Deathloop review

Deathloop is a new one from Arkane Lyon, which is all about killing people to break the time loop you have found yourself in. You wake up on a beach with no memory, with someone called Juliana goading you over comms and it’s your job to investigate the area, line up 8 specific kills in one day, and then hopefully you’ll be able to escape this living nightmare.

Deathloop is an interesting game. Gameplay and mechanics aside, simply from a publishing angle this is an interesting one. This is a PS5 console exclusive, created by Arkane and published by Bethesda, now owned by Microsoft. Given the deal was done before Microsoft bought Bethesda back in 2020 plans stayed the same, but I don’t think it’ll be too long before we see Deathloop on Xbox Game Pass. But for now, you can check this one out on PS5 but also PC too.

Arkane is known for creating their rich worlds, with stealthy mechanics and a series of abilities. Death Loop feels like a culmination of sorts, taking elements from Dishonored and Prey, taking the best bits and producing something with a tight narrative, great feeling gameplay mechanics, plus throw into the mix the time loop elements and you have yourself a great feeling game, which draws you back time and time again.

At its core this is a first-person shooter, which allows you to pick your path through a series of set-piece levels, allowing you to stealthily creep up on your enemies or go in all guns blazing. Whereas in previous Arkane Lyon titles, you would have been at a significant disadvantage to ignore the stealth, here you aren’t faced with too many restrictions. Yes, you can sneak up on pretty much everyone and kill them (and you’ll be doing a lot of killing in this game), but you can usually fight your way out of a tight spot with a gun too. I think it’s a smart choice as it’s going to open up the game to the masses, however, the drawback is that is can feel a little easier and you feel led through much of the game.

You play as Colt Vahn, you wake up on a beach with little memory of what’s happened before and you slowly piece together what’s going on through a combination of notes, artifacts, and Juliana who’s constantly insulting you down the comms. Deathloop is set on Artic Island which is stuck in a time loop, which has been created somehow by 8 Visionaries, and they are key to the loop. Patrolling the island at all times are members of the cult called AEON, and they have been giving clear instructions to shoot you on sight if you get spotted, so it’s best to keep out of the way of them all. It’s your job to track down and kill all 8 Visionaries in a single day, and thus break the loop. While you are getting your bearings in this world you also have Juliana to worry about as she can invade your game at a moment’s notice and hunt you down, so you have to keep your wits about you.

In the early hours of the game, it’s a little tricky to get to grips with what’s going on. There’s plenty of characters to know, weapons and loot to learn, as well as environments to map out. I would say don’t worry about this too much and push through the slight sense of confusion, as things will open up and all become clear with time and you’ll get to grips with the environments, the time of day, and the loop mechanics. The game is meant to be played over and over, so if you don’t quite know your way around at first, don’t worry, it’s clear up quite quickly with experience. This isn’t one of those games that get good after 20 hours, it’s much quicker than that, but I did find the beginning was a little more confusing than most.

The world you inhabit is a stylish one, inspired by the ’70s and it’s a hedonistic murder island crawling with cultists looking to kill you. Arkane has done a great job in building up the world, from the detailed environments with artifacts all over the place (for example notes, audio messages, and computers to dig into). The world-building here is fantastic and brings Deathloop alive.

If you are a fan if Dishonoured, then you are going to feel right at home in Deathloop. The main difference here is you have guns and gadgets. Early on in your first playthrough, you’ll pick up a weapon, as well as a Hackamajig that allows you to interrupt security signals generally mess with your enemies. As you make your way around areas as well as cultists patrolling with guns, there are also automated turrets everywhere, but simply point the Hackamajig in the right direction and now it’s yours.

There’s a pretty good array of weapons including pistols, automatic weapons, and rifles and they all feel good to use. Destiny is normally my standard of gunplay, but the guns in Deathloop feel like they have a weight to them. Arkane has even taken inspiration from Destiny and other loot-based games by adding different rarities of weapons, so there’s a decent incentive to come back and take on bosses time and time again because of the chance at a drop. At the start you’ll lose everything if you die or the time loop resets, but as you progress through the early hours you’ll pick up the ability to keep a few weapons through the new time loops, so you don’t have to worry too much about losing your great drop. This does cost currency though, so spend it wisely.

Complimenting the weapons are items called Slabs, which are augments you can use to modify your abilities. Visionaries tend to have these slabs, and as you kill them you’ll pick up more powerful abilities as you tick off these bosses. For example, Shift is a slab you pick up from a Visionary called Charlie, and this is similar to Blink in Dishonoured. This is a short-range teleportation ability, which comes in very handy when you are fighting everyday enemies. Nexus is another very useful slab in Deathloop which allows you to chain together enemies. What happens to one of them happens to them all, which is going to come in use, especially if you need to kill 8 targets in a single day. These Slabs are all very powerful, however, there’s nothing really new here from Arkane, most of the Slabs we’ve seen before in Dishonoured.

