Hitman GO was more than the throwaway mobile spin-off you’d first expect, offering a streamlined but compelling take on the stealthy assassination sim in turn-based form suited for its platform. With Square Enix not only extending the formula to its other IP, including Tomb Raider and Deus Ex, not to mentioning porting it to other platforms, it was only a matter of time before someone would use those node-based mechanics for an original game. That’s essentially what you get with Vandals, which casts you as a nondescript youth traversing through a series of maps based on major cities around the globe sticking it to the coppers by tagging a target then getting the hell out of there before you get nicked.
For those unfamiliar with the GO games, each level (of which there are 60 in total) is mapped out with nodes connected by various paths, although you get the occasional cul-de-sac or paths that are inaccessible to some. You can traverse from one point to another either by tapping an adjcanet node or swiping in the desired direction. Of course, you also have to contend with the police on patrol, each with their own distinct patterns, though lines highlighted in red will always indicate their line of sight. Some might just be sleeping on the spot while others will walk in a determined path, that is unless they see or hear something suspicious. Movement in these cases is turn-based, so that once you make a move or action, all enemies will move in the same turn.
Sometimes you’ll want to get a nearby guard’s attention by whistling (or picking up a glass bottle to lob) to lure them away from their patrol that’s blocking your path, and markers clearly indicate exactly where they’re going to investigate, unless something else catches their attention. But naturally, as you progress, different kind of enemies appear, as do methods to escape their eyes, from sewer covers that let you teleport from one side to the other, to fences you can cut through, which the plod can’t follow through.
The difficulty curve and variety is well executed, though there is the odd occasion you’ll find one level nigh-on impossible to get through in order to earn the coveted three stars (awarded for completing the level undetected, within a certain number of turns and for reaching a bonus spot respectively) while the next will feel like a breeze. Also peppered through some stages are polaroid collectibles that can be gotten simply by tapping on them, which double as a way of teaching players about the rich history of the street art, from prominent graffiti artists to their use in times of political upheaval – notably, the first city you play in is Paris in 1968 during a time of civil unrest that spread from universities to factories.
These polaroid intervals are a nice way of adding context to the game’s settings, which are otherwise a bit lacking in personality. In terms of both visuals and music, it’s not really until you’re in Sao Paolo and Tokyo where it doesn’t feel like you’re just in another moody dim-lit urban environment. Of course, once you get to Tokyo, it can’t help but bring up comparisons with graffiti-tagging classic Jet Set Radio. Turn-based or not, this isn’t quite the substitute you’re looking for, though what is very welcome is that you do have free rein on how to express yourself through graffiti. Through a limited palette, it’s easy enough to use the touchscreen to draw your tag (and with a touch of realism, the paint also runs down the wall) and then share via social media if you’re inclined, such as my homage:
I mention that this is technically an ‘original’ game, though the irony is that for people who’ve played the other GO games, this will also feel awfully derivative. Meanwhile, despite the turn-based nature, there’s also some fiddly moments when a turn doesn’t register prompting a double-swipe, only for you to end up performing an extra move in error, and while you can move by swiping the screen or touching a node, there were a couple instances where a swipe was misread to another direction, such is the hazard of an isometric layout. While it’s true you can restart at any time, that doesn’t mean it’s not annoying.
Nonetheless, for fans of the GO games who want more of the same, or just for someone who wants a puzzler that’s simple enough to pick up but get very taxing for the grey matter (especially those with a completionist mindset), Vandals will certainly scratch that itch. But personally, I want to hear the scratch of vinyl and the sounds of Professor K taking me back to Tokyo-to.