Deathloop, Arkane Studios ’latest game, is also not for everyone. The very fact that you have to go through the same day several times in the game is certainly repulsive to some. Still, if you see something in Deathloop that interests you at least a little, please give the game a chance - because I think it’s fantastic and I can say with certainty that this is my game of the year for now.
The premise of Deathloop isn’t exactly easy to explain, but I’ll try anyway. In this first-person shooter, you take on the role of Colt, a man trapped in a 24-hour time loop on Blackreef Island. Every morning Colt wakes up on the beaches of Blackreef and spends the same day. That time loop was created by eight Visionaries, distinctive lunatics who have their mysterious reasons why they did it at all.
The only way to escape from this island and break the time loop is to kill all eight Visionaries - in one day. If Colt dies or at least one of his targets misses him in those 24 hours, he wakes up "the next day" on the same beach and his torments start again. However, our main character knows his side as he retains his memory and everything he learned during previous loops.
The more you play, explore and die the closer you will get to that perfect formula to kill all eight targets in one day. Still, things will often be peppered by Julianna, one of the Visionaries, and your rival who - not only also remembers everything from previous loops - but also tries to kill you and prevent you from breaking the loop.
Here it is, an essay is written and Deathloop is explained! Although the premise is very interesting to me personally, I am sure that it rejected many. Still, I find Deathloop making some smart moves so that the whole time loop thing doesn’t quickly become tedious. First of all, although this is a time loop game, you are not limited by time.
In the main menu, you have the option to choose between four different environments at four different times of the day. You can spend as much time as you want in any area. The loop is reset only when you have spent all four times of the day or when you finally die. I say finally because here, too, the game meets your needs by giving you three lives for each period of the day.
The important thing that the developers have done is that they have eliminated the frustrations associated with the loss of progress. Deathloop differs from the roguelike title in that you can retain weapons and powers through various loops with the help of Residum, a material you can find in the area and collect from the corpses of visionaries. Of course, this Residuum is not too easy to find, so an interesting element of caution has been added when you want to keep some part of your equipment.
This system means that you will rarely feel like you have lost that perfect weapon you found in one loop. Something that helps these time loop mechanics stand out is that you gather knowledge through multiple transitions. Colt remembers everything he encounters and that means almost no loop will be in vain as you will learn at least something new about his targets or the greater mystery surrounding Blackreef Island.
At one point in my transition to the game, I found a code in one of the levels that deactivates security measures in another level. Even if I died right after I found out that code, that information stays with me and helps me in future loops.
Another thing that makes this whole time loop thing functional is that Deathloop environments change concerning the time of day. This adds a dose of variety. Minor things like enemy positions and weapons can be changed, but sometimes the time of day can mean a different approach to an environment. An urban area called Updaam is relatively quiet in the morning - there is one larger group of enemies that you can easily ignore and generally the level of security is not too high.
However, in the evening it is a different story. Then one of the visionaries holds a party at his club - half the city is invited and half is left to party in the fresh air. This means that Colt has to stick to the height or interior of the flats if he wants to avoid unnecessary attention, and if he wants to get closer to that club he has to be ready to bring his best artillery. Things like this I had to keep in mind whenever I would choose the time of day to visit an area.
I had to adopt different tactics and take with me the ideal combination of weapons and power. Another thing that helps the sense of diversity is the fantastic level design that Arkane Studios is known for. Almost every part of Deathloop’s surroundings have different ways of accessing which leads you to choose different paths each time.
In short, I think the developers have come up with a very good approach to the idea of a time loop in this game. There were some moments when my time loop mechanics was a bit tiring, but they are very rare and it was more because the game then gave me banal tasks. In general, I think Deathloop is a game that (somewhat ironically) greatly appreciates your time and the effort you put into each transition. Every new day at Blackreef is an opportunity to learn something new and try different tactics.
I must also praise the stealth segment, which is a bit simpler than the one in Dishonored, but it is still more than fun and very effective in combat. In general, silently killing enemies is a quick and dynamic process - killing animations don't last long and your opponents' bodies disappear after death, which means you don't have to worry about hiding your body. I like that even when you make some noise, the enemies won’t immediately know your exact location but need to first figure out where you are given the situation.
There are trinkets for the Colt character himself that can give him a faster regeneration of life and the ability to do more damage when he is close to death. These are all interesting upgrades that can help you decide in which direction you want to take your playing style. You can also change trinkets whenever you are not already in one of the four levels, which means you are not too limited and you can adapt.
