The concept of a time loop is not something unique to Deathloop. It’s a plot device that has gained a lot of popularity over the past few years, with multiple different pieces of media utilizing the concept to tell their own interesting stories.
And there’s something captivating about living through a single moment in time again and again, and using the experiences gained to work towards a particular goal. Perhaps it’s the allure of being able to attempt a scenario multiple times, or knowing that failure is only temporary. Or maybe it’s the power that comes from knowing that death is not the end.
Whatever the hook may be, I know for a fact that Deathloop does it better than any video game before it. While it may not add anything incredibly unique to the already established formula, the game executes its own take on a time loop spectacularly.
Story And Setting
The star of Deathloop is Colt Vahn, a man who wakes up one day on the shores of an island with no memory of how he got there or who he is. The only clues he has to go on are the memory of getting killed by an unnamed woman, and giant text on screen that tells him to ‘Break The Loop.’ The text is not simply in-game instructions telling the player what to do. It actually exists within the story of the game, and you can see and hear the protagonist react to it in real time. It makes for an extremely strong opening as Colt attempts to grapple with the reality of his situation.
You quickly learn that the island is named Blackreef and that it is inhabited by eight Visionaries. The only way to break the loop is by killing all of them before the cycle resets at the end of the day. It also becomes apparent that unlike the other inhabitants of the island, Colt is able to retain his memories from previous loops. As he explores Blackreef and assassinates his targets, clues can be gathered to reveal more of the island’s history and how the protagonist fits into the setting. The end goal here is to gather enough information to execute all eight Visionaries within a single loop.
One of the Visionaries however has different plans for Colt. Her name is Julianna Blake, and she’s actively hunting you down to protect the loop. She, like each of the other seven, has a personal relationship with the protagonist that slowly unveils itself as you play through the game. But there’s also something more there. The banter between these two is the highlight of the experience, as both characters constantly interact with and attempt to get under the other’s skin.
And perhaps none of their interactions would be as memorable if the voice acting in the game wasn’t also spectacular. Arkane games have always had decent writing and character dialogue, but Deathloop is truly in a league of its own. Both actors bring their absolute A game here, and I was constantly impressed by how natural and organic their conversations felt.
Characters in games have this tendency to sound monotone, like they’re reading off of scripts put in front of them. But at no point did I ever feel that way when it comes to our two main characters, or in fact from most of the supporting cast as well. Colt specifically has such incredible delivery, that he had me laughing at a particular line within the first 5 minutes of gameplay.
As mentioned above, the main goal of Deathloop is to kill the eight Visionaries that reside on Blackreef. And to do that, players are going to require a diverse arsenal of weapons and abilities.
One of the most obvious things fans will already have noticed about this game is that it is significantly more firearm oriented that any of Arkane’s previous games. Previous games had some guns, but neither of them could technically be defined as shooters. Deathloop on the other hand lets players go all out with a decent arsenal, This includes everything from handguns, to Rifles and shotguns. Each weapon also feels appropriately weightily and powerful, and multiple unique guns even possess perks that provide additional benefits like healing on kills.
Supernatural powers are the other half of the combat, and these have a similar flavor to the abilities in the Dishonored games. Colt can teleport short distances, make himself invisible and even launch enemies in a particular direction. Unlike Dishonored however, these abilities can only be gained by killing the Visionaries. You have to kill them and then loot items known as Slabs from their bodies to get them.
Both the weapons you find in the game as well as Colt’s performance can also be enhanced with various Trinkets found scattered throughout the world. These provide additional benefits like increased health regeneration or increased ammo capacity. You can mix and match these to create a build that truly fits your playstyle.
It’s also nice knowing that Deathloop supports both direct and stealth approaches simultaneously. The game gives you the tools to tackle scenarios in whatever way you like. You can decide to start off with the silenced PT-6 ‘SPIKER’ and headshot your way through an area without being noticed. Then when you’re detected, you can pull out the MG-1 ‘Pepper Mill’ to easily carve your path through enemies. There is an AI issue that crops up from time to time when engaging in combat, but we’ll go over that a bit later.
If you die at any point during a run or fail to kill all the targets within a day, your entire loadout resets along with the time loop. You lose all your acquired weapons, powers and trinkets, forcing you to collect them all over again. However, there is a currency in the game known as Residuum, which can be used to ‘Infuse’ gear and powers that you want to bring with you in future runs. You collect this from certain items in the environment or by killing Visionaries, which all but ensures that sacrificial runs have to be undertaken for the sake of acquiring the resource.
The main goal of Deathloop is to figure out how to eliminate all eight of your targets within a single day. Players will have to discover a way to complete this task in the limited time available to them by following Visionary leads. These are basically objectives found within the game world, and accomplishing them lets you change the locations of Visionaries within the map.
Blackreef is divided into four central districts with four times of day each. Depending on what time it is within a particular area, you might find that a Visionary is visiting one of their peers in another district. You can actively influence these movements with your actions, allowing for multiple assassinations within a single loop.
