A game doomed to repeat itself - in a good way
When I first heard about Deathloop I was overly excited that one of my favourite developers, Arkane Studios, was creating a new franchise.
I remember playing Dishonored one hungover Christmas morning, not knowing much about it and being glued to my seat unable to get away from the action (the hangover probably didn't help).
Once more details on the game started to arrive, I became slightly less optimistic and less interested in the concept. It seemed like it may get old fast. But, fast forward to release and it has received utterly glowing rewards - GOTY status in some eyes. Perhaps that's becasue we've had few big titles drop in the past year due to the global pandemic? Or because it is truly that good.
So it peaked my interest and having read up a bit more about it I decided to dive right in and experience it for myself. I love the Dishonored franchise so I was very intrigued to see what its "spiritual successor" had in store. And what I've found is nothing short of genius.
Here's my review of Deathloop for PC.
What Is Deathloop?
Before we can really talk about the game, we need to set the scene, for those that are unfamiliar with the game. Perhaps you're just joining us because you're trying to make you mind up as to whether to give it a go?
(Any areas where there are modearte spoliers have been clearly labelled with *SPOILER*).
Looking for a more concise and spoiler free review? Check out our video review below! Or head to the bottom for a quick summary.
Deathloop focuses on the concept of a timeloop - it operates similarly to Bill Murray's Ground Hog day or Adam Samberg's more recent Palm Springs...but with guns. You play as a man named Colt, who's been trapped in a timeloop thanks to a mysterious organisation. You wake up on a beach with no recollection of who you are, where you are, how you got there or what you need to do next. And yet, you do know exactly what you're doing because you've done it all before; potentially thousands of times. How? Let me explain.
As you get to grips with your surroundings, words start to appear around you on objects and walls reminding you of things you've done and what to do next. As you start to piece it together, remember (some) of your past expeditions, you'll be introduced to the game's antagonist.
LIFE'S A BEACH: Colt's day always starts the same
Julianna, a mysterious woman that communicates with you via radio, is out to kill you - and has...probably thousands of times. Everytime you die, you wake up at the start of the loop. Julianna's mission is to protect the loop, as it's proposed as a paradise.
Your mission is to survive and find out how you can break the loop. There's far more to it than that, but I'd rather not spoil the details!
HEY JULIE: Julianna is the only other person that remembers past loops
How Does It Work?
When I jumped into Deathloop, I wasn't sure what I was expecting. I thought I might be playing a game that is just one long level that works on a trial and error basis; you might die frequently but you learn what's ahead and how to avoid it next time. Then, once I started playing it I thought: perhaps it's a game that you can actually complete in an hour, if you know the correct sequence of events to get to the end game. I'm glad it's neither of those things.
Arkane Studios does a great job of sending you down familiar paths and story lines without forcing you to repeat tasks. Yes, some of them seem to be very similar and you will likely follow the same path on a few occassions, but the game allows you a lot of freedom and flexibility to explore the environments and reach your objective at your own pace in your own way.
In order to break the loop, you'll need to follow main leads and objectives to discover clues and move further through the story. Unlike some time based games, such as Majora's Mask, your progress isn't necessarily undone when the loop resets, your progress through the storyline and the missions create clear checkpoints in between. It means that you don't need to worry about getting it all done in one loop and the information you retain can be used to pick up where you left off in another.
A lot of care and consideration went into this to avoid needless repetition and fatigue on the player's part.
PIECE BY PIECE: You might not remember everything, but you'll slowly piece it together
The whole game takes place on an island called Blackreef. Aside from the starting area, the game has four main locations to explore: The Complex, Updaam, Karl's Bay and Fristad Rock. Interestingly enough, these areas are all very different despite being located on one island. The weather is also incredibly strange depending on the time of the day, one minute it's a sunny tropical "paradise" and then consumed by a snowy blizzard the next.
Four areas? That's not a lot. But, if you think about it it's actually 16 areas. You have four areas at four different times of day: Morning, Noon, Afternoon and Evening.
Each time of day presents new opportunities, previously not available, while others only allow you to do certain tasks in small windows of opportunity. It's an inventive way to manage your time and ensure that you don't get bored on one quest in the same place. There's no denying that it can be infuriating to be on one path and have to wait until another time or even a new loop to continue, but it's what keeps the magic alive, making you think about how it could play out and where to go next. Once you get going, the game really allows you to control where to go next and how the story unfolds.
