Leave it to Arkane Studios, the developer responsible for the slick immersive stealth-action gameplay of the Dishonored series, to turn a rote and cliche concept into something genuinely refreshing and unique.
Deathloop, the latest title from Arkane Studios, is yet another time loop thriller. What sets it apart from titles such as Returnal and Twelve Minutes, however, is that the game’s structure gives the investigation of the central mind-bending mystery equal importance as its chaotic, stylish, fast-paced combat.
Players take control of Colt Vahn, an assassin trapped on the mysterious, debauched island of Blackreef. The island is ruled by eight eccentric elites known as the Visionaries, who — in an effort to control time and achieve immortality — have created an anomaly that causes the day to repeat. Doomed to repeat their actions exactly, Blackreef’s inhabitants toil on endlessly, and each morning Colt awakens, hungover, on one of the island’s beaches.
Unlike the island’s other inhabitants, however, Colt is able to remember the day’s previous iterations and quickly resolves to “break the loop,” thereby restoring the natural flow of time.
In order to do so, Colt must assassinate all eight Visionaries within the same loop. Though the task sounds simple in theory, Deathloop’s intricate core structure prevents players from succeeding so easily. The Visionaries are spread across four magnificently designed open-world maps located at various points on Blackreef, and each day is composed of four different time periods: morning, noon, afternoon and evening. On any given day, players can only visit one location per time period, forcing players to determine the most efficient way to eliminate enemies.
Blackreef’s four districts each have a distinctive and memorable art style. Players are rewarded for seeking out secrets and exploring the elaborately designed levels with leads that may help players unlock powerful weapons or achieve special scenarios that bring success within closer reach. If, for example, Colt disrupts one Visionary’s plans in the morning, the enemy will appear at another Visionary’s party in the evening, thereby allowing Colt to kill two birds with one stone
This central gameplay puzzle makes Deathloop far more enjoyable than recent time loop games — unlike Twelve Minutes, Deathloop’s gameplay actually feels open-ended. Once the game’s rules have been established, players are allowed to explore the sandbox. Players enjoy an unprecedented level of freedom, following leads and setting intricate traps like a Rube Goldberg of death.
The game’s asynchronous multiplayer component adds a twist to the mix. An alternate game mode allows players to control Julianna, Colt’s rival and the only Visionary who can also remember previous loops. While Colt is on the hunt, carefully crafted plans are occasionally disrupted at random when, as Julianna, other players burst in and attack Colt in an effort to protect the loop. Julianna’s intrusions further prevent the time loop concept from growing stale, and the player-controlled antagonist adds a thrill that cannot be achieved with purely computer-controlled enemies.
Combat and stealth are also made more dynamic with the introduction of slabs, devices dropped by Visionaries upon death which grant Colt superhuman abilities such as being able to suspend enemies in midair. On PlayStation 5, the DualSense controller’s haptic feedback and pressure-sensitive triggers make gunplay even more intense and gratifying, giving each weapon and ability a distinctive tactile signature.
Arkane Studios’ titles have always been stellar technical showpieces and the same is true this time around. Deathloop opts for stylized graphics over a needless pursuit of realism, and its atmosphere is greatly improved for it. The idiosyncratic, cynical sense of humor is imbued throughout the world and character designs, and in comparison to the more dour, self-serious steampunk window dressing of Dishonored, Deathloop is stylish, exciting and endlessly engrossing.
One of Deathloop’s best components is its excellent soundtrack from composers Tom Salta and Ross Tregenza. Each region of the map has its own auditory distinct identity — one that changes slightly depending on the time of day, but manages to remain cohesive with the game’s overall tone. The over-the-top, jazzy combat music makes each encounter a heart-pumping struggle for survival, and the various diegetic songs are so catchy that players may lose focus of narrative progress and just keep listening.
This review is based on the PS5 version of Deathloop.
Neil Haeems covers video games. Contact him at [email protected].