Gotta Hack ‘Em All: Hands On With Deus Ex Go

Jensen's puzzling pocket adventures.

There’s another game with ‘Go’ in the title on the horizon, and it’s nothing to do with monsters that can fit in your pocket. Deus Ex Go is the third entry in Eidos Montreal’s series popular mobile games, each of which has taken a well regarded Square Enix franchise and twisted it into a compelling puzzle game.

For anyone that’s played Hitman Go or Lara Croft Go, you’ll instantly be familiar with the series’ board game feel. A grid of lines and regular nodes are marked on the floor of the level, with Adam Jensen at one point and you having to move him from node to node, one swipe at a time to an exit point. Naturally, there’s more than a few obstacles and enemies to avoid or take out along the way.

The Go games always take a lot of inspiration from the game series that they’re based on, drawing upon specific ideas and gameplay elements to feel a part of the universe. Jensen makes quite an entrance into the first level, for example, by smashing through a wall and taking a guard out from behind. Though there’s plenty of action in Human Revolution and Mankind Divided, stealth is a big part of the play, and so it is here, as you can’t take enemies out head on, and they pull up full body shielding when they reacting to having seen you. It means that you have to find another way around and come at them from the side or behind for the kill.

Depending on the level, much of the puzzle solving feels like you’re toying with the simple guards, who race to where they last saw you – they only ever look straight ahead – and then head straight back to where they stood before. You have to manipulate them out of position to get past, or make use of the augments such as invisibility and hacking to turn turrets to your side and open or close holes in the floor blocking your path.

Hacking happens on a second sub-layer to each level, with its own specific grid of lines and nodes that don’t necessarily match with where Jensen can walk. It’s a neat and simple system, as you simply trace a path from a terminal you’re accessing to the thing you want to hack. You can’t cross lines with another hack, though, so you need to be aware of what you’re doing. The only downside is that the yellow pulsing lines that show a hack and the white lines that Jensen walks on are a touch too similar, and I often found myself swiping along a path that wasn’t there.

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It’s quite clear to see how far the game has come in the short time since we last saw it just before E3. The art style has been further refined for one thing, drawing on the series’ penchant for polygons and yellows, but it also feels much more like a complete game as opposed to an early demo, with a clearer and more gradual ramping up of the difficulty and various gameplay ideas. As you can imagine with a puzzle game such as this, that’s come from an awful lot of play testing and tweaking the level design and layout, with some difficulty spikes coming out of necessity.

Etienne Giroux, Game Designer at Eidos Montreal explained, “It’s kind of making sure that you have learned what you should so far in the game. [The difficulty spikes] are useful, because if you reach the end, you’ve understood it and we can move forward. Not all levels should be about teaching, some levels should be that you know all of these things, you’ve seen all of these things, so let’s do something fun with that. That’s kind of the heart of your puzzle game.

“It’s why later in the game, there’s a bit more of that because we stop introducing new mechanics to the player, so it’s more about variation and new ways to use the same mechanics. It’s still a learning experience, but we can shrink the learning down to one level and then have fun with that. It’s a curve that I think works really well with puzzle games.”

Still, while I breezed through the first dozen levels, the complexity of the puzzles got more challenging and gave me pause for thought. Trial and error snuck in as I tried to get my head around certain layouts or how best to use an ability, and Etienne’s above response came after I’d sat struggling with a tricky little puzzle for a few minutes. Much of the game has just one solution to a problem, but some levels do open up the boundaries by giving you more augments and options.

There’s a good reason why it’s done like this, as Etienne explained, “Let’s say we designed with two solutions in mind, what it would do is water down the puzzle so much that sometimes people wouldn’t get it. They wouldn’t even get what they did right, because they’d stroll around, do that thing here, do that thing there, and you don’t understand the exact route of the puzzle.

“So we kind of phased it out, but it resurfaced for more complex levels later on where you have more than one augment. The place where it happens most is when you have the remote hack and the cloak. I would make a puzzle, share it with the team and when they showed me the level casually to get to a bug at the end of it, I was like, ‘Hold on a minute!’ The best part wasn’t that they were skipping the puzzle, they were using all of the parts differently. That was special, because I designed the puzzle as a cloaking puzzle and they were using remote hacking and it works! So we have a couple of them, but it’s really hard to do that and still keep the puzzle.”

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One thing that the developers learned from the first two Go games was that they couldn’t keep player engaged over a period of weeks and months, with any level expansion quickly completed by players. Deus Ex Go addresses that by having regular new missions added to the game through a live page. This is something that could potentially see much more challenging and experimental puzzles added to the game down the line.

“The thing about [the previous Go games],” Etienne said, “was that people were finished in like two days. Now we have the live page, which you can even see in this build. Every day of the week one puzzle is going to be released, and we’re going to have themed weeks. So one week is going to be about turrets, let’s say, and we’ll have weird, fun, stupid puzzles with turrets in them!

“And each Friday is going be the big, evil puzzle, where it’s going to be harder and a bit abusive of the rules and the players. Just to have something a bit more challenging, because that’s also one of the criticisms of the other games. They were good, they were fun, but it was easy.”

Deus Ex Go is also the first time that level creations tools will be put into the hands of the community. It won’t be right away at the game’s launch, but rather a few months down the line. It’s going to be fascinating to see how this is picked up by players and how quickly they too can learn the lessons of level design that Eidos Montreal have learned for themselves.

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Etienne said, “Not everyone is going to be as good as… well, I was going to say me, but I’m really not that good at making levels! It’s something that we have to figure out before shipping that. It’s one of the big parts that we’ve been working on when thinking about user generated content, the level editor, and making sure people know [how to design puzzles].

“We had a couple of solutions that we’re still going to make, but the idea is that we make sure we have things to do in the game to get better at making levels. We had what we called ‘Maker Puzzles’, puzzles that you solve by adding or removing stuff in a level, and we have all kinds of solutions that we’ll revisit when we ship it. It’s one of the reasons why we’re not shipping the puzzle editor at launch, because we would have needed twice as many people or twice as much time.”

There’s no firm release date for Deus Ex Go just yet, but it feels like the game is fast approaching its summertime launch. It would have been easy for the team to rest on their laurels when adapting the Deus Ex universe, but this is a much more ambitious game when you look at the way that levels will be added over time and the community will be involved, potentially making this a game that can keep you coming back for more week in, week out.

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I'm probably wearing toe shoes, and there's nothing you can do to stop me!

2 Comments

  1. I’m playing Deus Ex HR again, coming up to the end of the game at the moment, and hoping I’ll net that elusive Doctorate trophy.

    A game that very much deserves its place in the canon, I hope the same can be said for MD.

  2. Have played through (and Platinum’d) HitmanGO this week. Absolutely loved it and will definitely be up for checking this one out too.

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