Trig­ger Happy

Shoot first, ask ques­tions later

EDGE - - SECTIONS - STEVEN POOLE Steven Poole’s Trig­ger Happy 2.o is now avail­able from Ama­zon. Visit him on­line at www.steven­poole.net

Steven Poole ad­mires the crafts­man­ship of Hit­man Go

One of the most sat­is­fy­ingly sur­pris­ing things that can hap­pen in mod­ern in­dus­trial art is when a cul­tural property rein­vents it­self in a dif­fer­ent genre. The clas­sic ex­am­ple is Alien, a hor­ror film, be­com­ing Aliens, a war film. (Prometheus is ar­guably the first true sci­ence-fic­tion film in the se­ries.) The sur­prise – and po­ten­tial sat­is­fac­tion – of such genre-switch­ing can be all the greater in videogames, be­cause not only do videogame gen­res obey dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tive con­ven­tions (like gen­res in cin­ema and fic­tion), but they also work, and make us work, in me­chan­i­cally in­com­men­su­rable ways.

What’s ex­cit­ing about genre-switch­ing is that there’s re­ally no way to tell in ad­vance whether it will be suc­cess­ful. I doubt whether

Ad­vance Wars would work as a Bat­tle­field- type FPS, but then when I first heard that Metal

Gear was com­ing out as a turn-based PSP card game, I thought that sounded bonkers, too. As it turned out, the Acid games were bril­liantly at­mo­spheric, im­bu­ing a genre in which I had less than zero in­ter­est with all the glam­our of tac­ti­cal es­pi­onage ac­tion, and none of the pan­icked con­troller fum­bling with which I had so of­ten led pre­vi­ous un­de­serv­ing Snakes to their un­timely dooms.

It seems pos­si­ble Square Enix Mon­treal re­mem­bered how the Acid games had mas­tered the form of turn-based stealth when dream­ing up the iOS puz­zler Hit­man

Go. It’s de­light­ful to see Agent 47 reimag­ined as a gleam­ing fig­urine, unges­tur­ing yet still darkly charis­matic, glid­ing around to the ac­com­pa­ni­ment of mys­tery-jazz mu­sic through de­lec­ta­ble lev­els rem­i­nis­cent of card­board ar­chi­tec­tural mod­els of gar­dens and of­fices, mounted lov­ingly on wooden plinths.

Aes­thet­i­cally, Hit­man Go is ar­guably most in­ter­est­ing be­cause of the nos­tal­gia it rep­re­sents. No longer a mur­der sim­u­la­tor like its pre­de­ces­sors, it’s re­ally a boardgame sim­u­la­tor. In­deed, the de­vel­op­ers have said it be­gan life as a phys­i­cal boardgame. Even the stages are pre­sented as boardgame boxes, with lov­ingly cre­ated fic­tional pack­ag­ing.

Hit­man Go is no­table as an ex­quis­ite symp­tom of the dig­i­tal’s nos­tal­gia for the weighty, fin­ger­able real

Cu­ri­ous, since once upon a time videogames could be thought of as an evo­lu­tion­ar­ily su­pe­rior lu­dic stage to the boardgame: one where the board it­self could change dy­nam­i­cally, and the com­puter took over all the math­e­mat­i­cal drudgery. But

Hit­man Go is in many ways mil­i­tantly, even com­i­cally, un­dy­namic. The char­ac­ters are de­lib­er­ately unan­i­mated, which does lend a lovely sculp­tural qual­ity to the se­cu­rity guard posed in mid-run or the rich man in shorts for­ever frozen in the act of serv­ing a ten­nis ball. And the way the usual graphic ul­travi­o­lence that Agent 47 sar­don­ically prac­tices on his tar­gets is sub­limed into the sat­is­fy­ing thonk of a piece sim­ply be­ing knocked over is a sur­pris­ing and sat­is­fy­ing generic trans­la­tion.

But this very amorous ded­i­ca­tion to sim­u­lat­ing a kind of as­sas­sin’s Sub­bu­teo is ar­guably what harms Hit­man Go as a game. You can move only along pre­de­fined rails, and most lev­els end up be­ing about pedan­tic count­ing, fig­ur­ing out how you can lose a move by am­bling back and forth.

Nonethe­less, Hit­man Go is still a very charm­ing lit­tle di­ver­sion, and no­table as an ex­quis­ite symp­tom of the dig­i­tal’s nos­tal­gia for the weighty, fin­ger­able real. On the one hand, com­puter in­ter­faces since Win­dows Phone and iOS7 are flee­ing skeuo­mor­phism for min­i­mal­ist flat­ness. On the other hand, videogames yearn for tex­ture and so­lid­ity, as evinced in the prosce­nium-vel­vet mise-en­scène of Pup­peteer, the arts-and-crafts aes­thetic of Lit­tle Big Planet, or the beau­ti­ful ex­per­i­ment of Tear­away, which turns the screen it­self into rip­pable paper. The dif­fer­ence is that we want fric­tion­less ef­fi­ciency from some­thing like a cal­en­dar app – yes, de­light too, but not the feel­ing that we are strug­gling with a ma­chine. Con­trar­ily, The

Room 2 is en­tirely pred­i­cated on the plea­sure of strug­gling with a ma­chine.

Games such as The Room 2 or Hit­man Go, you might say, are al­most apol­o­gis­ing for the lack of hap­tic pur­chase on a smooth touch­screen, and try­ing des­per­ately to make us feel as though we are fin­ger­ing solid ob­jects all the same. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see whether this phe­nom­e­non – Mec­cano envy? Doll’s-house envy? – per­sists in the form, to be per­fected by some com­bi­na­tion of force-feed­back gloves and Face­book-spon­sored VR hel­met. Af­ter all, in the wake of a fu­ture eco-ged­don where wood has be­come an enor­mously ex­pen­sive lux­ury ma­te­rial, that will be the only way most of us will be able to ex­pe­ri­ence it at all.

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