Arkane appears to have made a significant effort to make this game easy to pick up and play. For example, your power bar recharges, rather than having to find positions or items to recharge, allowing for ease of use when it comes to abilities. On one hand, this is great for beginners, although later in the game it does feel like Deathloop is holding your hand a little too much. Early in the game, I was thankful for these techniques, especially the Reprise Slab, as that gives you 3 lives and room to make mistakes. I think if the game started off too hardcore, then many would be put off. Thankfully, later in the game, you can turn off waypoints and other hand holding systems, to give you a little more freedom to explore and also make mistakes. These are small little tight loops like you’d experience in Hades, individual playthroughs in Deathloop can take hours at a time.

One clear benefit of the slightly easier difficulty is more freedom to express yourself with solutions. For example, you can play very stealthily, sneak up on everyone and take them out in silence. Or you can let your gun do the talking, and it’s highly likely you’ll manage to shoot your way out of a situation and get back to safety without too much bother. Early on in the game, I was playing a big stealthy game, being careful not to set off alarms or disturb the enemies too much. However, I found out a few hours in I could actually go in with a gun and eight times out of ten manage to make my way out alive. Personally, I’m not accustomed to or enjoy stealth in games, so this was a revelation to me and allowed me to enjoy Deathloop that much more.

Time isn’t on constant progression in Deathloop as the name might suggest. The day is split into quadrants, and you play these out in various locations. You start in the morning, go into an area through a network of tunnels and when you come out, time will progress. There isn’t a constant timer counting down or moving the day forward, so there’s room to breathe and explore. This does mean however you are going to have to find some crafty ways to get the Visionaries together given the limitations and the number you have to kill in total. As you play through the various leads, these opportunities will present themselves and it’s fun uncovering the clues and overlapping points. For example, two of the Visionaries are lovers and have been sneaking off to the beach for a little hanky-panky, and that seems like the perfect time to bump them both off.

There’s also a certain amount of progression between loops, whether you finish the day or you get killed. There’s a handy screen in your inventory where you can save notes and clues you find scattered about the island, for things like door passwords. Early on you’ll learn how to collect Residium, which you can use to infuse weapons and therefore carry them from loop to loop. This makes the first few loops pretty tough as you are figuring things out, how it all works and fits together, but certainly makes things easier as you progress. Slabs and Trinkets carry forward too, Trinkets being upgrades for your weapons which can increase aim assist, or reduce the reload time.

Deathloop is a game you will master over time and there are a couple of phases to the story. First of all, you will be killing all the Visionaries and collecting their powers, and second, you bring all of those things together and find out the origins and the purpose of the loop. It’s all pretty complex, but the game is brought together with great writing which is expressed through the characters and NPCs, but also the environments too. The AEON cultists stumble around drunk most of the time, which helps when they are chasing after you with a gun, but it all plays into the hedonistic, violent backdrop of the Deathloop sandbox.

There are two main modes in the game. ‘Break the Loop’, which is everything I have described so far where you play as Colt, or there is ‘Protect the loop’, where you get your chance to play as Juliana and go hunt down Colt. Not too long into the game, you will notice Juliana jumps into your playthroughs as Colt, and you are online by default, meaning random people can come into your game and mess with you. This does make things tense because once you see that notification that Juliana has entered your game, you could be in for a hard time, especially now when the game is new and the player population is large. For example, I was all the way through a loop into the evening when a random came in and killed me, and I was so close to the end. I hadn’t killed all Visionaries at that stage, so it wasn’t wasted progress, but still, it was tough!

Playing as Juliana and jumping into random games is a big appeal of the online mode for me as you can really do some damage. Set traps, or simply run in there and gun down Colt, or Snipe from a distance. You can mess with the locks to the mines, so Colt has to hack his way to safety, there’s plenty of ways to mess with Colt in the PVP-focused mode. I have heard reports of people turning this to friends only, and also you can switch it so Juliana is AI only, which makes it much easier, given the AI in the game isn’t hard at all. One thing with online mode to take note of is you can’t pause it, but if you are offline and Juliana is AI then you can pause.

Overall Deathloop is a solid game. It’s been getting rave reviews from some outlets, with a few tents here and there. I’ve certainly enjoyed my time with it so far, but it’s a time investment and it’s fairly complicated to pick up, so there are a bunch of barriers to entry. However, push past those barriers and you have a game with a rich story, great feeling weapons, and a combination of PVE and PVP game modes to keep you busy. It’s also very replayable too given the nature of the loop and probably the best game for newcomers to the library from Arkane Lyon.

Developer: Arkane Lyon
Publisher: Bethesda
Platforms: PS5 and PC
Release Date: 14th September 2021