We’ve seen pop culture dabble with time loops as a theme. Hollywood has given us Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, Looper, and many other flicks. Meanwhile, the games industry has had certain offerings, including Outer Wilds, the recently released 12 Minutes, and the upcoming Lemnis Gate. In the same vein, players will get a chance to try out Deathloop, which is set to release soon. The game is made by none other than Arkane Studios, the company behind the Dishonored series.
You can expect frantic action, brutal kills, rewarding stealth mechanics, and ridiculous abilities. All of these are combined with a never-ending repeat of the previous day as you try to break the cycle. Make no mistake, Deathloop is a brilliant and amazing game. However, it also suffers from several issues that are outlined in this review.
Welcome to Blackreef
Deathloop begins when your character, Colt, wakes up on the beach with no memory of how he got there. Apparently, he’s on a mysterious island called Blackreef. Worse, he’s hunted by Julianna, an assassin who works for AEON. This location has become a fortress ruled by the Visionaries of AEON who are protected by their Eternalist soldiers. Then, just as Colt is about to learn more information about this place, Julianna threatens him and he falls off a cliff. He wakes up again on the beach, still groggy but determined to break the endless time loop.
From a narrative standpoint, Deathloop manages to pull you in with ease, thanks to its premise. There are cryptic clues and documents scattered around. Ghostly words and phrases hover in mid-air to warn Colt about Blackreef’s facilities.
I also enjoyed the constant banter between Colt and Julianna as they attempt to get in each other’s way. Colt, simply put, is a delightful character to listen to. Unlike the stars of other action games (i.e., the hyper-aggressive or brooding types), Colt has no clue about what’s happening to him. He just wants to escape this repetitive nightmare. It leads to moments when he’s exasperated, shocked, or downright stupefied by the turn of events. It’s a very refreshing take that makes the character more relatable.
Understanding the cycles in Deathloop
One of the most interesting facets of Deathloop is how it captures the sci-fi theme of time loops perfectly. Each day or “loop” has four periods: morning, noon, afternoon, and evening. Colt is able to explore four distinct zones on the island of Blackreef. Likewise, even if he dies, he has a power slab called “Reprise” that returns him to his original position just before his demise. However, if he dies three times in one particular zone or time of day, he’ll end up back on the beach. This third death, in effect, resets the day/time loop.
But, here’s where it gets more intriguing. Colt actually retains his knowledge of these areas, along with the clues that he’s found. For example, you could explore the Fristad Rock zone in the afternoon and learn about a locked building in the area of Karl’s Bay. If this building is only open in the morning, all you need to do is reset the day. You could head to Karl’s Bay by then to check it out.
In some situations, you might find new pathways or methods of progressing further. For instance, there are two Eternalist soldiers who are trying to break open a section of a wall in the town of Updaam. You’ll notice that they’re doing this while it’s still morning. When you travel to Updaam later (i.e., noon, afternoon, or evening), you’ll see that the wall has already collapsed and there’s a side passage that lets you sneak to a new area. These little tidbits are hidden all over Blackreef and you may discover a few secrets along the way.
There are various intricacies related to how you’ll tackle objectives, too. This mechanic is highly emphasized when you’re hunting down the Visionary bosses of AEON. Colt’s main goal is to break the endless cycle, which means killing all eight Visionaries in a single day. However, because they’re all over the place, it’s impossible to take them out when you’ve just started Deathloop‘s campaign. For instance, a Visionary might await you at The Complex in the evening. Although you can accept this challenge to defeat your foe, it also means you won’t be able to battle another boss who’s only available in Updaam at night.
Instead, you’ll need to be mindful of each target’s schedule and location. I’ll try to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but you’ll receive several missions and leads (some of which might take several daily cycles to complete). The idea is to ensure that you’ve got all the right tools and you’ve made the right decisions so that all your targets are eliminated in quick succession. It’s a remarkable non-linear approach that keeps you coming back for more.
Julianna is also someone you need to beware of since she can appear during missions to hunt you down. As an aside, there’s an online PvP option where you get to play as Julianna. Your objective, naturally, is to eliminate a player who’s using Colt. You’ve got several abilities, such as laying down traps, calling reinforcements to Colt’s position, or outright disguising yourself as another NPC.
By default, the single-player option means that Julianna is controlled by the AI whenever she appears. If you choose the “online” or “friends only” modes, then other peeps can invade you while you’re exploring (akin to Dark Souls and Bloodborne).
