Review – Deathloop
Deathloop was a surprise announcement during the E3 conference in 2019. It was originally set to release in 2020, but thanks to COVID-19, it was delayed well into 2021. I’m a massive fan of the Dishonored series, so hearing that Deathloop was developed by Arkane Studios and utilized the Void engine was all that I needed to hear. This week, after more than two years of waiting, we finally get to enjoy Deathloop. I am as enamored by it as I am overwhelmed and it will be a long time before I discover all of its many secrets.
This is Colt and he is having a very rough day. Colt is stuck in a time loop and is reliving the same day over and over. He is trapped on an island whose scientific experiments have created a never-ending time loop and no one within it seems to be aware to their plight, with only two exceptions: Colt and Julianna. Colt is determined to break free of his eternal hell while his old flame, Julianna is determined to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Deathloop provides two game modes for players to enjoy. The Break the Loop game mode is the single player campaign where players take on the role of Colt and try to bring an end to his never-ending day. The other mode, Protect the Loop, is an invasion based PVP mode where players take on the role of Julianna, invade other player’s games and try to kill Colt. For the record, this can be turn off in the settings so that players only interested in the Colt’s story can enjoy that with only, without the occasional Julianna invasion. In this version, Julianna will just be another AI character.
The game opens with players waking up on a beach after what was a clearly a night of heavy drinking. Unable to remember who he is, our protagonist stumbles into a underground tunnel system as projected notes float through the air guiding him forward. It doesn’t take long before players die and wake up right back on the beach where they started.
Before he can break the loop, Colt first needs to learn how to do so. There are eight characters, known as Visionaries, and their very existence is what’s keeping the loop going. Like temporal horcruxes, all eight of the Visionaries will have to die. But just like the rest of the island, their death isn’t permanent and they will return if any of the eight are left alive at the end of the cycle. To stop them, Colt will need to gain a deep understanding of their movements throughout the island and his targets’ whereabouts and movement throughout the day since they’re rarely in the same location at once.
Gameplay is broken into missions that are contained to one of four locations (The Complex, Updaam, Fristrad, and Karl’s Bay) during one of four times of the day, and ends when you escape the area and return to Colt’s hideout. Each loop begins with morning, then noon, afternoon, and evening, meaning that there are only four opportunities to kill eight different targets. Choosing which of the four locations they want to go to at which time of day is absolutely central to the story’s progression.
Deathloop isn’t a roguelike, but it does share some common elements. Upon death, Colt returns back to where he began without any of the weapon or ability pickups gained during the previous cycle. What Colt does get to keep is knowledge of the loop’s timeline and all the details on the island. Keeping track of all that information would be an absolute nightmare, so thankfully, Deathloop does it for you. Represented by both the Visionary Leads and Weapon Leads pages in the menu, Colt can track each of his leads and follow the clues to his final kills where, just maybe, he’ll be able to kill multiple Visionaries at once.
There’s a small factory in the game that’s a great example of how this works. Most players will discover it after it has been burned down and the key information within has been destroyed. To progress, players will need to go back to the factory’s location to prevent it from burning down. Once the factory has been saved, player can visit it later on in the same cycle to learn the key information they needed in the first place.
However, those tidbits aren’t relevant to ongoings in the factory, but rather a different locale altogether first thing in the morning. It’s ridiculously convoluted, but that’s exactly what the Visionaries Lead page is for. Since all of the work described above is particular to hunting down a specific Visionary, it’s represented on the page as part of a linear path. At any given moment, you could be searching for clues on multiple Visionaries and the leads page will do all the heavy lifting for you focus on exploring the world and playing with all your gun toys.
It’s not entirely true that you lose all of your weapons every time the cycle resets. By fulfilling a certain criteria, players will unlike the ability to absorb an element called Residuum. Anything infused with Residuum can withstand the cycle’s reset and be carried by Colt into the next cycle. Players will find items in the environment that are infused with small amounts of Residuum that Colt can absorb and they infuse into weapons, upgrades, or Slabs, to ensure they aren’t lost when he dies or the day resets.
Failure works a bit differently in Deathloop. Colt gets two freebies before the day starts over. The first two deaths immediately respawn Colt within the mission and evacuate him away from the danger that killed him. On the third death, the mission is failed, the day resets, and Colt loses all his non Residuum infused pick-ups. The first two respawns reset and come back between missions rather than cycles, so assuming each mission Colt goes on is successful, he’ll have a total of eight respawn deaths before the day resets. That may seem like a lot, but with the number of enemies, traps, and environmental hazards across the island, they’ll go fast.
