Am I the only one that, no matter how many trailers and adverts I saw for Deathloop, couldn’t for the life of me make sense of what the game was actually about? I remember seeing the original reveal and thinking it was an Arkane-infused PvP assassin game. It’s a testament to the creative risk that Arkane has taken to deliver a game that, in the months before it’s release, confused a lot of us. In truth, Deathloop only made sense to me after I was a few hours deep into the many Deathloops I have put the wise-mouth protagonist Colt through.
So, how did I make sense of Deathloop? By not making sense of it. Nowadays, we’re so quick to put games into boxes as first-person shooters, puzzle games, etc. and one can see why this has come about; most games stick to the style and functions of the genre they belong to. Deathloop, on the other hand, transcends categorization and amalgamates the best parts of multiple genres. It’s a first-person shooter, a puzzle game, a rogue-like, a stealth game, an action game, it’s a Souls-like, it’s…Deathloop.
“Am I supposed to do this everyday for the rest of my life? F--- that!” exclaims Deathloop’s protagonist, Colt, as he first realizes he’s stuck in a Deathloop. The mysterious antagonist Juliette bites back “Good luck with that, a--hole!” Arkane’s take on Groundhog Day is first and foremost delivered through some of the finest voice acting in any video game. You play as Colt, at least through the main story, a cocky action dude akin to Samuel L Jackson in many of his films. Colt delivers brilliantly written back and forth with the snarky Julianna as the two squabble like bitter ex-lovers. Julianna is first presented as an invader who taunts Colt every chance she gets, clearly knowing a lot more about Colt than he knows about himself. If the Batman and Joker represent what happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force, Colt and Julianna represent what happens when an unstoppable cocky guy trying to break a time loop meets an immovable, equally cocky girl, trying to protect the loop. It’s an incessant battle of wills, and the chemistry between the two immediately lets you know that you’re in for a good time.
As the titular Deathloop suggests, Colt is stuck in a never-ending time loop and yep, dying is inevitable and frequent. At the end of every day, split into Morning, Noon, Afternoon and Evening, the loop resets and the party starts all over again. The playground that holds Colt, Julianna, and all other inhabitants in this time loop is the island of Blackreef. Blackreef is a lawless island split into four distinct districts connected by a tunnel system that Colt traverses. Anyone that’s played an Arkane game before knows what they can expect; the cartoonish Arkane aesthetic juxtaposed with dark humour. Deathloop, however, has a more lighthearted tone than previous Arkane games, and, the overall art style really supports this tone. Deathloop borrows the best bits from Arkane’s Dishonored gameplay-wise with similar dual-wielding fighting styles, supernatural abilities, multi-layered level design, and more. The Arkane DNA is clear to see but unlike their previous games which sometimes discouraged too much outright violence, Deathloop is practically fist-bumping you after killing as many enemies - or Eternalists and they’re known in Blackreef - as you can, in the most creative ways imaginable. It would’ve been nice to see more enemy variety, however.
The four districts, Updaam, The Complex, Fristad Rock, and Karl’s Bay, each have their own story to tell and it’s down to the player to listen in on conversations, read notes and discover hidden environmental clues hidden in the nook and cranny of each district. Functionally, entering a district will commit one of your time slots, and leaving the area through the tunnels will advance the time of day to the next slot. The wider objective is to break the loop. In order to do that, Colt learns that he must take out 8 targets, known as Visionaries, all in one day, in the same loop. These 8 Visionaries are eccentric, infused with supernatural abilities, and killing them will require putting your thinking cap on. You see, it’s simply impossible to kill all 8 before the loop ends without first studying each and every Visionary. Whether it’s listening in on the conversation of some goons or reading a Visionary’s diary, it’s as important to learn their weaknesses as it is their patterns. Breaking the loop requires killing multiple Visionaries within the same time period so learning when, where and how you can do that is the key to breaking the loop.
It will take many loops to piece together everything needed to kill all 8 Visionaries in the same loop and, in the beginning, re-starting a loop means Colt losing all his gear. At the start, that’s only really his guns but as you progress and uncover Slabs and Trinkets, losing those will start to feel a lot more gut-wrenching. Trinkets are much like Runes from Dishonored or perks from contemporary first-person shooters; these allow Colt to boost his weapon(s) or his person. Like all gear in Deathloop, these range in rarity and description. Whether you prefer a stealthy playstyle or to go all guns blazing, there’s Trinkets to be found in Deathloop to compliment your desired playstyle. Slabs are the rarest gear in the game as they’re the artifacts that bestow their holder with supernatural abilities. Colt’s first slab, Reprise, is locked and allows him to resurrect up to two times while exploring an area before dying a third time will end the current loop he’s in. To acquire other Slabs, Colt must take out a Visionary or Julianna and loot it from their possession. Each Slab has a unique supernatural ability. For instance, Nexus allows the holder to link multiple enemies so that any harm inflicted upon one is felt by all. Each Slab is powerful in its own right but Colt can only equip 2 alongside Reprise. Slabs also have multiple upgrades that influence their power which are acquired by looting the slab again in another loop.