The slab powers in Deathloop
With so many foes arrayed against you, it’s a good thing that Deathloop presents several means of annihilating hostiles. As you take out Visionaries, you’ll receive new powers/slabs. There are those that help with mobility and exploration, like Shift (a teleport) and Aether (temporary invisibility). You’ll also receive abilities that aid with combat, such as Havoc (a powerful buff), Karnesis (a telekinetic slam), and Nexus (a spell that links enemies so that everyone takes damage at the same time).
Because each default power is unique, killing the same Visionary that drops these slabs provides you with an upgrade to that ability. Perhaps Shift can allow you to teleport further and Nexus can grant you health regeneration when you damage linked mobs. It’s also possible for Julianna to drop these upgrades. Unfortunately, even if you’ve obtained all possible upgrades for a slab power, Julianna might still give you a duplicate that gets wasted.
Stealth, weapons, and infusion
Since Deathloop is made by Arkane Studios, you can expect stealth mechanics thrown in for good measure. Colt can sneak around, backstabbing enemies or breaking their necks when you catch them unaware. And, yes, there’s a device called the Hackamajig that lets you disable cameras and control turrets.
Now, if you wish to go loud, you can do just that with an assortment of weapons and equipable mods. You’ll see submachine guns, hand cannons, shotguns, and machine guns. You might find some golden-rarity weapons, too (i.e., legendaries). Perhaps the only downside here is that weapon variety (outside of mods) will feel a bit lacking.
Just remember that when the day resets (either through your own decision or because Colt died thrice in a zone), you’ll lose all the weapons and abilities that you’ve earned. The only exceptions are those that you’ve already infused by using a resource known as Residuum. Combined with retaining knowledge and clues, one can think of Deathloop as a first-person shooter with roguelike mechanics. You restart from the beginning, but your capabilities and understanding of the world around you will grow as you progress.
A few nagging concerns
Sadly, I did encounter some technical hiccups. Although the game ran at 60+ fps on ultra settings at 4K resolution, I’ve experienced some annoying crashes. For example, there’s one particular mission in Updaam where I had to kill several bosses, including Julianna (because she decided to hunt me there). There was a period when, after Julianna was taken out, the game would crash while I fought other enemies. It also occurred whenever I attempted to snipe a specific wolf-masked guard from a distance. There was even a point where I had a 60-minute run. I defeated most hostiles via stealth and I was able to collect lots of Residuum in a zone. Then, just as I was about to reach the exit tunnel, a grenade exploded which led to a crash.
The problem is directly tied to Deathloop‘s save system. Your campaign has one save file. You cannot manually save, and there are no checkpoints during a mission. The game only autosaves when you first arrive at a location and when you exit it. Regardless of all the tasks and objectives that you’ve tackled, a single crash is all it takes to set you back at the beginning of your run. It’s downright frustrating when mishaps occur.
Furthermore, there’s another mission where the boss hid inside a bunker with a nuclear reactor. If enemies spot you and the alarm is sounded, you’ve got 60 seconds before you’re blown to bits (this is considered an actual death which means the entire day is reset). This is compounded by the fact that AI Julianna can appear in that bunker to alert enemies to your position. Oh, and you can only enter this area when it’s noontime. That means anything you did during the morning will be null and void, and you’d need to redo that part on the next cycle.
As an aside, I actually had crashes while attempting to attach mods and upgrades. This may have been due to the graphics settings I’ve selected. We discuss this and other topics in our technical review.
Is Deathloop worth your while?
From a graphical standpoint, the visuals in Deathloop can sometimes look drab. As for character models, the Eternalist soldiers look like rejects from a Daft Punk video. Likewise, the AI can be a little braindead. You and your trusty turrets could gun down one batch, only for several soldiers to stand by without bothering to advance. At the very least, the Visionary bosses are all well done since they each have their own quirks, personalities, and unique mechanics. The environments are varied enough and the zones are massive. There are numerous pathways and rooms to explore, and certain areas will wow you because of things that you might not have noticed before. Moreover, the 60s vibes and retrofuturistic details are a treat to behold.
In the end, I still consider Deathloop a very engaging romp. It took me almost 30 hours to piece together the puzzle. All the stars aligned and I was able to eliminate the Visionaries to reach the game’s finale. Although I did encounter a few mishaps, there were some workarounds that helped me get past those issues.
Overall, Deathloop is a fantastic game that’s filled with twists and thrills. The frantic action will keep you on your toes, and the non-linear campaign will keep you retreading the beaten path in search of new discoveries. The premise is enough to hook you at the start. The rest of the campaign, meanwhile, will keep you playing just to see the conclusion of Colt’s journey. Yes, you may be dealing with a time loop, but this is one timeless offering from Arkane Studios.