During breaks from playing the excellent Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft I’ve managed to find time to play the other big recent iOS release Hitman GO – and found it to be surprisingly good.

While I figured I’d have an instant fondness for Blizzard’s fantasy card battler, I initially approached Square Enix’s mobile interpretation of the popular stealth/shooter Hitman series with some trepidation.

The App Store is littered with examples of well-known console/PC titles which developers have attempted to recreate on portable devices (either through ports or copycat versions) but which have gone horribly wrong.

Things usually go awry either when a developer crushes a classic title into an awful free-to-play model or when it fails to get the controls right.

Theme Park is the worst example of the first problem, and Deus Ex: The Fall (also from Square Enix) is typical of the second issue.

Fortunately, Hitman GO sidesteps both of these traps with aplomb.

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This is partly due to the smart decision to release the game as a paid-for title with reasonably priced but thoroughly non-essential in-app purchases.

But it’s mainly down to the even cleverer design choice to repackage Hitman as a tough but satisfying tactical turn-based puzzle game, a major shift in direction from the third-person action game form the series has taken before.

The switch of styles for this spin-off works by providing something very well suited to mobile phones and tablets while retaining many of the Hitman hallmarks such as distractions, disguises, hiding places, weapons and, most importantly, assassination.

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The game includes 68 levels, each one presented as a beautifully created tabletop diorama. The simplistic yet hugely attractive boardgame-like art style is one of the standout features.

The main aim on each level is to guide your character, Agent 47, from the start point to the exit without being seen and killed by guards.

On each turn you move Agent 47 one space around the board, and the guards then react with a move of their own. You can kill them, such as by sneaking up while one of them is pointed the other way, but it’s curtains for you if you move into a space directly in front of one of them, unless that space happens to be a designated hiding spot such as a bush. Along the way certain objects come into play such as rocks which can be lobbed to try and divert enemies away.

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The level continues until either you’re killed (in which case you have to restart) or you get to the finish space. Extra credit is given for completing objectives which may include finishing a level in less than a specified number of turns, getting to the end without killing anyone or collecting a briefcase en route.

Each level plays out like a cat-and-mouse battle as you try to plot the safest and most efficient course, often having to think several moves ahead to avoid unfortunate confrontations with enemies. Through its aesthetics, audio and general pace, Hitman GO has a laidback chilled-out sort of vibe much of the time, but it still provides a stiff and sometimes complex challenge requiring logic and planning.

News Shopper: Hitman GO

Levels can take trial and error to get through. No undo features means it’s easy to make fatal mistakes. But there’s always a good sense of fulfilment from beating each stage.

Stamps are awarded for completing goals, and earning enough of these unlocks the next levels pack. Alternatively, IAPa can be used to access levels earlier, and they can also replenish your limited supply of hints which make it easier to beat the trickier levels. Patience and skill come free, however, and these can be used to ensure you get through without needing to pay out further.

There are a few niggles here and there, such as the aforementioned absence of a ‘take that move back’ button and a lack of instructions which can make some parts of the game a little too puzzling.

But overall Hitman GO is an engaging and rewarding game which does a great job of getting players to exercise their brain more than their trigger finger.

It’s an unexpected twist on the Hitman formula which works very well.

Hopefully other developers will use Hitman GO as their inspiration when considering how to transfer popular franchises onto mobile platforms.

8.5 out of 10

Out now for iPhone and iPad, Android version due soon