REVIEW – Arkane Studios is back with Deathloop, and this time with a somewhat experimental title that initially seems like a Rouglite with a lot of trial and error and random elements, but after many hours the player will form a plan to break that loop finally and escape.
Deathloop takes place on Blackreef, an island that houses an anomaly that causes the entire Island to loop in time at the end of every day. The AEON Program tried to tame the anomaly and live eternally as a safe haven and lifeboat for humanity. They are living their first day over and over, without any recollection of the next day. You play as Colt Vahn trying to break the loop and end the endless days of reliving the same day over and over. To break the loop, Colt needs to kill all eight visionaries in one day.
One day, four places, and eight on a kill list
Let’s gets this out of the way straight away; Arkane Studios games usually have some moral quandary, multiple choices, or non-lethal options. This game has none of those, and if you were expecting a game that you can go without killing, well, you are at the wrong game, my friend. However, that does not mean Arkane’s staple design choices are not present, such as the level design, the intricate story, the weird guns, and excellent sound design.
The game takes place over a single day, and the player can travel to four locations. When travelling to one area, a portion of the day passes. The first location selected always starts in the morning, and after that comes noon, then afternoon, then evening.
Certain Visionaries will only appear at a particular time of the day or a specific location. As the player, you will have to manipulate events to kill everyone in a single day. It is no secret, and the developers have also stated that while you can tackle any area and any boss in these areas the way you want to, to complete the story, there is a particular order in which you have to kill the bosses.
Each one of the visionaries is in their own location, hidden away, and only come out if certain events are manipulated in a particular way. Blackreef comprises four main areas: Updaam, Karl’s Bay, Fristad Rock, and The Complex. Think of the game as the butterfly effect.
Preventing a shop to burn down in the morning will let you go back in the afternoon to get the code for a secret door when the code arrives at the shop’s terminal. Events need to be put in motion so that you can get certain items, codes, or even enemies at a specific time and day. While it might not seem like a linear game, Deathloop becomes a very linear game if you want to complete the story. If you just want to mess around, it is much more open-ended in solving certain boss fights or situations.
Kill ’em all, or not, the choice is yours!
So while there are no moral choices in Deathloop like in Prey, or Dark Messiah, it does have variety in location and opportunities. All four areas are full of secrets, alternative routes, unique ways of skipping most enemies and killing the boss without them noticing you. There are also side quests that you can complete for better guns, skills and items. You need to play this game with an open mind, especially with the way the game allows you to go pretty much where ever you want with specific upgrades and powers.
In one instance, you might just use Shift and Aether to teleport all over the place and be invisible. At another time, you might want to use Havoc and Kinesis to throw people around and not take any damage.
The gameplay loop is pretty simple, as Colt can remember everything from the previous loop. He has the upper hand against everyone, except one person, which we will get back to later. Before selecting where you want to go, you can choose your loadout for the period of the day. You can carry up to three weapons (if you infuse them), two additional powers (if you own infuse them), and your character can have trinkets assigned to him (up to four).
The weapons can be upgraded with three trinkets per gun, and the powers you gain can also be boosted by killing the same Visionary repeatedly. So, for instance, Aether power allows you to become invisible; well, an upgrade makes the power not drain any energy when standing still, while another upgrade for Aether allows you to fire off a shot and not disrupt your invisibility entirely. The weapon and character trinkets have a rarity, and the rarer you find, the better and more effective it is. You might want to be a stealthy melee killing machine, or maybe an armoured demi god with loads of ammo; the choice is yours.
Cold and snowy atop the mountain
Speaking of choices, while we talked about the level design a bit, let us go more in-depth with that part of the game. The levels can be tackled multiple different ways, sometimes even skipping annoying gameplay limiting factors, of course.; you can only figure this out if you look hard enough. There are numerous entry points to buildings and boss locations. Arkane has thought of these, and they are not easy to reach; some of these will only become available if you learn about a code or arrange a specific sequence of events in a certain way.
The levels visuals also change depending on the time of day. By the end of the day, a massive snowstorm hits the Island, more enemies will roam the place at certain times, and restricted areas may be open for further investigation. Initially, the idea of only four locations reused four times sounds a bit cheap, but the extent of these differences is massive. Layouts change, new enemies get added, traps and secret areas open up.
Guns, ammo, and the echoes of death
The game’s visuals are top-notch, it comes with RTX on PS5 and PC, and the sound design is superb, especially the gunshots are well done. The music is fantastic and really fits that 1960s tone, and there are a lot of neat small audio queues for headshots, new clues being discovered by the player. The levels are varied in visuals and look fantastic, the textures are sharp, even off in the far distance, and the sound for certain big explosions and changes in the world is stunning.
It does have the occasional visual glitches, but nothing game-breaking and they pretty much disappear after a while. One of the most significant immersion-breaking scenes is the ragdoll physics for the NPCs when dying, as sometimes it feels like I’m back playing Skyrim where enemies are just bouncing all over the place when getting shot with a big rifle.
The second biggest issue with the game is the AI, which is not too good, and I wonder if this was done to allow the game to progress quickly rather than getting stuck all the time. Cause Deathloop is a long game, and sometimes if you try to do everything, it can be upwards of 20 hours. This is where the game might lose you, especially initially, since a lot of the first hour of the game is an extended tutorial to teach you the powers, mechanics, and how everything, as you need to keep track of things in the journal.
It can get a bit daunting and scary to keep checking all the information all the time and making sure you are doing what you are supposed to at a particular time of the day. It can get draining mentally, and specific times will feel like a chore if you are not invested in the story or the characters. While the dialogue is top-tier, and the story is full of twists and turns, the player needs to stick with it for a long time to get the pay-off, and that might include a 20-hour playtime.
Looping around for great eternity
Deatloop, in the end, is a good game, with an excellent story, unique powers, weapons and quests to experience. It does start a bit slow, but if you are willing to stick with it, you will not regret the time spent playing this experience.
One of 2021s most fun games if you embrace the repetition and the literal loop type gameplay. It is not a roguelike, as the game does let you die twice before forcing you to restart the loop. So it is lenient enough for the player to make mistakes and not get punished constantly. It also features an invasion mechanic where you can play as one of the Visionaries to invade other player’s loops and halt their progression. Although if you have a friend, you can play the game in CO-OP. A fun game with extensive options but has some minor issues.
+ Level variety and excellent map design
+ Interesting Story, and great dialogue and characters
+ Diverse ways of tackling challenges, go loud or go stealth
– Repetitiveness built into the game, not for everyone
– AI is not the best, and physics also has issues
– Keeping track of all the solutions can be soul-crushing
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Arkane Studios
Release date: September 14, 2021