Often, the bit where a game takes away all your weapons and abilities sucks. The main exception is Deus Ex: you wake up in a cell, a hacker lets you out, and you're forced to use anything you can find to break out of a high-security Majestic 12 facility. It worked because the game itself was so good: there were clever uses for something as simple as a fire extinguisher.
The Missing Link is a very obvious reference to that section. It takes place during an event that's skipped over in the main game: you sneak aboard a cargo ship bound for Singapore, and we cut to when you arrive. The Missing Link sees you waking up a captive on that ship, all your items gone and your augmentations disabled. You've got to escape, or you'll be transferred to a Belltower prison on arrival.
The good news is, it feels a lot more like Deus Ex's improvised escape section than the clumsy equivalents in lesser games. There isn't really any bad news.
The opening section of Missing Link is tough: you have nothing except your augmented arms and level 1 hacking, and the place is crawling with guards. It's hard to get any of them alone, and if you're going non-lethal, it's harder still to knock one out with time to nab his weapon before his friends show up and revive him. You do have to improvise: I liked to find alternate routes, make a lot of noise going through one, then double back and take the other while the guards rushed away to investigate.
Once you get out on deck, the level opens up significantly: you've got free roam of a large section of the ship while the waters churn nauseatingly around you. I had an achingly tense moment on a high balcony, crouching behind a patrolling guard and praying he wouldn't turn around before the security camera above looked away.
Because you're stuck without high-level hacking abilities, there's more focus on finding the right keycodes for locked doors. It's never the only way forward, but often knocking out a guard and reading his improbably convenient pocket secretary is the short route to a new area.
Eventually you find your equipment, the most important benefit of which is putting on a goddamn shirt. You also get 7 praxis points to upgrade yourself with - the idea being to let you experiment with augs you haven't tried before. I experimented with the Tag-and-Track aug, which usefully confirmed my suspicion that it's not as useful or cool as seeing through walls.(opens in new tab)
Below decks, the mission gets very quiet, thoughtful and puzzly. You're clambering among huge cargo containers, uncovering the weird secrets of the ship, and figuring out how to get deeper into it. It's an impressively big place, and it's actually lovely to have an extended break from combat in a new and interesting place.
This version ends shortly afterwards: pull a certain switch, and the credits roll rather unceremoniously. I haven't heard back from Square Enix yet, but I'm guessing that isn't the intended climax of the mission. The loading screen plot summary suggests I'm on stage 2 of 5 at that point - and that's after two hours of play. It already feels fresh, substantial, challenging and fun.
Dotted throughout, there are a curious number of references to a floating 'pirate towns' off the coast of New Guinea. If that's a hint at a future DLC, one with an explorable city hub like Heng Sha: yes please.
The Missing Link is out in October.
Update: Square have sent over a few extra official screenshots of The Missing Link, which you can see below.(opens in new tab) (opens in new tab) (opens in new tab)