Live, Die, Repeat

HIGH The wide variety of viable approaches to nearly any situation.

LOW An almost intolerable amount of bugs.

WTF These endings are absurdly inadequate given the emphasis on story and lore.

Deathloop protagonist Colt Vahn is having a very unfortunate day. Many unfortunate days, as a matter of fact, and all the same one. In Arkane Studios’ latest project, their protagonist is stuck in a perpetually-repeating day and he wants out.

As this first-person murderthon begins, Colt is being stabbed to death with a machete by an assailant known as Juliana. That’s okay though — since he and everyone else on Blackreef are continually living through the same day over and over, he’ll simply wake up on a beach after he’s been killed and everything begins again. However, he’s getting sick of this eternal cycle, and it’s not long before he’ll try to break the loop.

Every event in Deathloop plays out in a fixed pattern during this one day — things happen in the same location at the same time, every time. For example, if Colt knows that someone will die by being lowered into a vat of lung-melting toxins, that same unfortunate bugger will suffer the same fate at the same time every single day. However, it’s soon made clear that Colt’s actions can shape and alter events. If a house burns down around noon, for example, getting there in the morning may offer a chance to prevent it from catching fire and have it remain accessible for later in the loop.

However, these changes don’t occur in real time. In Deathloop, the day is divided into four time blocks set in four different areas. Move between areas and the day jumps ahead one time block. Do this four times and the day will restart whether Colt’s alive or dead.

At first, knowledge is the only thing that carries over between loops, such as learning important keycode combinations or gaining an understanding of how various events connect with one another. Before long however, Colt is able to infuse weapons, gadgets and upgrades so that they survive the reset along with him, and he’ll also gain a device that can bring him back to life up to three times in each time block without triggering the entire day to reset.

As these options grow, Deathloop offers more choices in how players can approach each scenario.

While I was happy to go loud and put holes in anyone foolish enough to get in the way, it’s entirely possible to sneak around through vents and flit by without conflict. Common enemies are monumentally stupid and ineffectually weak, so it’s quite easy to take either approach — kill a guard within the vision cone of another and it’s sometimes a coin toss as to whether they’ll even react.

Key to the overall story and breaking the loop are more significant enemies known as Visionaries. These are characters with their own routines and backstories, and they tend to be pretty messed up. They also have unique powers that stem from carrying an item known as a Slab. These allow them to do things like teleport or turn invisible, but they’re still human, though — a stealthily-broken neck will kill them instantly, regardless.

Of course, each Visionary drops their Slab upon death, and these come in handy by allowing Colt to take control of their powers and teleport over short distances, turn invisible, become nigh-invincible for a limited time, spiritually link enemies together so that killing one kills everyone, or psychically throw enemies around like a ragdoll. While only a few of these can be brought at once, Colt is soon able to survive anything Deathloop throws at him.

Beyond the supernatural powers granted by the Slabs, the guns Colt can find tip him into superhero territory. From a vampiric SMG that leeches the health of his victims to an unscoped sniper rifle that explodes anyone even vaguely near the impact point, there’s rarely much need for stealth. It’s not a knock against the game, however, since it allows players to cut loose and do what they want without feeling like they’ve chosen the wrong approach. Reinforcing this freedom is the fact that there’s no morality system in play, unlike Arkane’s earlier title, Dishonored. It’s wonderfully liberating to be able to hurl inconveniently-placed guards from rooftops or just go on a murder spree for the hell of it without being locked into a ‘bad ending’ path.

Beyond these systems, Deathloop offers a multiplayer component. As Colt’s nemesis Juliana, players can hop into someone else’s game and attempt to put an end to their run by murdering them in a variety of ways. Juliana can unlock many of the skills and guns that Colt has access to via a levelling-up system, enemies on the map are not hostile to her, and she can disguise herself as anyone she encounters with her own unique Slab. However, she only gets one life compared to Colt’s eventual three, so a single mistake can send her straight back to the lobby.

While the idea of invading someone else’s run is a cool idea, I found these multiplayer sessions to be disappointing. There’s a certain initial thrill at knowing another live player is skulking around, but the (presumably) peer-to-peer online connections have rarely been acceptable. For instance, there have been times I’ve unloaded a chaingun into an invader’s back and then had them turn around and double tap me in the face thanks to our poor connection. Also, some players hide upon being invaded, leading to boring, protracted sessions with the opponent squatting in a corner somewhere on the map while Juliana walks around pointlessly searching for signs of activity. Finally, the balance is also skewed significantly in Colt’s favor, as far as I can tell. I’ve never lost a single invasion as Colt, and never won a single invasion as Juliana.

Another disappointment is that Deathloop is currently rife with bugs. I’ve had freezes lasting up to half a minute, various upgrade icons not disappearing after leaving the menu, or attempting to resume the game from pause resulting in the UI cursor permanently embedding itself in the screen, requiring a restart and losing up to half an hour of progress as a result.

In the end, Deathloop is a pretty decent ride with a fantastic sense of style and a lot of freedom for players to experience Colt’s story as they see fit. However, the overall experience is shaken by a surprising amount of bugs, braindead enemy artificial intelligence, lackluster PVP and by-design repetition as Colt works to piece together the mystery of Blackreef. I largely enjoyed my time, though I was very ready for Colt’s day to end as I neared the campaign’s finale, and it’s unlikely I’ll be looping back into the game for more any time soon.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks. It is currently available on PS5 and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS5. Approximately 15 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 2 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes as Juliana.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes and Strong Language. The official ESRB description reads as follows: This is a first-person shooter in which players follow the story of two assassins trapped in a mysterious time loop on a fictional island. Both characters must assassinate key figures in order to break or protect the loop. Players use machetes, pistols, and sniper rifles to kill human enemies by means of stealth, melee, and ranged combat. Fighting is often frenetic, with frequent gunfire, screams of pain, explosions, and large blood-splatter effects. Some weapons/attacks can decapitate or dismember enemies. Cutscenes depict further instances of intense violence: players’ character stabbed repeatedly in first-person; characters shot in the head at close range. During one sequence, a character is seen in a room while sexual moaning sounds are heard. Characters sometimes reference drugs (e.g., uppers, downers) and getting/being high on fictional drugs (e.g., “Looks like an over-engineered auto-erotic asphyxiator…Also, it’s going to smoke us up. Get us high.”). The words “f**k,” “c*nt,” and “sh*t” appear in the game.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles can be altered and/ or resized. Deathloop seems perfectly playable without sound. While various ambient cues will be missing, there are still plenty of indicators and subtitles to keep things playable. For instance, certain actions by an invading player will cause subtitles such as ‘Juliana: Grunting’ to indicate proximity.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

Darren Forman
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