Thankfully, it doesn’t take too long until Colt discovers Infusion. Upon killing his first Visionary, Colt learns the process of Infusion. Infused weapons and gear can be carried over between loops. However, Infusion is a costly process that requires the use of Residuum which can be gathered by exploring districts or collecting it from dead Visionaries. This means players must prioritize what gear they want to keep as you’ll simply have to sacrifice some between loops. If you die before making it back to the tunnels, you’ll lose any Residuum collected. So, it’s important to get back to the tunnels and spend it before losing it when a new loop begins. My personal recommendation is to focus on infusing weapons and slabs first of all, then to infuse the trinkets that suit your playstyle. My only criticism of Infusion is that it actually provides too much security. I might’ve preferred a system where infused gear deteriorated over time. Alas, it’s just a small criticism in a game where I otherwise struggle to find anything to complain about.
Luckily, Colt can always pick up the trusty hackamajig (no, I haven’t forgotten what it’s called, it’s just genuinely called that) at the start of each loop so you needn’t worry about infusing it. Similar to hacking in the Watch Dogs series, the hackamajig allows Colt to bend the environment and technology to his
Rob Larkin here...
Invading the game, invading this review…
The multiplayer component of DeathLoop involves the ongoing cat and mouse match between Colt, the protagonist, and Julianna, the primary antagonist. And just like in the gameplay, in this review it’s time to invade the proceedings. So this is Rob sneaking in to Charlie’s review (just like I was sneaking into other player’s games) to voice the role of Julianna and provide the perspective from the other side of this coin.
Throughout the game much of the personality of the narrative is played out in the frequent back and forth between the two’s voices over the radio, but on occasion in each loop, the verbal barbs become actual bullets. Julianna is on Colt’s case from the moment he wakes each Loop, notifying the rest of the residents of his treachery with an island-wide announcement, placing the bounty on his head - and when the opportunity presents itself - jumping into his location to lock down the exit and force a confrontation. The brief is simple: to escape Colt can choose fight or flight with Julianna, but he must shut down an antennae that pops into view as a quest marker.
So on the one hand, playing the main quest, multiplayer just happens as part of the story. You can choose to open or close your game off as you see fit, with no noticeable reward or penalty for each action. The first option is open play where any random player can jump in an invade your game. The second option is to set the game to friends only, exactly like it sounds, only friends can invade. The last option is single player where the game AI will take the reins of Julianna just like every other enemy. There is a little bit of a cheat in that system: if you choose friends only and none of your friends are present or willing, then you can traipse through the story points free of this particular challenge…
…and it can be a significant challenge indeed, because in a word, Julianna is overpowered (or is that two words: over powered?). Press materials and in game screens love to position Julianna staring Colt down through the scope of her sniper rifle, and surprisingly the base loadout does not include that gun. Fear not, it takes all of one encounter to unlock it, and by the completion of the second encounter you’ll likely have enough perks and weapons in your loadout to fear no man. Well, no man named Colt anyway. While this is meant to be a PvP component, integrated into the main storyline of the campaign, the result is something more like Pvp (little p), because Colt rarely stands a chance.
It’s not just that Julianna has a stronger loadout out of the gate, and not just that that loadout gets even better with very little investment; it’s that the game is played entirely on her terms. Colt can choose fight or flight, but he must disable that antennae and to do so he must get close enough to link into it with his Hackamajig (that’s actually the name). So Julianna spawns in on top of the antennae, usually has NOC reinforcements mulling about with her, has time to set up trip mines or other defenses, and can simply camp on a choke point with support in place that Colt cannot avoid.
There are some mitigating factors in Colt’s favor, but they don’t come close to balancing the scales. Colt does need to die three times in a level to end the given loop, so in some cases Julianna will need to drop him three times before he wins one duel. There is also a mechanic introduced fairly early in that allows Colt to carry over some progress in weapons and perks he picks up each Loop. Meaning that with great investment Colt does get stronger, but Julianna still has quicker access to even more strength and can craft her loadout precisely for this one task, not having to balance between both the campaign and this single encounter like Colt.
Normally, the invasion is a drop-everything-and-go-sort-out-Julianna type of event. What gets a little awkward is when the little-p player that’s running Colt decides to go for flight without actually tackling the antennae. This is probably the best strategy against a human opponent. Colt has to hack the dish, but there is no timer ticking down to do so. They can choose instead to carry on with whatever objectives brought them to the location in the first place. That puts the squeeze on the Big-P player running Julianna to choose to sit patiently or go chase the rabbit.
