IO Interactive has been releasing quality Hitman games for over a decade now, but the series has always failed to garner the massive audiences that other triple-A action games enjoy, in part due to its unique and demanding gameplay. Square-Enix Montreal has been determined to expand Agent 47's influence to the mobile market, but rather than release a watered down version of the console games, the developer has focused on finding aspects of the series that work well on handheld devices. Hitman Go recasts the series' cat-and-mouse gameplay as a puzzle game. The developer's newest title focuses squarely on Agent 47's impeccable marksmanship, and our hands-on demo with the game suggests the legendary assassin is right on target.
Hitman: Sniper is a spiritual successor of sorts to Hitman: Sniper Challenge, the short downloadable game that served as a pre-order bonus for Hitman: Absolution. The concept is simple: The player peers down on the level from a stationary vantage point and snipes at unsuspecting enemies. You can off the target immediately, but completing the contract isn't really the point – instead you want to get the high score, which means offing as many guards as possible and chaining together combos before finally taking down your target.
Hitman: Sniper's touchscreen controls are simple yet effective. You touch Agent 47's scope to look through it, drag a finger around to move the reticle, and pinch to zoom in and out. A quick tap on the screen shoots, while bullet and lung icons reload and steady Agent 47's aim, respectively.
The level I played overlooked the penthouse of a criminal kingpin. Guards patrolled the area while their boss roamed around inside the house, and the environment offers plenty of creative kill opportunities. Landing a headshot on a guard standing by a pool causes his body to ragdoll into the water, which provides me with a score bonus for hiding the body. Shooting a propane tank causes it to hiss flames and eventually explode, sending another guard flying over a ledge. My favorite kill involves shooting a car to trigger its alarm. When a guard on the floor above the car leans over the glass railing to investigate, I shattered the glass, sending him falling onto another guard below, netting me a two-for-one kill.
All of the chaos eventually alerts the target, which causes him to flee. Luckily, Agent 47 has a few special abilities at his disposal. A vision skill temporarily highlights enemies and environmental objects, while a supersonic ammo ability causes bullets to hit their target immediately, removing the need to lead a moving enemy. I pair this ability with 47's focus power, which slows down time in addition to steadying his aim. One final headshot brings down the target just before he runs behind a wall, completing the mission; I use the additional 10-second extraction phase to rack up some bonus points by stringing together a chained kill combo on the remaining guards.
Square-Enix Montreal is building Hitman: Sniper with replay in mind; leaderboards allow you to compete with friends and other players alike, unlockable gun parts allow you to upgrade and customize your sniper rifle, and a variety of targets and challenges should keep players busy. Although the game will launch with only two locations, Square-Enix Montreal says that they'll contain over 150 missions, and that new targets will be randomly added the more you play. You can also unlock new abilities to change out based on your playing style.
I enjoyed the Sniper Challenge mini-game that accompanied Hitman: Absolution, and Hitman: Sniper scratches the same itch. It also plays well on tablets, proving once again that Square-Enix Montreal is more than capable of reimagining the Hitman experience in ways that make sense for mobile. If you're still on the fence, trying out Hitman: Sniper won't cost you a dime; the game is launching as a free-to-play title, and while it will contain microtransactions, Square-Enix Montreal says they merely speed up the progression process without penalizing those unwilling to pay.
Hitman: Sniper will launch on iOS this fall, with an Android version being released shortly thereafter.