I've been a longtime fan of the types of games Arkane makes, so I was a bit worried going into Deathloop that it might not retain the unique structure that makes an Arkane game different. My fears were unfounded and in the 18+ hours I've spent on my PS5 exploring Blackreef and killing Visionaries in increasingly elaborate ways, I've had a blast.
Deathloop is a game where you have to figure out different pieces of a puzzle, shuffling an always-resetting board of characters and actions, and manipulating it for the right outcome. With so many pieces that have to fall into place to solve the loop, it's only fitting that Deathloop is a culmination of all the immersive sims that Arkane has worked on before.
The stealth and action of Dishonored, the puzzles of Prey, and the roguelike structure of Prey: Mooncrash all come together here in a whirlwind of calculated violence. I'm extremely happy to say that a couple of technical hiccups aside, Deathloop is easily one of the best PS5 games available in 2021. There's a lot here to like, whether you're a longtime fan like me or just interested after seeing numerous trailers over the last year.
Bottom line: Deathloop is a well-crafted, intelligent murder puzzle worth solving, regardless of your experience with immersive sims or roguelikes. There are a few bugs at launch though.
- Clever mission design
- Forgiving roguelike mechanics
- Stylish all around
- Great, likable characters
- Some occasional bugs
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by Bethesda Softworks. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.
Deathloop: What I liked
Deathloop opens on the isle of Blackreef, where a military man named Colt is having a very, very bad day. Every morning, he wakes up hungover on the beach, unable to remember how he got there, and everybody on the island wants him dead. In order to break this cycle, he has to kill the eight Visionaries running the show, and who each go about this day in a different way. There are only so many hours before midnight hits and the entire loop resets again.
|Genre||First-person shooter/Immersive sim|
|PlayStation Version||PlayStation 5|
|Game Size||27.98 GB|
|Play Time||18 hours|
Worst of all is a woman named Julianna. She wants Colt dead and she's the only other person who seems to retain memories from one version of this unending day to the next. Colt and Julianna anchor the game, and luckily, are both incredibly likeable. Past Arkane games had clever writing but also usually featured protagonists that didn't talk much, if at all. Here, the cattiness and bickering these two indulge in is immensely enjoyable but never becomes too frequent to the point it ends up being distracting.
Deathloop is something of a roguelike game. Fortunately, it's also incredibly generous. While the day resets if you die for good, you've actually got three lives due to a powerful "Slab," meaning there's still room to experiment and try things out without losing your progress. These lives also refill whenever you manage to kill Julianna and between missions, so in practice I rarely ever found myself losing more than 15 minutes of progress.
You'll get to change up your loadout between missions but nothing can be altered while you're actually out in one of Blackreef's four areas. Initially, I was wary about this, but it never ended up being a real issue. Early on, you won't have the ability to retain any gear you find, be it new guns or power-bestowing Slabs. Fortunately, you can also unlock something called Infusion, which allows you to use a special currency to keep things between loops. Use it to loop it or you'll lose it.
You're also not just playing as Colt. Drawing on inspiration from its past canceled game, The Crossing, Arkane Lyon opts to allow players to take on the roles of both assassins, letting you invade another player's world.
Deathloop is something of a roguelike game. Fortunately, it's also incredibly generous.
After reaching an early milestone in the story, players unlock the ability to step into Julianna's shoes and bring down real players going through missions as Colt. My coworker Jennifer Locke (another longtime fan of Arkane games) and I tried this mode out and it works extremely well. It's fun to be talking to someone who is hunting you down, tauntingly trying to figure out who has the edge on who. Whether you're setting traps with turrets or ambushing each other because you know how they think, it's been a great experience.
What's also interesting is that, technically, you don't have to fight each other, so Deathloop actually has a kind of co-op mode, if you're feeling trusting. We'll have more thoughts on this multiplayer up later in a separate piece but I'm definitely happy with what I've seen so far.
In practice, Deathloop feels like Dishonored on a couple of shots of adrenaline combined with the creative systems of Prey. Stealth works well, shooting feels great, and I don't think it's a leap to say this is the best combat loop (heh) Arkane has ever designed. There's a wide variety of guns to use and Trinkets that allow further customization, while the several Slabs you can find bestow otherwordly powers that further enhance your arsenal. None of that distracts from what this game is at its heart. As we saw in earlier Deathloop previews, it's still an immersive sim.
Early on, there was a great moment where I fiddled with a candy machine, repeatedly poking it for fun until it broke and spilled gumballs everywhere. Later on, when I was noticed and fleeing the scene, one of my pursuers slipped and fell on said gumballs. I don't want to spoil other great moments that occurred while solving this Rubik's Cube of death, but there are plenty more where that came from. It's also nice to be playing a game that isn't insulting or unfairly difficult, yet still treats me like an adult. Creativity is rewarded and there's always more to a mission location than meets the eye.
It's not the best-looking game I've played on my PS5 but the art style is nice, finding a blend between something realistic and Arkane's otherworldly edge. Blackreef changes drastically as the day progresses, both in layout and presentation. A simple scientific testing location in the morning might be frozen over and transformed with snowdrifts in the evening. So while there are technically only four locations, the combination of setting and time of day makes this game much larger in scope than it first appears to be.
There are three visual modes available, with settings to target visuals, performance, or ray tracing. Visual and performance modes are extremely similar, both turning in a 4K image at 60 FPS. The difference is that performance appears to use a dynamic resolution, locking the framerate in exchange for a slightly less sharp image. The ray tracing mode easily looks the best but drops the framerate to 30 FPS, which just doesn't feel good, especially in this kind of game.
Deathloop: What I didn't like
My complaints are few. I do think that the story could've handed out a few more reveals by the end. I found the ending satisfying overall and it's fine if Arkane doesn't want to reveal absolutely everything, but a couple of more answers on just how everything was happening would've been nice all the same.
I do think that the story could've handed out a few more reveals by the end.
Through my time in Deathloop, I encountered a couple of bugs. Most weren't anything major but one gnarly bug I encountered happened twice when examining a weapon model in the loadout section between missions. The weapon model would stick to the screen no matter what menus I changed through, requiring me to close the game and re-open it. I also had it crash once, which never occured again across the 18+ hours I spent in-game.
It's also worth mentioning that my coworker ran into an issue with objectives and her collected Slabs not being displayed properly, though again, a simple restart of the game fixed it.
Deathloop: Should you play it?
Overall, Deathloop is a blast. It's fun, creative, and feels genuinely fresh, especially given how many games have been pushed out of 2021. There's a ton of fantastic elements I'm not even touching on here because part of the game's charm is figuring out connections and ways to manipulate the world. There's a lot to find in that one day, and the joy is making discoveries on your own.
It is worth taking a moment to address something of an elephant in the room. Microsoft acquired ZeniMax, meaning there's a high chance this will be the last Arkane game launched on a PlayStation platform. Make no mistake, if this is in fact the last one, then it's still worth picking up because Arkane is going out in style.
When I began Deathloop, I was like Colt; confused, eager to solve the problem and get out. By the end, I realized I was Julianna. I loved Blackreef and didn't want my time there to end.
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