'Deus Ex Go' makes puzzles out of hacking and augmentation

A level editor is also in the works.

Square Enix Montréal is back with another touch-friendly "Go" puzzler for mobile devices. After tackling Hitman and Tomb Raider, the studio is taking on the futuristic augmentations of Deus Ex. Unsurprisingly, it's called Deus Ex Go, and will be launching sometime this summer to coincide (roughly) with Mankind Divided, the next core entry in the franchise. It keeps the premise of the previous Go games -- simple, stylized graphics and node-based stages that you have to traverse -- but mixes up the formula with some new power-ups and enemy types. Success is dependent on understanding and manipulating every element on the board.

I was able to try an early build containing the first five or six levels. Swiping around with Adam Jensen, the hero of Mankind Divided, I could pick up items that granted invisibility for a couple of spaces. A terminal allowed me to disable a turret or tap into a node which was previously inaccessible or didn't offer a safe path forward. Tracing a line with my finger meant I could activate the space, raise a platform and create some new pathways.

These basic mechanics were easy to grasp but quickly produced a few head-scratching problems. How do I trigger my invisibility in a way that will get me past the next turret? Can I change the map in a way that lets me hack the turret, thereby saving the power-up for a hurdle up ahead?

"We create complexity in a simple way," Etienne Giroux, a game designer at Square Enix Montréal explains. "You're not constantly learning new rules, it's just that you realise these rules talk to each other. That they work together. And that's really the complexity that we go for in these games, because they have to be simple, they have to be graspable, and we like that anyone can think that it's easy for them to get into it."

"We want to make the best experience possible in a level editor. One that people are going to remember."

Deus Ex Go will be a larger game than its Hitman and Tomb Raider predecessors. Square Enix Montréal is designing more levels this time around and is also working on a level editor -- a first for the Go franchise. It won't be ready in time for launch though, as the team is still working on the "metagame" and mechanics -- such as those found in Little Big Planet and Super Mario Maker -- that will drive players to make new stages.

"One of the reasons why it's coming later is that we don't just want to put a button there that says 'you can also make stuff.' We want to make the best experience possible in a level editor. One that people are going to remember, that will be the best editor you see on the App Store, and that will be actually usable," Giroux says.

The editor will also help the team to speed up its own level production. Before, creating a new level pack meant pulling developers away from other projects. Now, with the tools it's developed for the community, the same work should require fewer people and less time.

"The idea was to make the decision easy for us," Giroux says. "It's easy to take a decision to create more levels when 30 puzzles takes a couple of weeks with two guys. That's an easier decision for the studio than it is thinking about five or six guys working for three months."

In the future, that could include not just new levels, but also mechanics. Giroux says he's confident the community will find new, creative applications for these elements, far beyond what the developers originally intended. "We know for sure that it won't be a long time before someone finds a way to use something in a way that we didn't, but that's cool!"

The Go games are designed for mobile devices, but their success has led to wider platform support. Hitman Go started on iOS and Android but has since come to PS4, Vita, PC and VR. Lara Croft Go has remained on phones and tablets, but that's not due to lack of demand elsewhere. The team says countless people have asked for a Vita version -- but similar to the new content conundrum, it has to decide when to move on and prioritize new projects. Deus Ex Go, at least at launch, will be mobile only too.

As for the future? The studio is staying tight-lipped for now. With Hitman, Tomb Raider and Deus Ex, the team has covered all of the main Western properties owned by Square Enix. The developer's pedigree is attracting fresh talent too -- last month it picked up Teddy Dief, who developed Hyper Light Drifter, and Renaud Bédard, one of the programmers behind Fez. If the studio wants to try something new, now would be the perfect time to do it. Or rather, as soon as it's finished working on Deus Ex Go.