So you’ve just been stabbed through the chest by a woman with a machete. No big deal, you wake up that morning, go about your business, and in the evening she blows out your brains from a mile away. Now you’re mad. You begin to plan the set up (act natural, nothing suspicious going on here), and you track your next target at noon – she doesn’t suspect a thing. She thinks she knows where you are when, suddenly, BAM! You got the drop on her, this time, but you know she’ll be back tomorrow, and so will you to do this dance all over again.
Deathloop has always looked super interesting to me, but I was never sure if it was “my type of game”. Now, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love stealth action games, where you get to make a decision in how you approach the level. In fact, I’m the one who gave Hitman 3 a 90/100 early this year. But after playing so many games with a rogue-lite styling (looking at you Returnal and 12 Minutes), I wasn’t sure I wanted to relive the same day over and over again. Well, look at me now, I’m playing Deathloop anyway (along with editor David Flynn who’s giving me a hand on this one), and even with some qualms about the gameplay I’m still having a good time with it.
So, Deathloop involves you waking up as this character named Colt, although you don’t exactly know this right off the bat. You start the game, die a gruesome death, and suddenly you’re on a beach with no recollection of anything, and words floating in the air trying to guide you in the right direction. It’s almost as if you know something; you’ve been here before, but it’s like you’ve woken up from a bad dream and within seconds you don’t remember it. Shortly after perusing the area, a girl named Julianna calls you on your hackamajig (yes, that’s literally the name of the tool), and starts berating you for some reason. While we know her as our opening murderer, Colt doesn’t, and it’s only through progressing through the game that we’ll both get even more knowledge as to why she wants to kill us, and why we’re stuck in this time loop in the first place.
Once you’ve done a little digging, you discover your goal; to kill the eight visionaries holding the loop together so you can escape. The only problem is figuring out the how: protocol dictates they’re never in the same place at the same time, and you can only visit four places in a day. Oh, and anything you pick up in a loop disappears when you die or the day ends. Essentially, you need to figure out how to amass an arsenal and kill the visionaries in the most efficient way possible. The former is your first quest, completing it allows you to absorb an energy called Residuum which you can use between excursions to keep your gear between loops. This includes weapons, character and weapon enhancing trinkets, and the all important Slabs.
Probably the coolest and toughest thing about the game is piecing together just how to do everything. There is a journal where you keep track of your progress in quests, finding better weapons, and discoveries that lead you on your way, but there is no hand holding. The initial startup does at least put you in the position to walk the road of your main quest, but it’s all up to you from here. This comes from a lot of different things, but whatever it may be it can influence how you go about killing your target, as well as lining up your targets across a single loop to kill them.
The story of figuring out why the loop exists, what it is, why you’re here, and who everyone is incredibly interesting especially as it lets you figure everything out yourself for the most part. Overheard conversations, audio logs, written notes, and even art or decorations around the four main locations all have some significance if you go out and pursue it. The balance of not being handhold-y and stopping the player from getting completely stuck is a fine rope to walk, and Deathloop does stumble a few times throughout the main story. For one, if you complete all of your quests and don’t discover another along the way, you’re basically left with nothing to do aside from wander around and hope you find something. This happened once or twice in my playthrough, and it took at least a full loop (around an hour to an hour and a half) to remedy the issue each time.
Once you reach the end, however, is where the game stumbles hardest in the opposite direction. I had a lot of fun piecing together exactly the steps needed to kill every visionary in one run, but once you have all their quests done the game just gives you the answer. It takes all that satisfaction you got from the game’s open-endedness and makes it feel much more linear. What’s the point of all this experimentation if you’re just going to solve it for me? Regardless, the execution of your plan is still a lot of fun, and the ending was interesting if a little too light on details. There may be multiple endings, we were a little quick on the trigger as Julianna would say, so it may be interesting to go back and see what else the game has to offer outside of the main quest.
As for getting through the story, the gameplay itself is quite crisp. We played on PlayStation 5, and it definitely felt like the performance mode operated at the smoothest 60 frames you can as for. The movement feels similar to that of its predecessor in Dishonored, down to the Shift Slab that allows you to teleport to specific points you desire. That’s not a bad thing in the slightest, as Dishonored is a shining example of how to do gameplay in an immersive sim. It seems the team at Arkane decided to take the best parts of that game, and integrate it into Deathloop, and that was a fantastic decision.
Of course, the reason you play one of Arkane’s games is to explore the areas and figure out the most interesting ways to kill your enemies. While it doesn’t seem there’s as much to unpack as Dishonored, at least in killing the visionaries, there is definitely plenty of ways to murder your mostly unsuspecting prey. You can stab them in the back, break their necks, shoot them with all manners of guns, like silenced pistols, shotguns, SMGs, snipers, throw them with telekinetic powers, and many, many other avenues. One of our favorites was the PT-6 Spiker, a pneumatic weapon made to silently launch nails directly into your foes’ skulls. While all these methods are possible, you also have the option of taking foes on head on or as stealthily as possible. I’d suggest using stealth as much as you can, because while the AI in this game can be pretty stupid, they have a lot of strength in numbers.
