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Deus Ex Go is a turn-based puzzle game available on Android and iOS systems. Alan Stock decloaks from the shadows for this Comiconverse review.
Game Review: Deus Ex Go
The Go series by Square Enix Montreal is a novel concept. Take a big action or adventure videogame franchise, and then create strategic puzzle games themed on their concepts. This began with Hitman Go, followed by Lara Croft Go. The latest is Deus Ex Go, based on the exploits of the rather humourless cyborg Adam Jensen from the latest Deus Ex games.
You don’t need to know anything about the Deus Ex series to understand this game. But to fill you in if you’re new to the franchise – the games are set in a Blade Runner-inspired dark and futuristic cyberpunk universe. Adam Jenson is an augmented special agent who loves wearing dark trenchcoats and shades, carrying out covert missions and getting involved in conspiracies. The series hinges on giving players freedom in multiple ways to tackle missions, employing stealth, hacking, trickery or straight out combat to get the job done. The Deus Ex games are hybrids of role playing, action, stealth and adventure genres all in one.
Now forget all that. Deus Ex Go is a straight-up puzzle game. It follows a similar format to the last two Go games; each level taking place on a grid of nodes which you move your character around on. You navigate past obstacles and defeat enemies on the grid in order to reach the end-point of each mission. Gameplay is turn-based: you must move every turn, and when you’ve done this, enemies and hazards may also move, or react to your presence.
So then, this isn’t Deus Ex as we know it. However it does have all the right trappings. The graphics, sound and music all feel like Deus Ex. The environments and actions in the game are presented as a sort of virtual reality. They look real and solid (if you ignore the node grid overlaying them), but dissolve into jagged edges with triangular motes floating around them. Enemies and Jenson burst into shards when destroyed. It’s a bit of a weird aesthetic but does fit the cyberpunk hacking theme, and looks decent with some nice lighting. Unfortunately a severe lack of variety to the environmental visuals make the game look pretty uninspiring after a while. I suppose this is a bit harsh as this is a puzzle game, it’s like moaning about the lack of variety in Tetris’ graphics – but Lara Croft Go and Hitman Go both did this better.
This game does advance the Go series slightly by having a story for the campaign, but to call it that is rather generous. Essentially Jensen delves into the tech-filled and highly secure basements of a number of buildings chasing after a “bad man”, occasionally chatting to his hacker friend or boss. It’s a paper-thin wrapper to the game that does its job of giving you a reason to be there, but nothing more – don’t expect Deus Ex levels of plot complexity or conspiracy here. Annoyingly you can’t skip the chat cutscenes on repeated playthroughs either.
So how do you translate the Deus Ex theme to gameplay? Well, enemies exist in the form of cyborgs and robots. Jensen can use computer terminals to hack bots, or change the layout of the level. His cybernetics can be put to use by picking up powerups – granting you a temporary cloaking device, remote hack and eventually a gun. Although it’s a bit jarring to have Jensen so limited in his approaches, considering his freedom in the main series, the concession makes sense in the context of a puzzle game.
So solving puzzles in Deus Ex Go is a juggling act of having to move between nodes every turn, dodging enemies and activating abilities at the right time. You might activate a stealth powerup to get past an enemy controlling a node, hack a terminal to rotate a pathway at the right time, or turn a turret to your control so you can cross its firing zone safely. Added to the complexity is that some enemies move between nodes. This has effects like blocking firing line of sight, or canceling your hacks by breaking the “hack lines” you must draw from a terminal to a hacked object.
Anything hostile can kill you in one hit, and it’s common to box yourself into unwinnable situations. But as levels are short, a quick restart and the ability to reverse your turns means that this isn’t too much of a problem. You can also reveal the level’s solution a limited number of times during the campaign – although annoyingly if you use this, you can’t cancel it half way through – even if you wanted to solve the rest of the level yourself. New ideas are slowly layered in over the course of the roughly 50 missions in the game. As puzzles go, they vary in quality but are generally decent. Because the number of nodes and paths between them is limited, you can predict what’s going to happen in future turns, helping you to visualise solutions. On the downside, this also lets you “brute force” the correct approach. Often the puzzles have segments where there is only one possible safe “route”, meaning finding the answer is just a matter of patience and process of elimination.
Indeed the puzzles tend to err on the easy side, I only really struggled with a few of them. The best puzzles come towards the very end of Deus Ex Go, with the last few puzzles being really good head-scratchers combining multiple ideas, where you feel a good sense of reward for finding the solution. It’s disappointing that just as it’s getting really interesting and you’re really having to think about things, the experience ends. I would have preferred to see more challenging levels like these through the whole game. This might be a concession to the casual nature of handheld games but it’s a wasted opportunity. You can replay and try for a target minimum number of moves on each level, but finding the basic solution is the core fun of the game, not how optimally you can reach it.
As the campaign is only a few hours long, the developers have also tried to add longevity in the form of downloadable daily challenges and a simple but effective level editor for players. The downloadable puzzles vary in quality, the player creations of course even more so. It falls to these outlets to try and realise the true potential that this game could have had, but in truth you’ll probably have had your fill already from the main campaign, especially as the ideas in the extra content are limited to what’s available in the campaign.
Mention must also go to the occasionally confusing presentation of mechanics in Deus Ex Go. Due to the minimal onscreen overlays and lack of hand-holding tutorials (which is welcome) – you learn by watching and testing how different abilities and enemies work. Some elements such as the “hacking lines” overlaid on the grid just make things difficult to visualise. The end result is that sometimes things don’t act how you imagined, or you miss vital enemy behaviours or ability opportunities because you didn’t spot them, or forgot you could do them.
The final bugbear is the cynical micro-transaction model that is hamfistedly shoved into the game. Once you use up all of your “turn back time” chances, you have to buy more for real money in the online store. You can also use these in the daily and player-made challenges. You can also buy more “solutions” (level skips) after using your free two skips. As level restarts don’t cost much time, and I didn’t find the game hard enough to skip levels or use “turn back time” much, I survived without – but this is a nasty and cynical way to make struggling players cough up more cash – and they aren’t cheap, either.
Despite Deus Ex Go’s flaws, the puzzles are good enough along with the slick presentation to make this worth picking up if you need a decent puzzle game to pass a few hours. It’s not as good as the previous Go titles and I wouldn’t say it’s a must-buy, but for the price it’s better than a lot of the puzzle drivel out there on mobile devices – especially on Android which struggles for good content in this genre. It’s just a shame that it’s potential is never fully realised. I wonder what franchise Square Enix will turn their attention to next – Final Fantasy Go?
They’re on the right track, but just need to forget about story, and ratchet up the challenge and complexity of the puzzles a little in this series and they’ll be onto a real winner.
Alan Stock is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow us on Twitter: @ComiConverse