BLACK REEF: Explore four areas at four different times
The love-hate relationship between Julianna and Colt is truly fantastic. We often see in superhero movies the banter between the Villain and hero, which is very present here and it creates a fantastic narrative. Despite her being your former friend, now turned enemy, her conversations at the start of a level set the tone for what's coming and add that bit more tension to what would be a vanilla scenario. It's amplified more when she reacts to you killing her or one of the Visionaries and even when she gets the upper hand on you.
Deathloop focuses all its attention on fleshing out the main characters, while leaving the mindless faces that inhabit Blackreef with just enough personality to make you chuckle and make most encounters memorable.
It's an undervalued part of the game and something I've not seen many reviews focus on given the game's focal point is the 'Visionaries', who are crucial to the story of the game.
I think a game that has a great set of characters can overlook some substandard gameplay. While this isn't the case with Deathloop, the constant story developments is what keeps you engaged and connected to the characters. It made me want to finish the story, find out what happens in bthe end and why I played for about 7 hours straight to get it finish at 3AM.
THE HUNTER BECOMES THE HUNTED: The dynamic between Julianna in Colt is unforgettable
Every Story Has An End *SPOILERS*
*SPOILER* This next section mentions the ending in moderate details, so it could spoil it for some. While I won't detail what happens, I will reference a few things. *SPOILER*
I've gushed about the story and the characters, which are both fantastic, but something that didn't quite sit right with me was the ending. I spent a lot of time following leads, discovering clues and uncovering the truth only for a lot of it to be glossed over in the end.
In the final moments, you're prompted to ask questions about the Loop, Blackreef, yourself, the other characters and what you've experienced, but none of it really gets answered. All this build up and drama to kind of deal with it in an unsatisfactory way left me feeling a bit empty after my experience.
I purposely waited to see how it all played out before doing a review, expecting it to reach a climax with a huge crescendo. When it finally came, it seemed almost rushed. Perhaps it's been left that way for sequels, DLC and future opportunities? Or maybe it emphasises the message of the game: that Loops don't have an end.
Tutorials are always a tedious process, sometimes you just want to get stuck into the game and not be slowed down by dialogue and being told how to press some buttons like you've never played a game before. If ever there was a right way to do a tutorial, Deathloop nails it!
The tutorial takes a learn by doing approach, it takes you through the loop process and a full day in Blackreef, while allowing you to roam free. You're constantly progressing through the juicy parts of the story to keep you hooked at an arm's length. Once it's given you the tools you need and the jist of the game, it sets you off to figure things out in your own way.
It's important to highlight how instead of placing boring explanations in amongst the gameplay, it paints text as Colt's inner thoughts that are less "do this" and "go there" and more of a colourful insight into what might be worth doing next. I think its genius because floating text wrapped on the environment isn't normal and this surreal idea makes you feel like you're going crazy. That's empthasised by the language used and the context of the story, showing you how long Colt may have been trapped in this loop and how insane the whole scenario is.
During this tutorial phase, you'll wake up on the beach a few times and repeat those few opening tasks to create the impression you really are in a loop and forced to repeat the same tasks. Just when you're getting sick of the sand between your toes, they remove this tedious activity for you; a great quality of life decision.
YOU ALREADY KNOW THE CODE: Information is weaved flawlessly into the gameplay
Singing The Same Old Song
Arkane Studios does a fantastic job of making you revisit familiar levels without the experience getting boring; which was mine (and probably everyone elses) biggest fear.
The idea of a looping game can often cause a bit of boredom and fatigue as you revisit the same scenarios and environments; but, that's simply not the case. You'll never realistically approach something in the same way. As you unlock new powers (Slabs) and new perks (Trinkets), you'll discover new paths, doors, windows and techniques to tackle obstacles. An example of this was the first time I entered the 'Visionary' Charlie's House, where he'd built a real-life interactive game across multiple floors. The first time round was a rough and chaotic affair that left me flustered and drenched in the blood of my victims. But after getting the Shift Slab (an ability that is comparable to Dishonored's Blink) I managed to scale the outer ledges and windows to evade all enemies and kill Charlie in record time.
While the game sounds rather smooth and in your hands, Julianna throws a spanner in the works. She can choose to appear at any time in a loop and attempt to kill you; so be on your toes because she's armed with Slabs, strong weapons and Trinkets too!
SHIFTING GEARS: Slabs and Trinkets will enhance your gameplay and unlock new opportunities
Silent But Violent Or Loud And Proud?