In the moments between missions, players can re-equip Colt with any new weapons, powers, or character upgrades that can be apply directly as passive bonuses. All of these skills are found hidden around the environment or dropped by the occasional enemy. There are three kinds of upgrades: weapon upgrades that can be attached to your firearms, character upgrades that grant abilities like quieter movement and double jumps, and upgrades to slabs.
I’ve specifically held off on mentioning slabs since they aren’t available any time soon. Slabs are Deathloop’s equivalent of Dishonored‘s Outsider abilities, and can only be obtained by taking them off the corpses of Visionaries. However, like everything else on the island, slabs will reset and Colt will lose them unless he can first infuse them with Residuum. These are the lifeblood of Deathloop.
Before slabs, Deathloop feels like something is missing. I was initially pretty disappointed with its combat. I knew that these special abilities were somewhere in the game, but until I acquired one, Deathloop just didn’t feel like the game we were promised. The first slab that players are likely to obtain is the Nexus slab. Using Nexus will shoot a burst of energy that links the fate of up to three enemies together. If you kill one, you’ll kill them all.
Other slabs allow Colt to temporarily go invisible, hulk out, or warp himself short distances. After players start to get accustomed to using slabs and character upgrades, you’ll start to notice how open of a game Deathloop truly is. The invisibility slab lets players sneak by areas densely populated with enemies while the warp one makes it possible to reach open windows you didn’t even realize were there in the first place. New areas become accessible and new levels of weapons reveal themselves giving Colt all sorts of new tools to utilize.
If I had to issue any warning about to Deathloop to players, it would be this: be patient. The early game doesn’t feel like it’s doing anything particularly special. Weapons feel clunky, sprawling environments are difficult to navigate, and the game as a whole feels a little bit slow. Early game death is an absolute nuisance, since it leaves with you nothing but a crappy sub-machine gun that jams a lot and no character upgrades. Given time, death feels less like going back to square and more like an absolute celebration of all your powers and goodies.
Just when you feel you got the hang of Deathloop, you’ll unlock Residuum, which completely changes the experience and brings new life to the game. The same thing happens when players first start to get their hands on slabs. If the beginning of Deathloop feels like it’s missing something, that’s because it is and all of its best parts come with time.
The last time I was this overwhelmed by the amount of content in a game was the original release of Skyrim. Deathloop is nowhere near as expansive, but it’s loaded with an absolutely insane amount of content to discover. Each of the four arenas is littered with buildings to explore that off hidden passages and loot and each of those four arenas has four variations with different leads, goodies, and clues. It would take an absolute madman to methodically pilfer it all. But for those of us who aren’t obsessive about collecting absolutely everything, you’re sure to discover something new every time you visit a location.
It’s impossible to talk about Deathloop without talking about its over-the-top pulpy 60’s espionage aesthetic. The music is an incredible flashback to the early days of 007 with more modern basslines that makes sure it kicks. Every single time the combat music starts up, all I can think of is “Tank!“. Everything about Deathloop‘s style is sexy, retro, and chaotic in something that’s truly unique to itself, while simultaneously carrying modern time loop tropes from Edge of Tomorrow and the stylistic edge of Cold War-Era spy films.
At first I found Deathloop to be a slow burn and a bit of a disappointment. Following all of the success of Arkane Studios’ Dishonored series, I expected fast-paced action from start to finish and it simply wasn’t fair of me. Arkane wants players to discover Deathloop as Colt does. The final product is an incredible experience that feels like a matured Borderlands with a massive helping of class and supernatural powers. I’m yet undecided as to whether or not this has dethroned Dishonored, but I will be coming back to Deathloop for many cycles to come.
The contrasting color palettes of a island city falling apart against the vibrant colors of its retro aesthetic can be jarring at first, but perfectly fit Deathloop‘s style and lack of subtlety.
Deathloop could have been an absolute disaster of a game had it not been for the masterful execution from Arcane Studios, who took a complicated gameplay structure and simplified it to make it enjoyable for all.
Without a doubt one of the best gaming soundtracks this year. The weapon sound effects really pack a punch as well.
Players can explore different character builds and play Deathloop to their hearts content, finding new secrets every time.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Deathloop is available now on PlayStation 5 and PC.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5.
A copy of Deathloop was provided by the publisher.