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Be a Smart-Ass Pawn in the Assassin Puzzle Game ‘Hitman GO’

Be a Smart-Ass Pawn in the Assassin Puzzle Game ‘Hitman GO’:

One of my favorite pieces in chess is the pawn. Simple, unassuming, yet in the right hands a pawn can navigate the board, get promoted above their rank and secure a win. Most fall quickly, but a crafty pawn can make it to the end; if, as Bodie from The Wire says, “they some smart-ass pawns.”

Hitman GO is about one crafty pawn overcoming obstacles to take its target, against a board continually stacked against it. The Hitman series has always been about Agent 47, a bald genetic clone and elite assassin, carefully maneuvering around security and enacting elaborate schemes to take out his targets. Hitman GO boils it down to a totally basic set of rules and moves, then elaborates from there until it reach perfect complexity.

GO has been out for some time on phones, and was just released on PS4, PS Vita and PC in a “definitive edition” that makes it even better. Playing on stylish board-game levels, you omnisciently move Agent 47 through board after board, one space a turn. Though early on you simply need to avoid standing directly in front of armed guards, later levels introduce a variety of hazards, like patrolling guards and watchmen who guard the path from you to your target. It often plays out like a maze or puzzle, or a game of Theseus and the Minotaur. Your opponents are able to move more spaces and cover more ground than you, and they can easily entrap you. The odds in Hitman GO are frequently stacked against you, and you have to use your brain to make the most of your pawn’s limited abilities.

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Agent 47, though, is one smart-ass pawn. You can pick up rocks to distract enemies and disrupt their patrol pattern, letting you slip by or take them out in one fell swoop. Guns, disguises and more are at 47’s disposal, as long as you can take advantage of every tool given. These tools gradually become part of the game’s larger dialect as you see a puzzle board and start to peel apart what tools are present and how you need to utilize them to succeed.

It’s in simplicity that Hitman GO shines, able to transplant a series known for grand machinations and huge set-piece levels into concise, contained puzzle boards. While they start out simple in presentation and scale, imitating a small house or a yard, later boards create huge buildings and beautiful vistas all within the confines of a tabletop board game. The boards have their own mechanics as well, introducing concepts like trapdoors and locked doors to force you to think about not just the next turn or two, but several turns ahead.

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Throughout Hitman GO the rules remain the same: 47 moves one space at a time, and “takes” (kills) any piece or pieces he lands on. Each puzzle board lays out the tools, and lets you figure out the rest by playing and discovering the limits as you go. If 47 can’t get past a group of guards, maybe you should use that disguise colored like them. You may not be able to approach a certain guard head-on when they’re facing one direction, but from the opposite, it’s a sure capture.

This all culminates in the assassination levels. Each normal level has you maneuvering around groups of security and guards to reach a destination; whether you kill them all or sneak past is up to your own discretion. Assassinations are glorious finales, often combining multiple rules and enemy types into a single board, with one target at the end. As the backing music changes from a tense, subdued electronic beat to the serene “Avé Maria,” Hitman GO starts to look less like a game and more like a pristine work of art that you can manipulate, navigating corridors and sight lines until you reach the final stanza and 47 takes out his target.

Challenges push the puzzles even further, with different marks (stars) being awarded for completing boards within a certain number of turns, getting a hard-to-acquire briefcase or killing none (or all) of the guards. After playing hours of Hitman GO across several months on my phone, it started to feel like a daily Sudoku puzzle. I would boot up a board and try for a new challenge, testing my understanding of the game’s rules and bending them to get each mark. Now that it’s available on PS4 (not to mention PS Vita and Steam on PCs) those minutes a day might turn into hours in the evenings.

The layering of mechanics can get complex, but it’s all built upon the concept of the simple pawn overcoming the odds. Through every board, every new enemy type or target, you always have to be the smarter pawn. You don’t move as quickly, you can’t overpower everyone and you fall in one hit, same as everyone else. But if you’re clever and crafty, you can slip every sight line, fell every guard and reach your target, completing your contract and moving on to the next. For a game about killing a lot of people, Hitman GO is one of the most serene and well-designed puzzle games around right now.


Eric Van Allen is a Texas boy and freelance writer who can be seen at IGN, Paste, Playboy and other outlets. You can follow his work and ramblings on Twitter at @seamoosi.


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