the following year. Its reception was fantastic—visually, its board game-like graphics and solid-feeling pieces impressed, and with each layout featuring a number of objectives to tick off, replaying previously seen stages was never dull. It was liked, loved in some quarters, and its place as one of the more uniquely compelling titles within the Hitman franchise was assured.

So, really, it made sense for its makers at Square Enix Montréal to produce a definitive edition of Hitman GO, which snuck out at the end of February for PlayStation 4 and Vita. I've been playing it at home, steadily checking objectives, meticulously counting moves so as to score maximum points. Unlike the "main" Hitman games, which I find fairly stressful, GO is more meditative—it only moves when you do, and instant restarts mean failures need never linger. I can't get enough of it, and it's definitely influencing my feelings on the new Hitman proper—while I can't comment on its qualities right now, I absolutely feel more attached to IO Interactive's episodic triple-A release since beginning GO than I did beforehand.

GO's Definitive Edition expands the single-payment package to 90 levels delivered in sharper detail. It looks gorgeous on the PS4, its subtle flair extending to the game-box level-select screen. I spoke to Square Enix Montréal's technical director, Antoine Routon, and brand manager, Gen St-Onge, about taking Agent 47 from the big to the small screen, and back again.

'Hitman GO: Definitive Edition,' launch trailer

VICE: So you have this famous stealth assassination franchise, covering several console generations, and you guys turn it into a digital board game. How does that conversation even begin?
Antoine Routon: So Square Enix Montréal was originally created to develop the new triple-A Hitman that's coming out. But then things changed around a bit, and the project switched to IO, in Denmark, and we were asked to focus on a mobile title. And when we started on what would become Hitman GO, we were literally just told to make a game within the Hitman universe that would work on mobile. We had all of this understanding of the franchise, as we'd been working on the bigger game for a year at that stage, so we knew what the game was about. At the same time, we had people in the team with experience of making mobile games, and they understood the constraints of the medium. So instead of going for a mobile copy of what you see on consoles, we knew we had to approach this differently. We had to preserve what we knew of Hitman, and transpose it in a different way.

Daniel Lutz, the creative director on Hitman GO, his initial impulse was to distill the Hitman experience, to bring its essence to mobile. And then we started to think: Maybe we can make this a puzzle game? Maybe this can be turn-based? And that would work well with the stealth gameplay—that can fit within a turn-based puzzle framework. Some people thought it was a crazy idea, but as we were toying with it, we saw that, actually, this could work. We began to see a way to translate each mechanic of Hitman to a turn-based system. You'll see some of these mechanics very early on in the game, like using stones and balls to distract enemies, hiding places, and the different enemy types with different patterns to learn. All of these things just worked. So that was the first step. As we were progressing with the production, another element that became really important was adding our own touch to the franchise. So you see the game's aesthetic, its architecture, the whole freeze-frame figurines, and everything—that's definitely not part of the franchise before our game. But we thought they were a great addition, and they've combined to form this fresh interpretation of what the franchise is.

So understanding the source material was massively important, and so was knowing that we needed to distill this down, so it would fit on the mobile platform. And then we needed to find our own interpretation of what made the franchise so appealing.

You mention the aesthetics of the game. It does look like a physical tabletop game, albeit split across several highly detailed boards. Did that come about because of you testing how it would play using actual game pieces?
There are many reasons why it ended up that way, and I can't really pinpoint when we ultimately decided to take that game in that visual direction. We knew we wanted the physicality of a board game. And the other thing is when we were working on the triple-A Hitman game, our art director at the time really wanted to emphasize the "manliness" of Agent 47, the game's masculinity. We were putting attention on the quality of his suits, the material of his guns. We were taking this almost James Bond–like approach to making Agent 47, and in a way, that translated to Hitman GO, albeit in a very different way. We were talking, early on, about the game needing to be made of these "nice" things, and when we translated that into this board game, we wanted it to look like an object that a guy might really want in his man cave, you know? We wanted it to look desirable.

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You say that some in the team thought GO was a crazy idea. But the game was massive on mobile, in the end. How did it feel, internally, to see that amazing reception for this game that could easily have been seen as a spin-off and little more?
Well, first of all I have to say that we got very lucky. We're thankful of that. And with hindsight, it's easy to see some of the ways in which we had an appealing game. GO is true to the Hitman franchise, and we'd worked so hard to capture that—so even though the gameplay was new, we felt fans wouldn't be alienated by it. They'll find that it is truly Hitman. So there are a lot of details in there, from the music to the mechanics, to many small things inspired by the previous Hitman games.

But what we did was also unexpected—and when you do things that people don't expect, but it's relevant, then that's compelling. There was no way to predict that we'd strike the right balance with the audience, but we had a hunch, and time told us that we weren't too wrong.

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Related: Watch our interview with an actual assassin

I can see Hitman GO as a pretty great way into the franchise. I certainly know people who've tweeted that it's their favorite of any Hitman game. Do you think because it plays so differently than the "main" games, and is in many respects a lot more approachable—it's not terrifically violent, it doesn't have a load of buttons to learn, and so on—that it can be a gateway for newcomers to get into the other releases?
Yeah, we've seen it become a door for people to get into the franchise. We receive emails from people telling us that they'd never played a Hitman game before, but through GO, they've gotten into the universe. That's really rewarding. And we've totally seen people tweeting that it's their favorite of all the Hitman games, and that is really cool. But we had a rich universe to draw upon. In a way, it's the same thing you see in the Lego games, where they take something you know and twist it. And from a consumer perspective, that's always interesting.

The Definitive Edition of GO is the complete package, so to speak—all the levels, all at once, no in-game purchases, done. Is that really the point of the release, to round up everything in the game to this point and present it to both new and existing audiences?
There was no one, main reason to do it, but people had been asking us for it, and we figured that was as good a reason as any. We had Vita users wanting it, and if we were doing Vita, there was no reason not to do PS4 too. That gave us more screen space, so we could up the quality. So it made sense. It was really just: Why not? It was a cool thing to do. Because the game was made for mobile, we had to put a lot of extra time into making it work on console, so that it works with a controller.

Hitman GO has moved from mobile to console. Does that mean that we'll see another of your smartphone successes, Lara Croft GO, make the same transition?
It's too soon to say! Dot, dot, dot... connect the dots.

And in terms of adding content to GO that reflects the story of the new Hitman, is that something you're talking about?
We're not able to say, but I'll write this idea down now, and maybe use it later—you can take some of the credit. But I can't comment on that, right now.

Gen St-Onge: We're working with IO, and considering possibilities. We have a very close relationship with the other Hitman studios. Another of our games, Hitman: Sniper, will get some updates. But GO, right now, isn't, at least at this time.

Hitman GO: Definitive Edition is out now for PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 4. You can find more information at the game's official website.

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