Release Date: 17/04/2014
Played On: Android / PC
Available On: Android / iOS / PC / PS4 / Vita
Time Played: 4h 54m
Progress: 100% Complete
Developer: Square Enix Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
The first time I saw the computer game version of Monopoly, it blew my tiny little mind. As with Battle Chess before it, here was a game I'd played in the real world enhanced by animations and sounds that seemed impossibly immersive. However, when the novelty wore off, the lack of physical interaction with a game like Monopoly only served to expose its weaknesses. The more you play the video game version, the more you realise it's one hundred percent dice rolls, with little else happening along the way.
It creates a bit of a dissonant vibe around board games that have been digitised and turned into video games. On one hand, a game like Battle Chess simply adds cool animations to a brilliant physical game that still requires strategy and smarts to play. On the other hand, a game like Monopoly loses the social aspect of sitting around a table with your friends, making ridiculous deals and taunting each other for the rent.
The latter becomes more obvious the further down the video game board game route you go, as there are many examples of classic games being nullified and ruined when they're ported into digital space. Additionally, the surge of excellent physical games that have been released in recent years, reminds us that there's something wonderful about sitting around a table with friends that you can't get from even an online version of a physical game.
So much of playing board games is about the social appeal of laughing and fighting with friends in real life. There's no real substitute for staring out another player as you try to read their mind and make a move to trump them. Turning over the card that might wipe you out in a co-operative game loses its tension when all you have to do is click a button. I would argue that it's rare for a board game to transfer well to a digital version, unless it's a thoroughly brilliant classic like chess, or solitaire.
It's actually a real shame that this is often the case, as there are ways that video games can enhance the board game format. It means that the game can run without everyone completely understanding some complex rules. Even simpler functions like calculating taxes in Monopoly, are made less tedious when there's a computer there to add up your cash and figure out the math for you.
Enter some recent titles that have chosen to ignore existing physical games, and create some similar experiences that are one hundred percent video game. Hitman GO sits firmly in this camp as a game that uses a board game aesthetic, but video game possibilities and rules. Other notable entries are games like Armello, or Gremlins Inc, that play like board games, but involve some complex rules and gameplay that would be far too confusing to manage in a physical form.
Hitman GO appears to be simple and straight forward on the surface. Each level is a small area of a larger map that you must get through without being killed along the way. There are guards and obstacles that move when you move and offer challenging puzzles to solve. However, it's the game's aesthetic that really sucked me in, as everything is presented as it would be in the real world.
Levels look like crafted dioramas of each area, sitting on a wooden base with a plaque showing the level's name and number. The player and enemies all look like wood carved figures, standing on a base to prevent them toppling over. The animations as they move are stiff and deliberate, much like moving pieces around a board. Even the sound design clunks and clacks along the way as the wooden pieces tumble and topple onto the board.
By all accounts, Hitman GO looks and feels like a physical board game in every sense. It's only when you look at it closely in some of the later levels that you realise it's far more complex and would be a nightmare to manage in the real world.
Levels often have a collection of different enemy types that all move in prescribed, but varied ways. Some will react to the player character and start following him, while others stay on a pre-determined path. Throwing a can will attract close enemies to that location, or stepping on a conveyor belt will move you multiple spaces in one go. With all these different elements in play that have to move every time the player moves, it quickly becomes a nightmare to control. Sure it would be possible to play a physical version of Hitman GO, but you would spend most of your time moving enemy pieces instead of your own. Not to mention that it's a single player experience, so you'd be spending all your time moving enemy pieces on your own.
However, I really enjoyed playing through Hitman GO on my own as a video game. The board game aesthetic is easily understandable and serves the theme well. There's no random pitfalls of dice rolls or human deception, so mechanically it boils down a complex and compelling puzzle game. There are multiple ways to complete each level and if you're keen on getting all the achievements, you'll have to play through most levels again to get all the objectives.
It's important to realise that even though Hitman GO does a good job of utilising a board game/"physical" aesthetic, it's still just a puzzle game. This wouldn't work as a physical game, but that's okay because it works really well in digital form. I would much rather have more digital board games like this, than simple ports of dice games like Monopoly that are a complete bore when all the social fun gets stripped away.
I'd also like to add that I've played Hitman GO on my mobile phone and it works just as well on there. It's not often that I find a game working well on mobile as well as PC, but Squenix seem to have hit the nail on the head with this one.