Big-P players get XP based on performance, and while there are points accrued for simply surviving in an encounter for first 3 then 10 minutes etc., there are also larger pools of returns for frustrating Colt’s objectives, preventing the assignation he might currently be running, and ultimately landing the killshot herself rather than if the player dies without the Big-P player’s intervention. But in my playtime thus far that seemed to be the best counter-strategy: test Julianna’s patience for as long as it holds and go about your business. You might spend that round looking over your shoulder constantly, but you also might get one more mitigating factor in the fight by flushing her onto a level field of engagement, not the one where she had time and opportunity to fortify and reinforce.
Rob Larkin out...
...a turret blocking your path, sneak up and hack it to turn it against the Eternalists and, not only does the turret not fire on you, it takes out all the enemies within its vicinity. Likewise, the double jump trinket is also made available practically right off the bat on every new loop and it’s all but essential for traversing the environment so definitely equip both of these in your loadout before embarking on a mission.
Infusion removed a great deal of the worry I previously had when exploring districts, worried that death would mean losing all the gear I had collected. It’s an insurance that encourages players to explore, take risks and experiment in this wonderfully creative playground that Arkane have made for us in Blackreef. Deathloop is at its best when you let go of your inhibitions and, unlike Colt, take your time in the loops and enjoy it. Dying might suck but it’s just a chance to learn and grow. Explore those underground tunnels, abandoned shops or mysterious doorways; there’ll either be a super cool piece of gear there, a revealing clue, or a bunch of goons ready to give you a belly full of bullets. Either way, you’ll get a new badass piece of gear or you’ll learn something. Accidentally blow myself up trying to kill some Eternalists and a Visionary with fireworks? No problem. An invading Julianna disguising herself only to jump you and paint the walls of your flat with blood? Don’t sweat it. Every death is a lesson as you slowly but surely master the environment and get closer to piecing together a master plan to break the loop.
On the PS5, Deathloop is simply a joy to play. As I hope to see every PS5 game do, Deathloop takes full advantage of the unique platform-specific DualSense features that only further immerse players into the island of Blackreef. Each gun in Deathloop is quirky in its own right and the DualSense allows players to really feel how unique their badass arsenal is. For instance, stealthier players will no doubt look to the PT-6 Spiker; a silenced nail gun where you will feel each nail fall into the magazine with granularity every time you reload your weapon. The DualSense’s adaptive triggers lets you feel the resistance as you hold to align your shot and the strong recoil felt when releasing your shot. It’s not just weapons either, unless you include the cocky wit or high kick of Colt, as Colt’s movement will also provide different sensations whether you’re running, sliding, climbing, sneaking, or teleporting your way through Blackreef.
Performance-wise, Deathloop looks and runs great on the PS5. It’s not pushing the boundaries of what’s possible on the new hardware, but it doesn’t need to. Deathloop shines thanks to its uniquely Arkane art style, game design and the sense of overall polish. Like many next-gen video games, Deathloop offers up various graphical/performance modes. Performance mode offers a steady 60 FPS at the cost of removing raytracing and featuring a dynamic 4K resolution scaling. The Visual Quality mode also features dynamic 4K scaling but prioritises graphical fidelity over frame rate which can see some dips below 60. Lastly, the Raytracing mode also features dynamic 4K scaling but sees a dramatic drop in frame rate to 30 FPS to allow for high graphical fidelity and raytracing. Having tested all three, the frame rate drops simply are not worth the boosts in graphical fidelity as, once again, this is not where this game shines and nor is it where it’s meant to; the fluidity in gameplay that comes with 60 FPS should absolutely make Performance mode the go-to option.
The beauty behind Deathloops’s story and mystery is that it all unfolds as you play. Just as the amnesiac Colt was struggling to wrap his head around the time loop, so was mine. The benefit of having a blank slate is that the player shares that connection with the character that they’re both learning all these things together. It’s absolute madness, anarchy, and confusion but Deathloop is downright addicting. Every time I died or the loop restarted, I couldn’t wait to jump back in and see what new information I could learn to conjure up a plan to assassinate a Visionary that Agent 47 would be proud of. Or, what secluded part of a district I had yet to explore I could discover to unlock more powerful gear. Every loop, every death, is meaningful as you learn and grow and become increasingly familiar with yourself, your environment, and your foes. Deathloop is a reminder to me that we are yet to see all that video games have to offer and every once in a while, a game like Deathloop comes along and proves that creative risk-taking and doing something no other game has done yet can have a massive pay-off.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.