It’s probably going to be a while until we see the real Agent 47 in virtual reality (VR). Videogame’s favourite assassin recently made a second outing on the big screen and is soon set to return to consoles and PC with the Hitman reboot, but we’re likely some ways off from getting to experience the stealthy and stylish action of this beloved franchise with a head-mounted display (HMD). But, until that time arrives, publisher Square Enix is hoping to tide fans over with a Gear VR port of the surprisingly successful and wholly original mobile spin-off, Hitman: GO.
Originally launched on Android and iOS in 2014, the first edition of Hitman: GO was an exercise in distilling the core elements of the franchise and enriching them with a charming table top style. That hasn’t changed for the upcoming Gear VR edition; the iconic Agent 47 appears as a simple figurine that players guide across small areas, one move at a time. Guards are stubbornly placed around the set paths, requiring players to either navigate around them or approach from behind to take them out. The latter option is smartly represented as simply removing the enemy piece from the board, rather than showcasing a grizzly execution.
Hitman: GO quickly becomes as much a puzzler as it does a stealth title, then. This is a methodical experience that’s far more concerned with perfect movements and decision-making rather than some of the main series’ more action-orientated elements. Levels gradually introduce new mechanics such stones that can be tossed, creating a noise that will lure nearby guards out of the way and a scoring system will challenge you to either eliminate all enemies or avoid killing any of them.
VR support offers more in the way of intuition than it does innovation here. A series of plain rooms have been added to help ground the player in a new environment, but the real changes here are made possible thanks to the mechanics of VR as opposed to the effects of it. Getting the perfect angle of the diorama set pieces is now as simple as swiping in any direction on the Gear VR’s touchpad, while guiding Agent 47 along his path can be done by glancing at the next title and tapping the HMD to move there.
But, while VR may not add much to the experience, it’s certainly not an unwelcome inclusion. This is simply a new venue to play one of 2014’s most delightful videogame treats. The addictive gameplay is intact, it’s entirely comfortable and its design never once contradicts the golden rules of VR. You can’t ask for much more out of a port of a year-old title, can you?
If Hitman: GO were to make any lasting mark on the future of VR, it’s in its stance as a great case study for how to port other such experiences to Gear VR and other HMDs. The recently-launched Lara Croft: GO would be another welcome addition to the VR library using the same format, as would virtually any top-down third-person experience. Imagine even being able to use the HTC Vive’s Room Scale tracking to navigate around the action for yourself. But that is perhaps a distant dream and, for now, Hitman: GO is a solid foundation to build towards that goal.