The GO series, created by Square Enix Montreal, has been one of the surprise successes this past couple of years. Originating with a turn-based puzzle adaptation of Hitman in spring 2014, then an equally clever take on Tomb Raider last September, the series is building a following of its own, comfortably apart from the AAA experiences that inspire them.
With Deus Ex GO, you could say that there is a middle ground to explore between the stealth vibe of Hitman and the more action-oriented representation of Lara Croft. With augmented human Adam Jensen as the protagonist, enough people know to expect that choice of approach characterises his approach: stealth, hacking and combat. The tenets of RPG and narrative are also respected within a story taking place shortly before events in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, with one key caveat to acknowledge before getting into this.
Right off the bat, series designer Etienne Giroux informed Gamereactor that Deus Ex GO, as a puzzle game, cannot adhere to all the expectations of a new Deus Ex adventure. Players will not be rewarded for completing the story while remaining undetected, for example, nor will there be recognition of especially violent or intelligent approaches to scenarios. As with previous GO titles, the challenge is to progress in the most efficient way across node-based maps loaded with increasingly complex obstacles and adversaries.
What's immediately striking about Deus Ex GO is the tasteful, minimalistic aesthetic that captures the look and feel of this rebooted universe. Across locations that include Novak's Mansion, Private Quarters and the Kostbar Bank, very few environmental markers are used to identify each scene. The owner of Novak's Mansion has acquired the original Venus de Milo statue, adding augmented forearms to complete the famously limbless artefact. Inside the bank there are trollies loaded with gold bullion lying outside vault doors. Otherwise the presentation is kept extraordinarily clean, allowing us to focus on the puzzles before us.
The familiar GO gameplay of node-taking to and fro is refreshed with the arrival of patrolling guards. In keeping with the Deus Ex way of things, these guards chase down Jensen on sight, so the trick is to remain out of sight as much as possible in order to sneak by. Alerted guards are also quick to deploy Titan shields, making them invulnerable to attack, ruling out run-and-gun.
In order to evade guards and other physical threats, Jensen can initially deploy a cloaking device as one of several pick-ups that later include hacking skills and firearms. The choice of usage at key nodes forms part of the puzzle. Again, one solution from several possibilities.
The User Interface is slick: finger-dragging the route for hacking instructions to reach and reprogram gun turrets, or to rotate floor tiles that create pathways across rooms. According to Etienne, even this apparently straightforward, eventually intuitive command system was focus tested so that it would not present an additional obstacle to the puzzle solving process. Sentry drones are assigned to halt Jensen's progress by shooting him on sight, or blocking the path of his hacking signals, but the UI should never get in the way.
Etienne's team in Montreal are all avid board-game players, and the influence on Deus Ex GO is especially apparent. It's like playing one of the more popular and cerebral German-style products such as Carcassonne, but on the fly and with more flexibility. There are the tiles and the pieces as the foundation for head-scratching conundrums, but the necessity to manipulate action in real-time is uniquely exciting. Without giving too much away, one situation involves luring a guard out of position, to where Jensen was last spotted, in order to prevent him reaching and resetting one of Jensen's hacked terminals. It's only by ducking quickly in and out of sight from a particular node that enables Jensen to succeed.
With Deus Ex GO being quite obviously a non-traditional video game experience, we asked Etienne about the target audience. The intention is to appeal not only to Deus Ex fans, with the strong visual association and narrative context, but engage with fans of the GO series in isolation, also players of designer board games and the likes of Candy Crush too.
It's going to be very generous with its content too, after the initial purchase. SE Montreal is planning new stand-alone puzzles every week-day after launch, with Fridays offering the most difficult offering to complete. These will be available at no extra cost. There is also a level editor/puzzle editor in development, being released "further down the line", that will invite players to create their own challenges, up- or down-voted by the community. All of these puzzles that exist outside of the main game will have bare-bones presentation, akin to the VR Missions in Metal Gear Solid. These are purely about mechanics as opposed to story.
All told, Deus Ex GO feels like a true expansion of Adam Jensen's dark and moody universe. At the same time, we genuinely expect this game to turn heads on your regular commute since it doesn't appear to be the usual mindless video game experience we've now grown used to seeing on smart phones and phablets. Indeed, the GO series overall complements the Square Enix portfolio so very well that we are genuinely keen to know what's coming next from the team at SE Montreal. Apparently key members of the Deus Ex: Mankind Divided team were hugely enthused and very cooperative during the development of Deus Ex GO, something that really shines through in both the visual style and gameplay iteration.
Sadly, we cannot share an exact release date with you today, since all that we have been given to work with is summer 2016 for simultaneous launch across Android and iOS. But, perhaps needless to say, we're keen to play.