September 14, 2021
Deathloop is a paradox, where time is in both infinite supply and quickly running out. Protagonist Colt Vahn is stuck in a timeloop, desperately trying his best to get off the gleefully nihilistic island of Blackreef. The rules of breaking the timeloop seem simple: kill eight targets within 24 hours. Paradoxically, this feat is an intricate clockwork of planning, preparation, and execution that feels impossible at first. It all culminates in one of Arkane Studios’ best games to date.
Deathloop begins in media res, as Colt is murdered by a mysterious woman named Julianna Blake. As soon as he dies, he wakes up on a strange beach with no knowledge of who he is or how he got there. Julianna soon makes contact, explaining his situation, and by extension, the game’s rules. Colt is on Blackreef, where time is perpetually stuck, and murder is the only way out.
The game revels in its nihilistic world; dying has no meaning on Blackreef, so why not do whatever you want? Death, murder, and all manner of awful things are treated casually, lending dark humor to the whole experience. This kind of storytelling could have become juvenile in the wrong hands, but Deathloop’s writing is strong, and I enjoyed seeing the twisted ways it played with the timeloop conceit. Colt and Julianna’s interactions – full of bickering and arguments – are almost always entertaining and humorous, and the two are now among my favorite video game characters of the year.
Blackreef is broken into four large districts, each with its own clues on how to proceed, access to targets, and storylines that progress the main plot or serve as side content. Each district has a unique flare – from a city center hosting a massive party to an expansive research station near the coast – and arriving at different times of day changes everything from where guards patrol to who and what is available. You can choose to explore a district at four times of day: morning, noon, afternoon, or evening, and I enjoy the way this makes you plan your routes accordingly.
Tracking leads throughout Blackreef quickly became my favorite part of Deathloop. I loved exploring, seeing how the world opens up and how my opportunities change over the course of a day. It takes a while to get to the bottom of any mystery in Deathloop, but the game does a good job of paying you back for your time with fun new ways to play, such as access to new powers, better weapons, and upgrades for both.
Compared to Arkane’s previous immersive sim series, Dishonored, Deathloop encourages players to spill as much blood as they want; no penalty or morality system is punishing you for using all the cool weapons and powers at your disposal. Many of those powers are very similar to those in Dishonored, including teleporting around levels and chaining multiple enemies together so that killing one kills everyone in the chain. From the get-go, these powers seem like upgraded versions of those in Dishonored, meaning Deathloop is effectively one giant power trip. As I honed my skills and memorized its various levels, I loved loading in and ripping through an environment in a matter of minutes – especially when combined with the game’s great arsenal, which includes a nail gun for silent headshots and an SMG that can be reloaded while shooting for a non-stop bullet spray. An in-game currency allows weapons, powers, and upgrades to be carried between loops, which is a helpful touch for alleviating the penalties of death.
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The last trick up Deathloop’s sleeve is its online component, which pits players against each other. Where the single player focuses on Colt, players can also jump into a mode where they play as Julianna. The former tries to achieve their objective as the latter invades other players’ games and attempts to hunt them down and kill them. This mechanic can be turned off, but I found that these invasions add a fun bit of tension and spontaneity to runs, especially when playing with a friend I could talk and laugh with. My best-laid plans were useless when Julianna showed up, and the dangerous game of cat and mouse that ensued always left me on edge.
The further I got, the more satisfying it became putting all the various puzzle pieces together until finally, I had a finished plan. I had built dozens of routes to get through my final day, assembled an arsenal of perfect weapons, and chosen the right powers to kill all my targets. And then I botched it all at the last second. But that ever-building sense of knowledge and accomplishment present throughout the game led me to immediately start a new playthrough, to experiment further and explore. In Deathloop, dying is fun, killing is even better, and I can’t wait to see what the game throws at me next.
Summary: Deathloop is a bloody, chaotic mess. A mess you will fail at over and over until finally, you succeed. And that success – the result of hours of experimentation, iteration, and knowledge – makes for one of the best games of the year.
Concept: Find and kill eight targets in one day, before time resets and you have to start all over
Graphics: Each level has a unique vibe, brought to life by an eye-popping 1960s aesthetic
Sound: A solid soundtrack featuring catchy and fun original, in-game songs that feel era-appropriate. The banter between the two main characters, Colt and Julianna, is consistently funny and entertaining
Playability: Mastering Deathloop takes time, but once you do, combining its various powers and weapons almost always has satisfying (and bloody) results
Entertainment: Deathloop is a rare game I started replaying as soon as the credits finished rolling. Now deep in a second playthrough, I’m still discovering new secrets and ways to play