Haven't I done this before?
In a time when every day is basically the same — roll out of bed, throw on sweatpants and live inside Zoom for 7.5 hours, then have some wine, sleep and repeat — the idea of reliving the same day over and over again in a video game could be a tough sell. Thankfully, that concept is far easier to swallow when you know it’s coming from the minds behind the likes of Dishonored and Prey. In case you’ve been living under a rock, welcome to Deathloop, a PS5 console launch exclusive from a studio now owned by Xbox’s Microsoft.
Deathloop places you in the shoes of a smooth-talker named Colt, a man who wakes up on the beach one morning and quickly learns that particular wake-up call is one he’s experienced many, many times over. A woman named Julianna — familiar yet not — makes contact and only adds to his confusion.
While Colt is slowly piecing together knowledge of what’s happened before, Julianna has full recollection and thus, holds all the cards. Regardless, it becomes clear early on that the small island of Blackreef is stuck in a Groundhog Day-like state and those who live upon it are seemingly ecstatic about the situation. Colt decides he’s not and sets off on a quest to stop the loop and live to see an actual new day.
Blackreef is broken up into four regions across four different times of day: morning, noon, afternoon and evening. Colt learns that in order to break the loop, he’ll have to assassinate a total of eight key players, or Visionaries, over the course of the ever-repeating day. As Colt, the player is only able to visit one area per time of the day, so doing the math there you can see it’s not as simple as just travelling to eight boss encounters to clean things up.
Makings things even more complicated, Blackreef is a place of high technology (or magic), with each Visionary in possession of an item that provides fabulous powers: invisibility, teleportation, telekinesis and so on. The Visionaries’ powers make them harder to kill; conversely, Colt is able to commandeer their tech and take advantage of those skills with each victory. Not to be outdone, Colt has a power of his own: the ability to die twice in any given time of day, meaning he really has three chances within each in-game level.
While your prey is all formidable, Julianna is a step above the other Visionaries, committed to hunting Colt down before he can accomplish his ultimate goal. Players can choose to engage with Deathloop in single-player mode — so Julianna’s attempts to stop you will be AI-controlled — or with multiplayer enabled, provided you’ve got PlayStation Plus on PS5. In the latter setup, other players will be able to take control of Julianna in an attempt to foil you, or you can choose to play as Julianna yourself and protect the loop by jumping into another player’s game to wreak havoc against their Colt.
Once you’ve got the basics down, Deathloop becomes a matter of tracking Visionary Leads and trying to piece together the puzzle of killing eight people across four encounters. To do this, you’ll bounce back and forth between maps and times of day, slowly piecing together intel to figure how to get all your ducks in a row. Things move fairly slowly in tutorial levels and then open up dramatically to let you do as you choose. This is good and bad; I ignored a Visionary Lead likely intended to be the first you complete only to pick it up fifteen or so hours in; I scratched my head as its big revelation was something I’d pieced together long before that.
That aside, there’s no denying that when Deathloop clicks, it really clicks. Maps are large enough to hold secrets but aren’t distressingly sprawling; each provide ample opportunities to carefully slink around or charge in, guns blazing. A very vertical map design is further aided by a series of astounding audio clues that help to assure you that you’ve pulled off a headshot or are about to be made by an enemy, turret or mine.
Weapons range from silent nailguns, devastating sniper rifles or shotguns with explosive ammo; they all pale in comparison to Colt’s handy (and silent) machete and trusty hacking tool. Colt also has access to a grenade, but I found they cooked way too slowly in a combat situation, leaving Colt out in the open and taking too much damage whenever I wanted to use it. Slab powers — those wrestled from Visionaries — alter the way you both traverse a level and fight foes within it. I never started a day without with the Blink-like teleportation power to get to hard-to-reach spots, and swapped around my second loadout slot depending on the task at hand. If I felt aggressive, I generally went with a power that linked foes together to then deal damage to the group.
While all of these systems work extremely well with one another, Deathloop does have a propensity to be inconsistent. I’ll take a couple bullets from an enemy in one level and hardly be damaged, yet almost instantly die another time. AI are equally as puzzling, generally weak and kind of stupid for the most part until you suddenly get thrown up against a squad who’ve trained as Navy Seals in a past life (or day?).
The AI-controlled Julianna is equally as sketchy, bum-rushing you with guns blazing (and failing miserably) one day and then headshotting you three times in a row from clear across the map the next. These complaints are more annoying than game-breaking — after all, death has no meaning and every loop you take part in provides knowledge you can use for the next — but they tend to bring you out of immersion nonetheless.
Deathloop centres around a love it or hate it risk-reward system that can sometimes be frustrating. Picture this: you’ve gone all the way through a level, are near its completion, have taken out a Visionary or two and are awash with in-game currencies and upgrades… but you only have one life left. Do you slog all the way back to the start to save all that gear, or potentially die and lose it all? Either way, you’re replaying that level and timeframe for the tenth time over. Missed a single piece of paper while trying to sort out a lead? That’s a loop. Kill a guy near a ledge and accidentally drop the bobblehead you needed to complete a task? That’s another loop.
While each playthrough hardly feels identical to the last, there will be points where you hit a dead end, or simply cannot be bothered completing the same task over and over again. Things can also prove a little hard to pick back up if you’ve given it a couple days between playthroughs; it’s almost like when you start up a piece of DLC for a game you haven’t played in months and need to figure out what the hell you’re up to — and how to do it — all over again. In-menu lead tracking capabilities are very useful to catch yourself back up, but that too takes time.
Moreover, Deathloop also has intermittent AI issues where enemies will basically freeze up or walk in place at a door rather than open and walk through it. Julianna herself got stuck on the same roof in Updaam’s evening on me a couple times, crouched and immobile and just waiting for me to take her out. On a stealth run, these types of bugs can admittedly be welcome. That’s not the case for one that I kept encountering in Updaam’s Dorsey Square, whereby I’d hack a turret and pack it up to use in a different location only to find I couldn’t reactive it at its new spot.
Finally, Deathloop will occasionally send sound through the DualSense’s speaker even if you’ve turned that off inside PS5 and in-game menus; at present, I still hear a little chime when entering a new map. It should be noted that the issue was far more prevalent in pre-release code; I’ve personally provided feedback to Arkane after discovering the issue and I’m pretty confident the studio will completely correct the matter given time.
The positives easily outweigh the negatives; Deathloop offers up a highly enjoyable gameplay loop shrouded in mystery. I do wonder how many players will actually endeavour to break the loop as compared to those who’ll simply jump into the sandbox to see what kind of mischief they can get up to. Both stances are equally valid, of course.
You can break (or protect) the loop for yourself — Deathloop is available on Windows PC, Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X and PS5.
Deathloop was reviewed using a promotional code on PS5, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale. This review was first published on 13 September 2021.
14 September 2021
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