One of the things that makes the combat feel unique is of course, the Dualsense controller. A lot of people expected the controller to be one and done, something developers messed with at launch and forgot about afterwards, but I’ve been happily surprised at the support so far, and especially with its use in Deathloop. The adaptive triggers are exceptional, with the resistance adjusting with each weapon. The nail gun is another winner here, with the feeling of the pressure building in the air chamber as you pull back on R2. While maybe not as impactful, the haptics are also fantastic, with a little pitter patter trickling through as you walk, the crunch of the snow underneath your feet, and just attention to detail in every aspect of the utilization. The only thing that surprised me? I didn’t see much of the “gun jam” that’s been advertised so much by PlayStation. Maybe it was finding plenty of good guns to use right off the bat that didn’t jam much, but I expected more of it.
Along with upgrading your arsenal, you’re going to spend plenty of time collecting trinkets and upgrading your abilities and weapons, as well as the Slabs. These play out as actual upgrades rather than strengthening a number, and remind me of adding perks, similar to say God Of War 2018’s pommel stones for the Leviathan Axe. Some may be just a little extra recoil control, and others can be as odd as enemies aiming for your chest instead of head. There are also several Slab upgrades that can be fun to mess with, and these can even be situational depending on the location you visit. For instance, Updamm has plenty of buildings and rooftops, so using Shift to teleport is imperative, but upgrading it with a perk that allows a second shift in midair could be the difference in making it to a distant window. There’s plenty to it, including deciding which ones you want to tag along into the next loop, but it’s pretty cut and dry.
Speaking of your stuff tagging along, as we mentioned earlier, this is possible given an element called Residium, and it adds a strategic component to everything. I’m a pack rat by nature in most games, beating final bosses with way too many health potions left over, so this feature hurts my soul. I want to keep everything, but you have to think it over quite often, especially as sacrificing one trinket could give you the extra Residium to keep another. Weapons are similar, but even more important, given if you drop one to exchange with another, it’s missing for the rest of the loop at least if you infused it with Residium, or gone for good if you didn’t.
Now, one thing I’m not as big of a fan of is the grind. This game isn’t a roguelike/lite, but given its time loop it features the trappings of one. It’s a lot easier, considering there are four different parts to the loop, and if you at least manage to escape the morning, noon, afternoon, or night of the location you choose to go to you’ve made it to safety, besides your overall progress being saved. That being said, you are going to grind your way through each of the four levels a bunch, and even though there are differences to each one at those different times, it’s going to get a little old after a bit. The enemies even spawn in the exact same places, so you can get it all down to a science. Not only that, but the only way to upgrade your Slabs is by killing the visionaries over and over, so powering those up at all is going to take you through multiple loops. Definitely try your best to follow the journal to optimize your runs, but eventually a loop is going to feel lost because you missed something.
Now, this review wouldn’t be complete without talking about the co-op, and we did a good amount of that. While the feature is overall a ton of fun, we’ve had more than a few loops completely ruined by Julianna. When you start up the game, you’re given the option to either break the loop in Colt’s single player campaign or protect the loop by invading other people’s games as Julianna and killing Colt before he can finish whatever he’s doing in an area. Some of the game’s best moments come from outwitting another player, but there are times in the single player where I just want to progress, and an AI Julianna can invade even when you turn off the online. Her AI is pretty stupid, so at least it won’t mess up your headway, but other players are anything but.
Julianna progresses a bit differently from Colt. She has potential access to everything he does, but earns new gear by ranking up through stopping Colt. Each level will give you a bunch of new toys to play with, mostly new trinkets, but you’ll occasionally get new slabs as well. She only begins with Karnesis and Masquerade, which allows her to exchange appearances with any enemy, and it takes an annoyingly long time to get the arguably essential shift slab to get around levels (around level 14 or 16). Still, this mode is a lot of fun and will keep the game interesting for quite a while.
While the Julianna player’s goal is to kill Colt, we actually found a lot of enjoyment in doing the opposite. She won’t be initially attacked by the eternalists and visionaries, but you can kill and interact with them just like in single player. This can break the game in a few ways (you can just walk up to visionaries and kill them instantly if you want) but it still has its challenges and is a great way to play the game with friends. If there’s a sequel, followup, or even a content update of any kind, we’d definitely like to see a proper co-op mode included.
Finally, let’s talk about Deathloop’s incredible aesthetic. The game’s promotional art used stylings and techniques popular in the 60’s, and that carries through to basically everything in the rest of the game. The music especially is fantastic and catchy, even if you don’t hear it too often when sneaking around. The architecture and decor of each area you visit is reminiscent of the decade as well while putting actually fun level design first and adding its own spin on the stylistic trappings. While most enemies are dressed… oddly, you can unlock new outfits for Colt and Julianna by leveling up in the latter’s mode. Both have quite a few outfits, but they all look great. Specifically, my (Flynn’s) favorite was a simple pink hoodie for Julianna, since I was trying to get an all pink arsenal including a light pink sniper rifle and bedazzled pink dual pistols. The game takes the tacky-ness of its influence and turns it up to a glorious 11 and we just can’t get enough.
Deathloop is a great game, if kind of a mixed bag in ways. On one hand, the gameplay is some of the most refined Arkane has done, and they give you almost an “easy mode roguelite” to play, along with a little opposition via co-op to spice it up. On the other however, the story can stumble, and the grind can be a bit too monotonous. Deathloop walks a bit of a fine line, but overall has enough fun ideas to keep things mostly fresh and fun for Colt and Julianna players alike.