Arkane is back with another high-concept shooter. Is Deathloop the studio’s next masterpiece, or are we playing the same game over and over again?
Arkane has, in recent years, led the charge in inventive and intelligent game design. Across the Dishonored franchise and the underrated Prey reboot, the studio has created intriguing worlds, open-ended level design, and an enthralling freedom of playstyle. Deathloop is no different. In fact, Deathloop takes the Arkane formula and perfects it.
Deathloop introduces us to our protagonist, Colt Vahn, as he is impaled by a mysterious woman. This won’t be the first time he is killed by the woman we come to know as Julianna. Nor is it the last time we see him die. Death is in the title after all.
Waking up on the beach of Black Reef, you are very quickly introduced to a premise that on paper seems precise and to the point. You have eight targets to kill, including Julianna; killing them all will free you from the time loop; oh, and everyone else wants you dead. It is a premise that tries to be as clear as possible, but under the hood, Deathloop is a complicated game that will take players some time to come to grips with.
Don’t be surprised if, three hours in, you’re still being faced with text tutorials. While you are introduced to weapons, powers, varying maps, and target schedules, the opening hours of Deathloop can feel intimidating and almost aimless.
Trust me when I say it is worth the wait.
As Deathloop’s mechanics sink their claws into you, it reveals an experience utterly enchanting and difficult to put down. While there have been games I have adored over the last few years, very few have left me eager to wrap up work and jump straight back in.
For fans of Arkane’s immersive sims, Deathloop’s maps may seem small-scale in comparison. With its time mechanic, however, each of its four districts have four varied and distinct feels, as they span the periods of morning, noon, afternoon, and evening. Wandering the streets of Updaam at noon is quiet and barren; returning in the evening showcases a bustling area, with the bass of a nearby party thudding through the air.
Deathloop takes aspects of Dishonored and Prey’s map designs and condenses them down. And by divvying up each district with time there is a new reason and new context to each time you visit. You may see two Eternalists (those committed to an eternal party on Black Reef) trying to knock down a wall. Come back later and there is a hole and a new path to take. Kill them on the spot, however, and the wall will remain intact.
Multiple map design variants like this are sprinkled across Frank’s Bay, Fristad Rock, Updaam, and The Complex. It deftly turns four smaller maps into an expansive package worth combing over time and time again.
And that’s exactly what you’ll do as you figure out where and when each of your targets can be crossed off a list. I was entirely captivated – and almost took to notetaking; Deathloop
can should be played without objective markers – as I tracked the whereabouts of Ramblin’ Frank, Dr. Wenjie, and the other Visionaries of Black Reef.
It isn’t just Deathloop’s design that feels like an improvement on Arkane’s familiar formula. Gameplay-wise, it is a streamlined version of everything Arkane excels at.
Admittedly, as someone that plays a fair share of online first-person shooters, it doesn’t feel as finely tuned as it could be. It still has a slow feel compared to something like Apex Legends – which feels almost obvious to say. However, after an adjustment period that uncomfortable feel of gameplay faded away for something that felt snappier than anything Arkane had done before.
A lot of this falls to the simplification of features found in Dishonored. Specifically, energy regeneration means that you can use the game’s powers to your heart’s content. You’ll no longer need to worry about carrying enough power vials. And resource worries are something Arkane doesn’t want you to fuss over. You are in a time loop after all.
Enemy AI isn’t great, but that feels almost deliberate, as it allows for a lenient stealth system where you can fall in and out with ease. And each of the game’s powers (and their respective upgrades) are fun to mess around with as you experiment with more stealthy or chaotic builds.
Stealth is always an option, but Deathloop really just wants you to have fun with its mechanics. Unlike in the Dishonored games, I felt I was able to mess around more as I linked enemies, shifted to rooftops, and kicked unsuspecting Eternalist off of cliffs. Oof, that kick button. More dedicated kick buttons in games, please.
All of this goes without mentioning Deahloop’s PvP. The eighth target, Julianna, can invade your game and seriously mess with your plans. Like Invaders in Dark Souls, Julianna can be controlled by other players. I had originally decided that I would keep this turned off. As it turns out, invasions could be the shot of adrenaline that was needed at times.
Sneaking your way around the map and taking out targets flawlessly, only for Julianna to rock up and foil your escape, adds vibrancy and chaos to the experience. The possibility for invasion can be nerve-wracking as you sit on a pile of the in-game currency and upgrades. It adds a spice of drama, as you try to theorise which of your PlayStation friends could be trying to ruin your day.
Playing as Julianna yourself can be just as fun. Your presence is announced but it is up to you when and where you strike. That is, if you can even hunt down your target in the first place. Invasions are an ingenious cat-and-mouse styled addition to Deathloop that tests out the knowledge you are acquiring of these maps.
As I neared the solution to breaking the loop, I was utterly smitten with Deathloop. With free-flowing storytelling, you can work your way through the narrative with the aid of map design, audio logs, and the truly excellent back and forth between Colt and Juliana – voiced by Jason Kelley and Ozioma Akagha.
For some, its narrative will wrap up a little quickly, but the journey is where the meat lies. As I finally figured out how to get all targets in one loop, I felt as though the stars had aligned. And at that point, each of the game’s small issues faded away to nothing.
Platforms: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), PC
Developer: Arkane Lyon
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks / Xbox Game Studios
Release Date: Out now
Deathloop is an absolutely essential title for PS5 and PC players. It is the absolute pinnacle of game design, that makes the player put in the work, but the resulting experience is worth living through time and time again.
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