Over the last decade, Arkane Studios has made quite the name for itself as a studio brimming with creative ideas and precise execution. Since the arrival of Dishonored it’s continued to nail brilliant, fresh ideas. Deathloop is its most ambitious, perplexing title yet. Time loops, player invasion, the jigsaw puzzle story. Deathloop takes a lot of inspiration from old Arkane work, as well as some of the biggest titles in gaming today. It was set to be an interesting blend, as a once small studio in France decided to show just how bold they could be.
Set on the island of Blackreef, which had somehow become infused with the 1960’s, you awaken as Colt. Every day you die you awake on the same beach, but every night you die somewhere. Deathloop is a puzzle, where a man who remembers nothing tries to piece his life back together with the scraps he can find. Who is he and why is he trapped? Everything is questions you answer piece by piece, with player bravery rewarded by pushing the story further. All Colt really seems to know is; there are eight Visionaries, all of which must die in 24 hours.
Deathloop is a massive package, but my worry going into the game was how it handles the time mechanic. At the end of every day, Colt is returned to the morning of the start of the game, with none of the equipment he’s collected but retains the knowledge of anything found. Thankfully, there’s no angry moon in the sky to keep you on your toes. What you'll find is each 24 hour period is split into four segments (morning, afternoon, evening and night). For every section of the day, you can choose to wait, or travel to one of the game regions. Whilst exploring any of these regions, which are small open world areas, time never progresses. Time only progresses on two conditions; either when the player leaves the area, or when they die.
Death isn’t something to consider a punishment either. Although the player does lose any weapons or power-ups they had, they will retain any information about the game world. Information can contain anything from passcodes to locations of Visionaries. There’s no such thing as useless information in Deathloop. As a whole, the loop is a puzzle. In the beginning, it’s impossible to kill the eight Visionaries, due to the time of their appearance. Although killing them can be difficult, the real challenge is figuring out how to get multiple Visionaries into one place at the same time. The world of Deathloop is densely packed with secrets beyond the game's story. As someone who doesn’t generally feel the need to collect everything in a videogame, I found that Deathloop had me prodding everything in the environment to find a slither of information.
Deathloop has been described in some places as a roguelike, and that’s only partially true. Personally, I’m reminded more of Metroidvania games, where the target is to bounce between places as you unlock more information about them. Unlike a roguelike, Deathloop doesn’t punish failure. You keep the knowledge you’ve found, as well as being able to keep some equipment bound to Colt using the infusion system which can be discovered in an early part of the game. Deathloop isn’t a game about getting from start to end without dying, you can do that as much as you want without any severe punishment. Plus Colt has an ability that allows you to die twice before returning to your morning wake up at the beach. If Deathloop is a roguelike, it’s easily the most forgiving one I’ve played.
With the way the game is set up, the player is able to create a knowledge bank of where everything is. You’ll find yourself getting to know each area of the game before you truly settle into figuring out its story. Cycling through those areas means you learn where the shortcuts are, how to get to healing points, where the enemies are placed. As you follow each lead for each Visionary, the whole thing begins to fall into place. Suddenly, the memory of each area of the game becomes another tool in your arsenal as you aim to take down the game's biggest baddies.
Despite a tightly controlled opening tutorial, Deathloop sets the player free about two hours into the game. Even the game itself lets the player know the hand holding is over. Once out of that tutorial, the only thing the game gives you is vague leads on the Visionaries. Every step after that is one you have to make yourself. There’s no right answer. I’ve seen some players head straight for the first visionary, whereas I tried to be accustomed with each area of the game. Deathloop is a massive puzzle, but it’s one with dozens of correct solutions. Every time you complete a loop, there’s a sense of progress. Sometimes it’s information that can help you progress, other occasions it’s something as simple as finding a decent weapon for future runs.
Aesthetically trapped in the 60’s, Deathloop still blends well with the steampunk style Arkane has gotten us used to over the years. It captures that carefree attitude of the time perfectly, as everyone just seems too carefree. Despite knowing they’re stuck in this time loop or that a maniac is trying to kill everyone, there’s an ever present feeling that everyone thinks it’ll work out in the end. It captures the time perfectly but doesn’t let the bleak reality of the situation these characters are trapped in completely escape the player.
Despite a relatively strong story, there’s a reliance from Arkane that the player will take in all the information they find about Colt and the game's other important characters. Even if you miss it, you’ll likely find the conclusion satisfactory, but due to the game's open nature, it’s not massively difficult to miss important story notes. It’s not something that’ll ruin the story for anyone, but I don’t like that it is possible for some players to miss important story points.
Even then, Deathloop is a fantastic game and the above paragraph feels like I’m being picky for necessity. The gameplay is fantastic, feeling like Arkane has completely mastered the movement they originally displayed in Dishonored. Navigating through the levels undetected is just as enjoyable as mowing down enemies. All of the weapons feel great, with automatic weapons having an acute nimbleness to them, whilst heavy weaponry feels devastating to anyone who gets in your way. The whole thing is bombastic, strutting with confidence from beginning to end. You never tire of the game, as each loop allows for more creative thinking than the one before.
Even after all that bundle of excellence, the player still has to deal with the invading Julianna. Unlike the Visionaries you’re forced to hunt and kill, Juliana is more than happy to end your loop herself. Most of the game's dialogue will revolve around her and Colt communicating via radio. Excellent chemistry between the voice actors creates a fantastic on-screen pairing between the two. They even offer some fantastic comical moments.
Julianna isn’t just some rogue AI who comes to take you down either. For those who enable the feature, the invading Julianna can be controlled by anyone online or even a friend. It adds another layer to the excitement, as Julianna’s arrival locks Colt’s escape route. Players are then forced to hack their way to safety whilst they’re hunted down. It’s a great system, one that helps create the ever fluctuating world of Deathloop.
Every time I settle down to play a game by Arkane Studios, they always blow me through the wall behind me. Deathloop is no different. Its creativity was there for everyone to see during the build to the game’s release, but to deliver with such pinpoint accuracy was an absolute masterful job. A comfortable contender for the best game of the year, Deathloop already has me thinking about the game of the decade in 2021.
DEATHLOOP (Reviewed on Windows)
Outstanding. Why do you not have this game already?
Deathloop is a creative masterpiece. Refining everything that is excellent about Arkane Studios previous titles, it takes every single dial and cranks it up to 11.