And when I mentioned above that Julianna actively tries to stop you from accomplishing your grand task, I wasn’t strictly talking about her role in the story. She randomly shows up as an enemy within the game, hunting you down in order to end the run. Her arrivals are announced over the speakers and all exits out of a district are locked until she is dealt with. They only way to get out is to kill her, but she’s not an easy foe. Her unique power ‘Masquerade’ grants the ability to assume the form of any NPC in the game, allowing her to get the drop on Colt regularly.
Julianna can either be an AI controlled by the game, or she can be played by an actual human person invading your game. It also goes without saying that AI encounters are much more manageable than human ones. If you’re not into the multiplayer component, nothing will sting quite as much as a trigger-happy player ending a good run early. So players should fix the settings accordingly in their own game
It’s also worth mentioning that you’re probably never going to mistake a player-controlled Julianna with an NPC. Enemy AI is a significant step down from previous games by the developer, and you can go on killing sprees without ever really being detected. Sometimes you can literally walk up to a group of enemies at a 90 degree angle without being spotted, then execute one of them in close proximity to their allies. The deceased’s companions will not notice the blood being splattered on them, and they will not react at all even at point blank range.
This is disappointing, because it otherwise reduces interesting encounters into a Whac-A-Mole game. You can go from one enemy to the other, killing them without any consequences. My personal experience with the AI wasn’t as bad as what some other reviewers have faced, but maybe that has more to do with my luck.
Visuals And Graphics
Deathloop is an utterly gorgeous game that makes excellent use of lighting and weather effects to give each of its four districts a unique look and feel. With four times of day for each district, that comes to a total of sixteen unique location variations that you can visit in the game. Due to different events that can occur at different times, a single area can look so visually distinct that you might have trouble believing that you’re technically still in the same place.
Also helping this is the fact that each of the Visionaries have their own personalities and eccentricities, so the districts they occupy vary greatly according to their preferences. From snowy city streets to a cluttered research lab, all the way to a flashy house party and even a dark escape room, there are a lot of varied areas to visit in game.
And all of these benefit from Arkane’s incredibly detailed art style and attention to detail. The developer has already show with their previous games that they have a penchant for bringing worlds to life, and Deathloop’s take on 1960’s Retrofuturism is no different. Unlike the dark and gritty world of Dishonored, the colorful setting they have created with Blackreef allows them to really flex their creative muscles.
As one of the first proper next-gen games, Deathloop also takes full advantage of the PlayStation 5 to showcase it’s graphics. The image quality is sharp, textures are highly detailed and the visual effects of the powers are extremely pretty to look at. Arkane games have never been realistic looking powerhouses like some other AAA titles, and the studio continues that tradition here by doing their own thing once more. The emphasis is not on realism, but on creating an experience that looks great within the established art style.
On the PlayStation 5, Deathloop has access to tree different rendering modes. The most optimal of these is the performance mode, which allows the game to run at a steady 60 FPS. I’ve gone on record to say that this is my desired way to play most games these days, and that’s exactly how I spent my time with Deathloop. There were barely any framerate dips, and even if the game was limited to 1440p for the most part, I still had a great time.
Next up is the Visual Quality mode, which bumps up the resolution but takes a hit in the framerate department. The game does look better, not exactly at 4K, but still a really noticeable visual upgrade. The lack of steady 60 FPS however is not worth the exchange, as the game now only hits this mark in extremely simple environments. This might be the worst of the three rendering modes, because it commits to neither the performance nor the visuals.
Then there’s the Ray Tracing mode, which is locked at a fixed 30 FPS. But in return you get some absolutely stunning light effects and shadows. Even if Deathloop isn’t the most technically demanding game, this mode makes it look incredibly gorgeous.
When I tested out all three modes, Visual Quality and Ray Tracing were the two that had noticeable freezes. Some of these were only momentarily, but others were major enough that they lasted for 4-5 seconds. Once on Ray Tracing mode It actually froze so bad that I had to reboot the game completely. No hard crashes though, so maybe that’s a plus.
Continuing their tradition of making great Immersive Sims, Deathloop is a strong new addition to Arkane’s roster of games. The visuals are impressive, the art direction is on point and the gameplay is satisfying.
I love the voice acting in the game, as it allows both Colt and Julianna to feel like actual people and not actors reading their lines off a script. Also helping this is the fact that the writing is consistently engaging, being equal parts comedic and eerie.
The issue with the AI however cannot easily ignored. It bring the entire experience down by eliminating a significant amount of the challenge and turning enemies into unresponsive puppets. Hopefully this can be improved upon in any future updates.
All in all though, I really enjoyed my time with the game. The only major problem with it is a big one. But it’s not something that took away too much from the rest of the game. I desperately want to visit Blackreef again, but maybe I can wait for a patch or two.
- Incredible Voice Acting.
- Solid Writing.
- Reliable Arkane Level Design.
- Art Direction Is Exceptional.
- Gunplay And Powers Feel Great.
- Terrible AI.
- Freezing Issues.
Deathloop Rating – 4/5
While you’re here, why not also check out our Psychonauts 2 Review.
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