With the help of this, you can more deftly eliminate individual enemies or completely avoid some situations that would draw too much attention to you. These powers are an essential addition to the combat system without which I think not everything would work so well. You can also upgrade your abilities by killing Visionaries multiple times. After certain upgrades, with Shift, you can change position with the enemy while with Aether you can kill the enemy without interrupting your invisibility.
When these powers and their upgrades are taken into account, the various trinkets you can take with you, and the rich assortment of weapons, it becomes obvious that the combat system in Deathloop is extremely complex and allows the player to decide what approach he wants to take given individual situations. At one point in my transition, I decided to visit an area called Fristad Rock, which is full of mines and traps for the player and the enemies move in quite large groups.
By the way, in Deathloop I like to play quite wildly, with a lot of movement and shooting with opponents. However, I decided to adopt a slightly more cautious style of play for Fristad Rock. So I brought with me Aether, but also Nexus power, which allows me to "connect" the destinies of multiple enemies - if one dies, so will the others.
With the help of my invisibility, I was able to easily deactivate the trappings in the area, and quietly, I used Nexus to destroy my opponents as if they were dominoes. I left with Fristad Rock without anyone noticing that I was there, and I felt like a ninja with superpowers. This is just one of many situations where I felt like I had solved one of Deathloop’s puzzles interestingly.
THE MAIN PUZZLE DEATHLOOP
Unfortunately, the main puzzle Deathloop offers - the successful killing of all eight visionaries in one day - is disappointing in some ways. Don’t get me wrong, gathering information and merging dots to come up with a final solution to this mystery is quite a fun process. However, I expected to have more freedom at my disposal when it came to just eliminating my targets. Let me clarify.
At the beginning of Deathloop, the Visionaries were scattered in different places at different times of the day. It is impossible to immediately achieve the main goal of the game because while killing one Visionary, the other will be on a completely different part of the island at the same time and so you lose your chance to escape from Blackreef. What you need to figure out is how to bring as many Visionaries as possible to the same place at the same time of day so that you make the most of your day.
And I tell you, finding the perfect answer to this main question is a very interesting thing. I’ve rarely been aimless in the game, I’ve always been on the hunt for some new clue to help me find a connection between my targets. With each discovery, I discovered a new weakness of the Visionaries that I could take to my advantage. In the midst of it all, I felt like an evil manipulator - a puppeteer watching in which direction he would pull his strings.
However, this is where we come to the problem because practically the team from Arkana Studios decided that this is their show and that the strings are being pulled where they want. By that I mean the following: although you can kill your targets individually whenever you want, there is only one main solution to switching the game.
If you find a way to attract two Visionaries to the same place at the same time, that’s it - there are no other ways. Another problem is that the game has predetermined which visionaries can be expensive and which cannot. This personally surprised me unpleasantly because I felt as if a great opportunity had been missed here. Deathloop gives you incredible freedom in almost every aspect so I found myself frustrated that that same freedom isn’t so present in achieving the goal of the whole game.
Stories in Arkana Studios games have always left me divided. The Dishonored series has an intriguing world and a brilliant atmosphere, but the characters seemed one-dimensional to me, and the script didn’t have any emotional weight. These same problems were even more noticeable in Prey, in my opinion. Although the game had a few tricky plots, the plot and the set of characters are not some things I will remember it for.
Despite these previous results, Arkane again positively surprised me because Deathloop contains their best story to date. Colt and Julianna are great main characters who practically give their soul to this adventure. Every time the two of them quarrel I turn to my ear because I want to hear who will win in that verbal conflict. Here it helps that their dialogue is written with a certain dose of witty humor that never crosses the line of total absurdity.
The jokes that these two characters throw at each other's accounts do not give the impression that they are forced, but as if they were made up by fierce rivals at work who are forced to watch each other every day. At one point, Colt, after making a key discovery, is so proud of himself that he brags to Julianna and eventually exclaims “BOOYAKASHA!” As a sign of victory. At another point, Colt tells Julianne how different he is from the other people on Blackreef because he's not a rich jerk and sociopath, to which Julianne tells him, "Oh no, you're just not rich."
Moments like this made me laugh well, but they also added humanity to this crazy time loop situation. Of course, there are more serious things than making jokes. I don’t want to spoil anything to you about the story, but I’ll just say that both Colt and Julianna have their reasons for doing what they do. As you go further through the game, you become more and more aware of their complicated relationship.
However, the developers also knew when to stop when it came to discovering more about the main characters. Sometimes some emotional things in the game were much more influential purely because not too much emphasis was placed on them. By the way, during the game, Colt can see the mysterious messages that someone leaves him everywhere around - a handy narrative trick to guide the players on the right path, but also to give a sense of intrigue.
