Deathloop is a little hard to explain. My main concern when starting up the game was that even though I had followed the game from announcement to release, and was lucky enough to be the one to review it for SA Gamer, I really knew nothing about what I was getting myself into. However, I hoped that Arkane would do good by me, as they had with Dishonored... and happily I was not disappointed.
Deathloop is about two things. Time and Information.
Colt starts out with no recollection of where or who he is, on an island shoreline, surrounded by litter. Stumbling upwards from the beach is the only way to go. And slowly things start to unwind from there. Messages glow on walls, visible only to Colt. More confusing than helpful at first… But later connections start to make sense and the messages actually assist enough to stop you from running headfirst into a combat situation Colt isn’t ready for. Information proving useful. But those messages also hint at the passage of time. Perhaps, a physical manifestation of his subconscious… an indication that he has seen this all before.
Each loop is useful – Time and information push the gameplay forward even as you repetitively restart.
Yes, soon Colt figures out he is stuck in a time loop. A “loop” is a day, and a day is separated into morning, noon, and evening. You can only visit one of four areas at a specific time during a “loop”. A loop ends when you complete a mission and make it back to the tunnels that Colt calls home. Or when you die more than 3 times in one level… and there’s no autosave here folks. Dead is dead. BUT again… Even if you only got to open one note or listen to a single memo in your daily run, you have spent your minutes wisely. You have gained new data. Each loop is useful – Time and Information push the gameplay forward even as you repetitively restart.
So do you lose EVERYTHING each loop?
Yes and no.
In the early stages of the game, yes – each restart is basically a blank canvas. However, you will have easy access to Colt’s basic loadout, his Hackamajig (a contraption of Colt’s making used to hack electronics across the island), a gammy little gun, a grenade and in my case, a very well used machete. Later, though, as you begin to progress you will learn the power of infusion. This will let you imbue certain weapons, abilities (called slabs) and trinkets with ‘Residuum’ allowing you to carry them from loop to loop. You can collect this resource from random objects in level or from sacrificing parts of your loadout you won’t be using.
Playing as Julianna is a lot of fun too. Although, there is a certain bittersweet feeling to killing a Colt who you know has lost their loop thanks to you
And this means, in terms of Colt’s loadout, you’ll actually be able to improve it after each loop. Killing a “Visionary” is particularly useful. The Visionaries are the eight enemies that form the main task of the game. Your goal is actually to kill all of them in a single loop. And while you are building up to that – each Visionary has slabs (arcane abilities), guns and trinkets not found elsewhere. So it is worthwhile farming them to upgrade your own skills and slabs – empowering you to do more damage later. Of course, you only have enough space on you for a few things, so each run you can update and change your loadout. But remember, once again information is everything. You might decide to use a specific slab for an easier run in one section – but remember that it will also affect the rest of your playthrough. Everything is situational. It’s up to you to use the time you have and the information you gather to make the best decisions based on the situations you will encounter and those you will ultimately manipulate. And doing so perfectly – allows you to ‘Break the Loop’.
So how does Julianna (the female rival that has featured prominently in all the marketing) fit? Well, if a level contains a Visionary, Julianna can ‘invade’ – in a mode called “Protect the Loop”. In this mode, Julianna (who can be an AI or played by a friend or another random player) will invade your game and your tunnels (read escape route) will be locked until you use your Hackamajig to disturb the signal blocking your access to them. And this little alteration to the gameplay not only feels fresh but somehow is also really the thing that ties it all together…
This got me thinking about and questioning the moral and ethical situation on the island.
When I first started exploring the island, I focused on killing stealthily, avoiding fights where I could, and building my loadout around this playstyle. However, when Julianna became a common occurrence in my levels, I had to change my thinking. I had to figure out a loadout to kill her, because if she killed me first, all the progress on that loop was lost. She (the AI, or the player on the other side) would have ‘protected the loop’. These hunts can also reveal clues or information about the island. And in this way, Arkane has made both modes “Break the loop” and “Protect the loop” connect to each other. And they both feel completely worth playing. Again and again. Plus, you can even play as Julianna too. It is also a lot of fun. Although, there is a certain bittersweet feeling to killing a Colt who you know has lost their loop thanks to you.
So, can I play a non-lethal playthrough?
Not that I could figure out, no. It feels like Arkane Studios want you to revel in the violence and chaos of their well developed and interesting feeling guns, arcane abilities and movement. If you’re clever you can funnel the NPCs (called Eternalists) into a stupid position, but you will have to kill all or some of them to progress. After all, what damage will that really do when they wake up in the next loop, none the wiser? This got me thinking about and questioning the moral and ethical situation on the island.
To be honest, for the characters there are no morals, no ethics – just a strange, repeated existence filled with aimless enjoyment. The Visionaries are living their ‘best lives’; One holding ‘death games’ in their mansion, one routinely shooting fireworks off each night and yet another trifling with the theory of relativity, because, well, why not? These are simply their lives. And even the Eternalists can often be found doing similar stupid things. I remember coming across one that was shooting a gas canister their Eternalist friend was holding over their head to see if it would kill them or not. Others were blasting themselves out of cannons.
Along with all these occurrences, the island is full of Eternalist created vandalism which is really quite beautifully done and very eye-catching. And often very existential in its messaging. Sometimes I started to think that perhaps Colt enjoyed all of this. That this kind of life is something he would rather do day in and out. Rather than continually trying to break the loop. Appropriately, it was a question I kept asking but never quite answered.
A better Dishonored?
From the moment I woke up as Colt on the beach and took my first steps, I was immediately reminded of my first moments with Dishonored. The movement, once again, is faultless. At times I felt like I was invincible, chopping appendages and sending them flying, headshotting, and flashing from point to point like a stealth machine. Then I would die, rage, and keep going. The loop was addictive. Arkane had done it again. However, despite the obvious similarities and the ‘feel’ of an Arkane game which is certainly there (nobody does this type of game quite as they do), I feel Deathloop will bring up more moral and ethical questions in the mind of the player than Dishonored did. In Dishonored you chose your style of play, in Deathloop, it felt like it didn’t matter – there was only one (be it a very interesting) way to play.
Deathloop is excellent, unique and a personal contender for my Game of the Year
That being said, I only had one gripe with the game. After the tutorial, I felt a little lost until I found the arsenal leads tab. From there, I could see what the clues I had found had unlocked, and where to go and when. What could have been a little more of an open world is therefore kept a little restrictively linear. And this is the case even if you played the missions in an order different to me. I wouldn’t have minded slightly more freedom.
However, despite this linearity – the two game modes connect really interestingly and the handling of the arcane element is perfect. It means you can’t rely solely on your gunmanship or your arcane ability in any one level. They have to be used together or else you are in for a challenge. Situationally, the game is challenging and unlike anything I have had to figure out before. And to add to all that Deathloop provides an example of what can happen when there is an absolute seamless development to match the technology of the PS5. The DualSense controller upped tense moments, providing haptic feedback and making me feel every heavy step I took and making the guns not only sound but actually feel different. It is certainly one of the best uses of the Dualsense yet. And so after all the looping – I can confirm this game is excellent, unique and a personal contender for my Game of the Year. And so the only question is: Will you break the loop, or protect it?