Square Enix's streamlined Go series takes the publisher's sprawling action games and turns them into precision puzzlers in which movement is limited and each level has a single ingenious solution hardwired into it.
This worked with Hitman because, despite the funny costumes and the freedom of approach available in the main series, Agent 47 has always belonged to a clockwork universe, and it was the clockwork itself that Go was so good at exploiting. This worked for Tomb Raider, too, because Lara Croft's greatest moments tend to involve a lone hero exploring a complex stretch of wilderness that, on closer inspection, has had all the genuine wilderness designed out of it with real artistry.
Deux Ex was always going to be interesting. Deus Ex is about choice and only choice, in a way that can't easily be set aside. Deux Ex Go is - you guessed it - a precision puzzler in which movement is limited and each level has a single ingenious solution hardwired into it. This sounds like a recipe for disaster, and yet I'm loving it. There are two reasons for this, I think. One is that this really is an excellent puzzle game. The other reason is more surprising: Deus Ex Go may not have that much in common with Deus Ex itself, but it has helped me to understand what's great about the wider series.
Let's deal with the puzzle game bit first. Deus Ex Go is very similar to the other Go games, with a few Deux Ex wrinkles. You still zip around levels by tapping nodes on a grid - although diagonal paths are now often available - and you're still facing enemies who often have to be taken down from a particular angle. These enemies have distinct behaviours, from the guy who dashes straight at you when he spots you and then turns around and heads back where he came from, to the robots that patrol along set paths. As ever, success comes from learning the rhythm of a level and working out how to exploit it - discovering how you have to move through the nodes, say, to get behind a guard when his back is turned.
The wrinkles? These are a handful of abilities that all make sense in Jensen's world: the ability to turn invisible for a move or two, for example, and the ability to hack turrets or other parts of the environment. Fairly soon, these elements converge with the classic Go design to make the most complex - and satisfying - game in the series so far. It's got plenty of Deux Ex ideas in it, but because you're searching each level for a precise solution, which often involves discovering a set path through the environment, it's very hard to mistake for the main series, where you might scope out a building for half an hour, say, before deciding to go in through the roof, or the basement, or through a second storey window. Go has experimentation, but it doesn't have choice: you're experimenting with levels to uncover the one thing that will work.
And yet despite all this, I keep getting flashbacks to the main games themselves, and I think this is because of the one thing both versions of Jensen and his world do have in common. The thing I never truly realised I love about Deus Ex is the contradiction at its heart: these are profoundly serious - sometimes po-faced - games when it comes to the fiction, and yet because they foreground choice so heavily, they allow all of the ridiculous things you do in the heat of the moment to become part of that fiction too. It's the fiction that Adam Jensen sort of hates himself for becoming augmented, but it's also the fiction, when Tom Francis plays, that Jensen likes to stack blocks all over the place and climb around the map in ways he's not supposed to, that he lugs a turret with him everywhere to deal with his enemies, and that when he's hacking, he walls himself in with cardboard boxes just to be safe.
Equally, although Deus Ex Go generally seems to offer one solution to each challenge rather than hundreds, it still relies on the game's mechanics to create those solutions - even when they don't make a lot of narrative sense. One level early on, for example, saw me breaching a fancy office and hacking a guy's terminal (I may just have been looking through his drawers; my eyes are not good enough to see the details and man, the graphics are tiny in this game!) and to do that, I had to trap one of those see-you-and-run-at-you guards in between the end of a node track and another guard, who wasn't aware that his compatriot was standing right next to him the whole time, eager to get past. There were three of us in that office, and two of the people were there to stop me doing whatever I was doing at the desk, but because of the rules of the game, one person would never turn around, and another person would never get past the person who would never turn around. That felt kinda like Deus Ex to me.
Over the years, I've changed my mind about this stuff. When games systems grind against the fiction to create ridiculous, nonsensical outcomes like this, I generally don't see them as shortcomings any more. What I would see as shortcomings, I think, would be special cases where the rules are changed all of a sudden just to avoid a ridiculous or nonsensical outcome in the first place. I'm only about a third of the way through Deus Ex Go so far, and maybe it will break its own rules. Maybe it will even allow for a greater freedom of approach - maybe it already has, and the gloriously stupid manner in which I beat that level in the office, say, is a testament to that. But for now, Deus Ex Go has made me realise what's so special about Deus Ex in general: choice or no choice, game mechanics trump narrative sense. That's a slogan I can get behind.