At one point, our main character comes to his apartment and one of those messages in the area says: "Remember, you used to be loved." That one sentence gives us a clue as to what builds Colt as a character, but again it doesn’t tell us quite everything. Anyway, I think Colt and Julianne's relationship is the best part of this story.
Don’t get me wrong, the Visionaries are fun characters too - each has their own crazy story and reason to be on Blackreef - but the two main characters are the ones who excel nonetheless. This is helped by the fact that their voice actors have done a fantastic job here. They conveyed almost perfectly every emotion present in every part of the dialogue.
Okay, the characters are very well made, but Deathloop’s plot consists of a few mysterious questions he asks the player? Who started this time loop? Why were these lunatics chosen to be Visionaries? What makes Blackreef Island special? What happens to the rest of the outside world while this time loop is underway? These are all very interesting questions that quickly caught my attention and kept me glued to the screen.
I think that the unraveling of all the mysteries in the story is very well done because everything happens gradually, without a sudden acceleration of the pace or boring parts in which you learn nothing new. The only thing that disappointed me a bit in the story was the ending itself, which somehow left too many things unsaid.
It seemed to me that something else was missing, as if the last part of the puzzle had been lost, because of which everything would make sense. I was expecting some epilogue or at least a better ending that would give the game a sense of completeness. I just kept quiet like this, thinking, "Yeah, I guess we'll find out later."
Something that has been mentioned a lot in Deathlop marketing is that during your transition you are harassed by Julianna, who can attack you at random while you try to kill the other Visionaries. Julianna can otherwise be controlled by artificial intelligence and although she was not a huge obstacle for me at the time, I also think that her invasions resulted in some unpredictable and fun situations.
But things change completely when the role of rivalking is taken over by another player. Sure, as Juliana your goal is to kill an opposing player, but here this part of the game is vastly different from destroying a loop with a Colt. Julianna has only one life while her opponent has three, which means she has to be a lot more careful. This will be helped by a unique power called Maquerade, which allows the player to replace the look with any character in the environment.
This means that this multiplayer mode is not so much about direct conflicts as it is about outsmarting an opposing player. I haven't played something like this in multiplayer for a long time - you are constantly caught up in tensions because neither in the role of Colt nor Julianne do you know exactly where your enemy is.
As a Colt, you will look around every corner and wonder if that NPC is really an NPC or is it just some guy who has a PhD walking in a circle. On the other hand, like Julianna, you'll think, "Okay, if I were the bastard trying to kill the Visionary, which way would I go?"
When you play as Julianna you also have a unique progression system called Hunter rank, which you can enhance by making Colt kill as creatively and effectively as possible. This system allows you to unlock new weapons, powers, and cosmetic accessories for both characters. Honestly, I am very happy with this multiplayer mode. Not only is this cat and mouse game a lot of fun, but it’s a completely different experience - especially when compared to the main campaign.
Before I finish with this review, I need to talk a little more about the audiovisual presentation and the technical side of the game. I’m generally happy with the look of Deathloop because the game puts more focus on the original graphic style than the realism. All the main and supporting characters stand out with their visual design, which is essential for a game where the goal is to kill distinctive targets. I also like the atmosphere of the sixties, which the game successfully evoked with the help of stylized environments and the jazz music that plays in the background.
Still, it’s hard to look at Deathloop and say this is truly the next gene when it comes to graphics. The quality of textures and models is not exactly at the level you expect from an AAA title in 2021. There aren’t even some bombastic moments and cutscenes that will impress you, so this isn’t a visual spectacle from the game. In my opinion, that is fine, but I think it should be mentioned anyway.
As for the techniques, the game had some more serious stuttering problems on the PC, but since the new patch came out I haven’t run into any such difficulties. Plus, it seems to me that Deathloop is asking a little too much of your PC in terms of graphics - sometimes I’ve had annoying thumbnail drops per second that would happen at higher graphics settings.
A JOURNEY FOR MEMORY
Deathloop is complex, requires research from players, and has a rather unusual story. But when I think back to going through the game I see so many things to appreciate. The combat system is so good I can’t imagine how it can be better. It’s dynamic, offers a mountain of options and I’ve never got tired of going crazy over Blackreef. Yet the developers have added various details that help make each of your Deathloop plays different.
I will remember the story the most by the two main characters who offer a lot of good humor, but also some interesting and sad motivations that make them complex. The dialogue was skillfully written, and the main mystery was very interesting to uncover despite the somewhat disappointing ending. Even killing targets, which wasn’t perfect, was fun enough and I hope the mistakes of this game can be corrected in a potential sequel. Deathloop Island Blackreef is a strange place, but I enjoyed my visit.