What I loved about Dishonored was making smart decisions. You would need to make a meticulous plan in your head and execute it to remain hidden from your foes; when you pulled it off it delivered a degree of satisfaction you can only get from devouring a KFC Family Bucket by yourself. In Deathloop, you can and need to do that at times, but it's not required. The reason they give you all these guns is to go loud and proud. If things don't go your way, going out in a blaze of glory is a perfectly viable and effective tactic - there is no penalty. It's particularly appreciated when your plan goes wrong, you die, respawn and have to get back to where you started. Instead of spending 15 more minutes moving around the island like a mouse, you can stampede in like an elephant.
In addition, Deathloop also lets you clearly mark and even evaluate targets, giving you a simple description about your foe so that you're fully prepared. These marks stay on the target so you can see them no matter how far away they are and can be done on as many as you like.
If that wasn't helpful enough you get three lifes (so to speak) before you kick the bucket and the loop resets. These also reset when you enter a new level.
You could argue that all of this combined makes the game rather easy, but if you're not worried about the difficulty level of the game then it's not something to worry about, the game presents many challenges.
Choose your path: Going silent or blowing stuff up are both viable tactics
Weapons, Slabs And Trinkets
Speaking of weapons, where Deathloop diversifys itself from Dishonored is the big beefy weapons. While the number of weapons are low, you do get a nice array of choices, with different rarities and options to aid your expeditions.
The best weapons are obtained by killing 'Visionaries' (they're like bosses) or finding special weapons in the levels. These are essentially upgraded versions of the base weapons.
Having a customisable loadout menu was fantastic and you really are able to take a lot of gear on missions that can be tailored to your objective. The HUD layout for your weapons and gear could have been a bit more clearer in my opinion. I chose to play on PC so using the number keys and other hot keys to swap to items was a big help, but on controller I can see the lack of buttons being a slight issue in comparison.
Trinkets can be colleted and equipped to improve their affectiveness such as reducing recoil and doing more damage. Some inventive ones include producing a cloud of gas on impact that slowly poisons enemies or a beacon that reveals nearby guards. These Trinkets also have counter-parts for Colt that can make him stronger, faster, deadlier and quieter.
As you can probably tell, this game isn't normal and this is where things get a bit weird. Slabs dial things up to 11. If you've played Dishonored then I don't need to tell you how these work, but they give you supernatural abilities (why, I don't know) to aid you in your quest. These can help you teleport across terrain, turn invisible, dramatically increase your lethality and more.
So we've got tons of cool kit and it sounds all well and good, but what happens to my stuff? If it's a timeloop surely I lose all my stuff when the world resets? Yes, you do. But, as you get ready to go off on your own for the first time, you learn the ability to 'Infuse' your gear, so you can keep it in future loops. This requires 'Residuum', an in-game material which is obtained from objects and people that have been impacted by the Timeloop. You'll absorb these materials to Infuse your objects. It's a handy idea because I am a horder by nature in RPGs and losing my stuff would make me go nuts.
While you do have to sacrifice some stuff early on, collecting Residuum is very easy and after a few loops you'll have collected enough to Infuse most of the useful items in the game; perhaps Arkane Studios could have made this mechanic more impactful on the game in hindsight. Having this option made life far less stressful and more comforting entering new scenarios, although I lost a few Trinkets that I enjoyed because I thought I had collected duplicates; I think the layout in the main menu could have been a bit more clearer in my opinion.
All of this combined, really does give you the most creative way to progress through the game and mix things up. Having said that, I have to criticise that there are some weapons, Slabs and Trinkets that are simply a class above the rest. There are a few I've never even thought twice about, at least not in this loop. Some of the descriptions weren't as clear and obvious as others and without being able to understand how it impacted gameplay, it was easy to forget them. Weapons were also a bit skewed in balancing, this was even more evident when most of the maps are fairly compact; meaning shotguns rained supreme.
Overall, the gunplay and abilities played very well. It felt a little clunky to operate weapons in close-quarter combat, but seemed fine from a distance. Abilities operated almost flawlessy with minor hiccups, likely due to my own shortcomings.
SLABER KNOCKER: The enemy won't know what hit them with a number of supernatural abilities
A Ripple In Time
On a more technical side, there were a few weird moments where bodies seem to have issues with the environment and would get comically stuck and fall over. It didn't happen frequently, but enough times that I noticed it. My second encounter with Julianna saw her fall off a ledge and get stuck for a brief period while I mercilessly mowed her down with a shotgun.
