‘What have these stick-people ever done to hurt me?’ This is the question I found myself asking as I sniped my way through ‘Tactical Assassin’, a new shooter from Simon Hason. Throughout the game, multiple silhouette stick-men meet their demise as brains leak from their foreheads, chests explode in red mist and new orifices are introduced to the bodies of helpless men in hospital beds. This is not a game for your pre-school toddler. Unless you’re training your pre-school toddler to become an assassin that is, in which case I would wholeheartedly recommend it.
In a new iOS port of the popular web game, you play as a faceless, nameless sniper – a gun, basically – who is charged with putting holes in a variety of targets (mostly human) over the course of 18 levels comprising of varying scenarios; free a hostage here, shoot a guard there, don’t forget to pick up some milk on the way home. Ho hum.
It’s an interesting mix of photo-realistic environments such as fields and marshlands, and hand- drawn foreground elements like buildings and walkways. Your weapon takes up a large portion of the screen on the right hand side as you tap to zoom into your target and tilt your device to aim (a function which sometimes feels as if the game is aiming itself), hit the lung icon to steady your breathing, and tap the fire button to shoot.
Then of course, you watch as the stick-men who play your enemies slump lifelessly to the floor with alarming realism (not that I’ve spent lots of time round people who slump lifelessly to the floor, but you know what I mean). You’re never told why you have to kill these people, or even what side you’re on, but it’s a sick thrill all the same.
This has the effect of making you feel slightly guilty at times– sure the game tells you your target has a briefcase, but he’s just as likely a father-of-three on his way to work as a rogue spy with the secret launch codes to a couple of nuclear warheads; and the level where you have to shoot a jogger in the park is a little close to the bone if you’re a sensitive soul like me, (I still shot him though). I’d feel much better if we had truly nasty people to hit – murderers or kidnappers; people who kick hamsters for a living, that sort of thing.
And this lack of context is the main niggle with ‘Tactical Assassin’. Each level is disconnected, with locations and mission briefs having little to no continuity as the game progresses, the whole thing seemingly a random jump between locales and unfortunate stick-men that happen to get in the way of your bullets.
The reason it stands out is that levels are so much fun to play that wrapping them within even a loose narrative would’ve increased the appeal. Give your character a name, an organisation to work for, and a reason he’s shooting people and everything becomes just that little bit more immersive.
The moniker of ‘Tactical Assassin’ is right on the money you see, with most levels requiring you to think before you shoot. Take for example the stage entitled ‘Suicide‘ in which a man is threatening to kill himself and you have to resolve the situation without any deaths. It’s not too difficult to work out how to play it, but the fact you have to work it out at all is pretty neat.
Because of this, you’ll keenly anticipate what kind of creative puzzle the next level is going to throw up. And it’s not all sniping either – some levels allow you free reign with a pistol or M4 Carbine with a slightly different control scheme (hold the aim button and your gun will pop up on-screen allowing you to shoot from the hip). These more action packed levels more in line with a first person shooter: you simply have to blast your foes before they blast you.
It’s a real shame that there are so few levels in the main game then. There are challenge and practice modes included, but the whole thing is so fun that it leaves you wanting much more to play with; 18 just doesn’t seem enough. Perhaps this was the number where the developer’s imagination stopped running wild, and it’s surely better to have a short, well-done game that leaves you wanting more than a bloated and repetitive bore, but I’ll go on record in saying I’d welcome more of the same.
And most impressive might be’ Tactical Assassin’s’ sound. Strap on a pair of cans and immediately get a sense of the isolation and loneliness any sniper must feel as the brilliant ambient noise for each level increases the tension before the fatal shot. Crickets and passing cars never sounded so good.
If your tactical assassin had more, dare I say it…motivation, this could’ve been an even better package. But If there’s one thing videogames have taught us since their inception, it’s that killing people is usually fun, even if you don’t quite know why you’re doing it.
Let’s talk tactics over on Twitter. Follow Kevin @KevThePen. We can even talk tic-tacs if you prefer.