We’ve had the flawed murder mystery 12 Minutes and the scary weird Returnal already dabbling in time loop mechanics this year. Now it’s time for Arkane’s take on the die, die again concept. It has to be said, Deathloop and this murder puzzle island is the best iteration of said concept in a video game to date, and that’s no surprise.
Set on the mysterious island of Blackreef, you play as highly trained assassin Colt, who awakes to find himself stuck in the same day, every day. He must slowly piece together clues in order to kill eight targets (Visionaries) before the day ends. Each visit to the island provides new opportunities to explore, new paths to various objectives and plenty of weird ways to mess up the timeline before it resets. Find a way to kill every Visionary in one loop across the 70’s inspired island and you’ll finally escape the loop or die trying over and over again.
A JOYFUL LOOP
The opening few moments of Deathloop set the scene and explain a fair amount of context for the various abilities, objectives and mechanics at play. Days are split into four time periods and four specific locations on the island, to explore in your own way. It can all be a little daunting at first, especially when several menu explanations flash across the screen one after the other. No doubt many players will die often in the early stages, but as soon as you complete the first main objective of the story things start falling into place.
Much like another of Arkane’s excellent releases in Dishonored, you’ll always have a choice as to how you want to explore the island. You can go all super sneaky and hack your way past turrets and cameras, aiming to get in and out without being noticed by anyone. Or, and yes, I did do this often early on, just go all guns blazing and blast your way to the goal, killing everything in sight without any ramifications. The beauty of Deathloop is that no matter which option you pick, you always feel like it’s an attainable goal and it never truly punishes you for whichever tactic you deploy.
A LOOPFUL OF GADGETS
Knock off your first of the main targets and you’ll be able to use Residuum, Deathloop’s equivalent of currency, which you can gather from random objects strewn across each area of the island or from downing certain foes. At the end of every island visit or before the end of a loop, you can then use this currency to infuse whatever abilities (called Slabs), weapons or trinkets (weapon and ability modifiers) you find in order to keep them for life. No matter how many times you die. I made it a habit of running some quick early jaunts around certain areas just for extra Residuum, just to make things a little easier on me as the game progresses. There’s nothing worse, of course, than dying with some cool new gadgets or weapons and losing them entirely, so playing it safe isn’t such a bad idea.
Colt can quickly become a bad ass too. Unlocking the ability to teleport short distances or go completely invisible to the naked eye. Every Slab is augmented further by continually finding the main targets and taking them out, unlocking unique mods for each Slab you uncover. Soon enough you’ll be sending enemies flying with a swift kick, hiding in plain sight or literally swapping places with other NPC’s.
THE DEATHLOOP IS IN THE DETAIL
Controlling Colt couldn’t be simpler either, especially using a Ps5 Dualsense, with everything within easy reach and not at all as confusing as the opening explanations make it seem. Though there aren’t any major ways to adjust the controls to your liking (accessibility isn’t one of Deathloop’s strengths), the general layout of switching abilities with the d-pad are easy enough to get your head around. The weapons themselves range from simple shotguns to SMG’s and pistols that can leave trails of poison gas in their wake or tag and bleed out targets as they escape. With plenty of modifications that randomly drop out in the field that can increase weapon damage, increase ammo or turn simple pistols into deadly sniper rifles with ridiculous range.
All that comes together with precise and enjoyable movement mechanics that had me effortlessly jumping and sliding around into cover with ease, shifting from one Slab ability to another to quietly sneak to higher ground without anyone noticing me. Later upgrades kit you out with the ability to turn enemy trip mines against them or literally sap the energy from them, giving you a world of possibilities as to how to react to almost any situation.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE LOOP
The more you find, the easier it becomes to go deeper into each part of the island, discovering hidden secrets or new paths you couldn’t previously take. The flip side to that, of course, is your bitter rival in Julianna, the true star of Deathloop. As a fellow assassin who simply wants to take Colt down, Julianna will tease you over the radio at the start of each island visit and, on occasion, invade your game to hunt you down, locking off escape tunnels until you find the required way to open them again and take her down.
The cat and mouse game between the two lead characters really makes Arkane’s newest title stand out from the growing time loop crowd, allowing for some witty dialogue back and forth and some genuinely cool shoot outs. Her invasions become more frequent the further in you get, making for some tense stand-offs in the process that will have you in a balancing act of achieving your goals and staying alive. Manage to take her out, however, and you can get ahead on upgrades or unlocks to certain Slabs, along with the ever so sweet satisfaction of out playing her.
ONLINE LOOP LOVERS
Better still, the included PvP multiplayer mode provides the chance to become Julianna herself and invade other players, menacing unsuspecting Colts out in the ether. She has her own set of unlocks and upgrades based on a points system, though most if not all the weapons and abilities are like what you’ll find when playing as Colt. Still, there’s a unique sense of accomplishment when playing the game from the other perspective, being the hunter instead of the hunted, and it’s a welcome addition despite the likelihood that most players will turn off the ability for random invasions in the options menu. They really shouldn’t, though.
Running on a PS5, Deathloop is a smooth and colourful ride. Arkane have done their utmost to include every unique element of the console’s Dualsense controller within the experience. From hearing Julianna’s voice or the sound of reloading your weapon come over the built-in speaker, to feeling every footfall through the haptic feedback, Deathloop is the best use of the controller since Astro’s Playroom.
The speaker side of things might be a little too much at times, but I have no qualms to speak of personally. If Deathloop makes the leap to the Xbox platform, some of those Dualsense moments won’t be missed, at the cost of some uniqueness.
AT THE END OF THE LOOP
As for Game of the Year potential, I don’t think I’ve played anything as compelling and creative as Deathloop yet in 2021. I kept finding myself deliberately resetting the loop just to be able to discover every possible secret and all the potential paths I could take, and I’m certain there’s a lot more I still haven’t come across yet.
It’s genuinely gratifying coming across something new or find a solution to a murder puzzle to force a Visionary down a different path. The grind to discover new weapons or clues is far more enjoyable to the long and often frustrating runs in, say, Returnal. Granted, death during a tough battle and starting over always has an air of frustration that can follow it, but knowing my entire arsenal and abilities are waiting for me makes that a lot easier to get over. Even a failed run can reap new clues towards certain goals, however minor they may be.
Arkane should be proud of the work here, combining everything learnt from the criminally overlooked Prey and the cult favourite Dishonored series with a clever story and plenty of colour and jazz. If anything, they’ve proven they can continue to deliver new and unique experiences within a crowded FPS market. Leaving their new owners in Xbox with potentially one of the best studios under their umbrella.
Deathloop is the perfect reason to own a PS5. It’s a game you really shouldn’t ignore, and at least play on PC if you can. You won’t be disappointed.
Thanks to guest reviewer Mark Isaacson for his in depth Deathloop review. We also have a retrospective follow up on the way for such a big sandbox of surprises.