Deathloop hands-on gameplay shows its promise

Or did you know that already?!?

We’ve already written Deathloop preview, but another one seems fitting at this point. Just as protagonist Cole is reliving a single day on the island of Blackreef, learning more and more each time he engages with the world, so too is Stevivor. While Hamish went hands-off, I’ve had the opportunity to go hands-on with a whopping five hours of content.

Not that I can speak about most of it.

You see, developer Arkane Lyon is fiercely protective of the narrative it is trying to weave; I’ve got a laundry list of things I can’t detail at the moment and a far smaller list of things I can. While it makes this write-up difficult, I also understand why. As Hamish as already pointed out, this is a murder puzzle. Cole needs to relive the single day loop over and over and over until he can figure out how to kill a total of eight Visionaries — alongside Julianna, but we’ll revisit her in a minute — to escape the timey-wimey labyrinth he’s trapped within.

In order to accomplish this, you’ll need to investigate Blackreef’s four locales (and maybe more) and figure out how to kill everyone across every location within four distinct times of day. If you fail in that regard, or you die a total of three times (this is Arkane; there are powers), you wipe and die to live the same day again. While that sucks, you do so with some of the inventory you scavenge and, of course, all of the knowledge you personally have gleaned.

Julianna plays a ridiculous part in all of this, though I’m really not able to tell you why. While our hands-on was single-player only, I can divulge that another real-life player is able to step into her shoes and hunt you down as you’re working within your own loop. It’s a curious bit of functionality — one that’s been done before in the likes of everything from a Souls game down to Resident Evil 6 (but what didn’t that game include?) — and could prove to be a bit of fun. In the tutorial-like first hours of the game, I dispatched Julianna with little effort, so hopefully real opponents can prove to be more of a challenge.

I killed her in a verboten map and time of day, of course, so you’ll just have to take my word on that. What I can show you, though, is the same map at two different times the day, and so I will. In this piece, you’ll find my (condensed) playthroughs of the Karl’s Bay map in morning and evening states; in the former, you’ve got the chance to kill Visionary Harriet (and I did) and in the latter, you play games set up by Charlie, yet another Visionary.

Because Deathloop is a puzzle, you’ll likely revisit the murder of Harriet again and again, if not just because it’s rewarding, than because you’re trying to chain together a bunch of Visionary murders. Colt seems a bit clueless — and honestly, the tutorial missions seemed to drag on a little bit before opening it up to, well, everything and far less hand holding, which was a shock — but you obviously retain knowledge in the real world. You’ll replay segments of game over and over, if not to find more clues as to what to do next than to simply be on the lookout for hidden things like power-giving bunkers. In-game knowledge ranges from clues to kill targets to addtional intel that will to bolster Cole’s arsenal. All are worthwhile.

In fact, those clues are necessary; each one is all-important when it comes to gathering the information needed to eliminate each and every single target and, therefore, hit a win state. It’s here that Deathloop loses a bit of its appeal — like Twelve Minutes before it, there’s a finite amount of times I want to play through a single instance… especially if I’ve overlooked a small piece of the puzzle that prevents me from continuing on. At a certain point, it could feel like you’re bashing your head against a wall.

I concede that some of this feeling might be due to the fact I’m so risk-averse to picking up any in-game document at the moment. If I do — and was recording gameplay at the time — that loop was for naught. It’s a hard-knock life.

Hard-knock lives.

Despite my trepidation — and some AI bugs that include enemies walking in place at doorways (as shown in my morning loop) — I’m excited for what’s to come in Deathloop. That said, I’m also though fearful I’m not smart enough to piece things together on my own. It’s a weird feeling, as I was somewhat bored in its opening and now feeling overwhelemed with choice. Out into the unknown I go… unless I already knew what was going on, but forgot.

Deathloop heads to Windows PC and PS5 from 14 September, followed — likely — by an Xbox Series S and X release on 14 September 2022.


14 September 2021

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About the author

Steve Wright

Steve's the owner of this very site and an active games journalist for the past ten years. He's a Canadian-Australian gay gaming geek, ice hockey player and fan. Husband to Matt and cat dad to Wally and Quinn.