Similarly, when some enemies would jump down from a ledge, they would get stuck in a falling animation for extended periods of time making it very easy to pick them off. When trying to kill a Visionary, the character in question also experienced this issue and couldn't seem to make its mind up where it wanted to position itself.
I would also note that the enemy spotting was a bit inconsistent and sometimes would go straight to alerting those around them despite hardly being seen - it made some sections frustrating for stealth tactics especially if the objective required you to stay undetected.
THAT DIDN'T GO TO PLAN: Time turns Julianna's world upside down...
Graphics And Audio
For me this is the first big "next gen" game and while I won't really know what the experience is like first hand on PS5, from what I've seen it looks glorious. I could argue it's very comparable to the PC. The character detail looks fantastic and the environments look unbelievable.
My PC's not quite what it used to be, so I've had to turn the quality down to play. But occasionally I turned it up high to see what it looks like and it's one of the best looking games I've seen in some time. Even with lower settings, the game still looks class.
The game doesn't come without some issues though, such as frame rate drops when there's a lot going on in the environment and a number of characters are on screen at once.
I have heard a few complaints about how the game isn't well optimised for PC, most likely from those that enjoy things at near peak performance, but for your average player it operated absolutely fine.
While I have a lot of positives to say about the graphics, the audio could do with a bit of fine tuning. Games like this offer a lot of stealth opportunities and to get the most out of the game, you need to do just that. It becomes quite difficult when footstep and vocal audio can be a bit tough to pinpoint through walls or around corners. You can make out the general direction and timing, but I feel this is an area that could have been fine tuned. On rare occassions, some audio cues disappeared which I'm sure can be solved with a patch.
With that said, the sound effects are gruesome (in a good way) and the soundtrack is superb. The game's audio cues told you everything you needed to know about your situation, from unsuspected success to imminent danger.
My one gripe, is how long some jingles played for. A prime example was when being spotted, the music dramatically changed but would linger far longer than it should, meaining I was never sure just how much danger I was in and may have missed my opportunity to make a move.
SNEAKY, SNEAKY: Sound makes takedowns a little more difficult
I think this is where Deathloop really makes itself shine. While there's not a massive online portion, players can choose to play a second mode called 'Protect the Loop.'
In this mode players take up the role of Julianna - that's right, the big bad wolf herself. You can join other players games and kill them as they attempt to break the loop. These games aren't unique to online play, these are actual single player games you can enter; it's a troll's paradise.
So does that mean some troll can enter my game and ruin my progress? Only if you want them to. You can turn it to friends only or turn it off completely. I think this feature is why the game gives you so many mechanics to make your time easier.
It's also the only way to unlock new cosmetics for your characters. So if you want to kit yourself in new gear, this is the place to do it.
A New Loop?
Some single player games are only as replayable as the player wants them to be. I think you can get some good replays out of this game as you explore new and more efficient ways to complete it; I can forsee a lot of incredible speedruns in Deathloop's future. If you're a completionist, you've got a number of trinkets, weapons and Slabs to collect that are only accessed by completing small "sidequests". And, if you like to make things difficult, you can set your own rules to give you the toughest challenge by restricting what you can use.
But, if you're not one of those players, once your 15-20 hours are up, you can jump into the multiplayer and ruin someone's loop.
While I hope to see DLC in the future, it's tough to see how that may present itself with a game such as this. Dishonored produced a number of DLC packs, creating side stories, there's no reason Deathloop couldn't do the same.
WHAT'S NEXT?: Explore side missions and collect more Trinkets and Weapons
Deathloop is a stunning game and one that Bethesda fans will enjoy from start to finish. The smart story, colourful characters, evolving environments and inventive mechanics prevent a repetitive cycle from being boring. Its well-presented layout leaves it with few flaws and in a time where Remasters and repeated formats are becoming too regular, Arkane Studios shows us that there's still hope for gaming yet.
While I think a lot of reviewers have been swooned by a fantastic AAA title, due to the fact they've been in short supply recently, it's admittedly not everyone's cup of tea and has some areas it could improve on. If you like Dishonored, Arkane Studios and Bethesda titles, this is definitely for you. While I had my reservations and misguided doubts initially, it delivered exactly what I expected once I understood what it was.
Is it worth its £50 price tag? I think so. There's a lot of games coming out in the next few months that may be more suitable for you, so if you're not 100% sold, Christmas is just around the corner. Christmas, for me, is about taking an opportunity to try out those games that I’ve overlooked in the final quarter and this should be at the top of everyone's list.