Deathloop is a game that has had my close attention since it got announced last year. The aesthetic was gritty, yet fun at the same time. I found the short character sequences from the first trailer really interesting, and I needed to know more about these people. Originally missing the PlayStation 5 launch window, it was another victim of the many delays we saw last year due to the effects of the pandemic. However, even after another push back in May to a September launch, I never lost enthusiasm and waited eagerly for that moment that I’d finally get to play. The wait was certainly worth it, and my patience was rewarded. Arkane Studios Lyon has once again achieved brilliance with a title that takes things we recognize, evolving them in a way that feels challenging, yet still inviting.
In Deathloop, you take control of Colt, a rogue assassin who wakes up on a beach and is forced to live the same day every day, desperately wanting out of the situation. These repeating days take place on the Isle of Blackreef, a military base with four unique districts. At Blackreef, there’s an endless party looping over and over again by the existence of eight targets, the “Visionaries,” and Colt must kill them all in order to break the time loop and end this never ending day. On top of that, you’re also being pursued and constantly berated by another assassin named Julianna, who will do almost anything to stop you from breaking the loop and setting yourself free. To make things even more difficult, the Visionaries will make sure their followers, known as Eternalists, do everything in their power to take you down.
The first thing to understand about this game is that you’re not going to walk in and clean house right away. Death is very frequent and there’s a whole lot of trial and error involved. Enemy positions will differ depending on the time of day just to keep you on your toes. Thankfully, the game is very dynamic in terms of how you can complete your objectives. Every part of Blackreef has a multitude of pathways to your objective. Naturally, you can walk into a situation guns blazing and feel like you’re in an action movie. There’s also the option to go the more quiet route and dispatch enemies with more of a focus on stealth. The enemy AI functions well and never feels too easy or punishingly difficult. However, I personally found it easier to take the stealthier approach to my battles, especially earlier on.
There’s a variety of weapons with different rarities that players can find or pick up from enemies. You can even unlock some during your playthrough, and PS5 players will get some cool DualSense features when utilizing them. The movement is fluid and never gets frustrating, as Colt can climb, roll, and slide with ease. The cover system feels slightly too snappy for my taste, but it’s effective and does provide all the cover you’ll need. Another neat feature is the inclusion of trinkets. You can use trinkets to customize your movement and abilities, including double jumps, recoil reduction, and faster reload speeds. Trinkets really are great because they allow you to customize your Colt or Julianna and make them tailored to the way you prefer to play.
Walking into gunfights without knowing enemy placements often led me to an early death. Dying isn’t really an issue though. In Deathloop, you’re granted reprises through use of a Slab. Reprises are postmortem rewinds that automatically activate after losing all health in battle. It’s similar to the time bending powers in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. After two reprises, you’re dead “for real” and have to start the day over. Over the course of the story, you’ll pick up other Slabs from fallen enemies. These mysterious artifacts allow Colt to use other supernatural powers like telekinesis or teleportation. They’ll really make you feel super powerful. However, that doesn’t mean you should get so aggressive after acquiring them. Enemies are still tough and can take you down in just a few shots. This is definitely a game best played strategically.
Part of that strategy is using the tools at your disposal. Early on, you’ll find a device known as the Hackamajig. You can use it to open doors, hack enemy turrets to assist you in combat, and even cause distractions. I tried not to use it too much for combat, instead trying to dispatch everyone one by one, but that’s just me. The turrets are certainly helpful for mowing down enemies when you’re low on ammo, but it also takes away a lot of the effort as well. Even so, the game gives plenty of options to the player.
The multiplayer aspect integrates itself well and plays into the lore of the story in a clever way. Apart from playing as Colt, you also have the option of playing as Julianna in your pursuit to “protect the loop.” Dropping into another player’s game is mostly seamless, as long as they’re in an area with a Visionary. I found playing as Julianna really engaging and different enough from Colt in a way that feels essential to the experience. There’s a variety of interesting ways Julianna can confuse Colt and stop him in his tracks too. One skill allows her to disguise herself as any of the NPCs, allowing her to get the drop on Colt. Playing from her perspective really helps you further understand why she’s so integral to the story. Just don’t expect a whole extra campaign for her, but her presence definitely adds nuance to the narrative.
Honestly, the way the game presents these two protagonists is very unique and interesting. Jason E. Kelley and Ozioma Alagha breathe true life into Colt and Julianna respectively with all the sass, irritability, and eccentricity that the two characters demand. Listening to them bicker only made me more interested in this weird world and how we got here. The other Visionaries also give good performances, even if it’s mostly to give you an idea of how best to assassinate them. One surprise was the Eternalist dialogue, as I found it to be rather hilarious. It was really surprising how much variety there was and how crucial it was for each situation. The soundtrack and general sound design are also to die for. Gunfights are made all the more exciting by the slick, intense alternative tracks that accompany the mayhem on screen.
Visually, Deathloop is stunning to behold. Optional ray tracing really adds a fine sheen to everything, making for some of the best graphics I’ve seen this generation. As expected, there’s a performance mode prioritizing higher frame rates, a visual quality mode with ray tracing, and one that tries to balance everything. The main character models are beautiful and stylized, perfectly fitting the aesthetic of the game. Both Colt and Julianna’s personalities radiate through every detail of their design and stylish outfits. The Eternalists however, are rather hit or miss when it comes to the amount of detail put into them. Many of them wear masks reminiscent of the Purge movie franchise, but they really come off as generic.
Truly, I love Deathloop. It’s the most exciting new AAA title I’ve played in quite a while. The learning curve is always challenging, but never frustrating. From the moment it started, the premise sucked me in and made me care about what was going on. I’m happy to say that this is a case in which delays really did a game a lot of good. Deathloop is easily one of the best titles to come out this year. Arkane Studios put their best foot forward in trying times and delivered an instant classic. I would recommend it to anyone who has access to a PlayStation 5 or PC that can run it. It’s an essential for your library in 2021.
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