Deathloop is a game I find myself going back to time and time again after the credits rolled. “What if I approached it this way?” “I need to get just one more slab upgrade and that will be much easier.” “Can I go in guns blazing and still get away without a hitch?” Deathloop is a game that made me think every time I took a step, something of a triumph for developer Arkane Studios. Throughout my more than 20 hours or so in game I’ve (mostly) enjoyed my journey as Colt. But how does the whole experience stack up?
In a Time Loop
You awake in Deathloop as Colt, stranded on an island caught in a perpetual time loop: the day you are currently living in is repeated over and over again. How long you’ve been in the loop is uncertain as Colt isn’t exactly sure how he got there in the first place – amnesia has that effect. However, you’re tasked with trying to stop the loop altogether and return to something of normalcy.
In your way is a formidable assassin, Juliana Blake, hell bent on making sure you loop back to the groggy beginnings on the beach instead of moving onto tomorrow. In order to break the loop you’ll need to kill the Visionaries, prominent characters on the island with their own stories and motivations for being there and enjoying the time loop. There’s the charismatic cult leader Harriet, or the enigmatic artist Fia – each character feels unique and made me want to learn as much as I could about each before taking them on myself.
Each of the Visionaries are tucked away in a couple different environments, from the hip cityscape of Updaam to the or the run down hangars of Karl’s Bay. Over the course of my 22 hours in Deathloop I came to know how to navigate the streets and rooftops of each location with ease, though this isn’t without its downsides. Predictability because both a blessing and a curse. Seeing the same people in the same locations going through the same motions each time I loaded into Updaam or The Complex was cool at first, though it ended up becoming more of a routine annoyance.
Sure, it was cool to learn exactly when an enemy might round a corner, or seeing a group excitedly discuss a party that was happening, but after a while it became too routine and some of the challenge was gone towards the end of my run through Deathloop’s story.
What makes each location feel different is how the loop itself is segmented. Deathloop smartly breaks up each run by a time of day system. While you’re in a location time doesn’t move – you can explore to your hearts content without worrying about running out the clock. However, when you finish a location you’ll kickstart the passage of time again, moving onto the next block, whether it be the afternoon or night. This gives each area a different look, feel, and thankfully a refreshing change to the enemy routines. Some areas get more dangerous at specific times of day, such as exploring the streets of Updaam at night – everyone there (and there are a lot of enemies) is strapped, ready to take Colt out without a second thought.
Once you’ve completed your night run, the loop resets, starting the day over. At the beginning of Deathloop you don’t keep anything you’ve collected during the loop, though after what seems like an endless tutorial you’ll unlock the ability to absorb Residuum. This resource is what you’ll spend to effectively hold weapons, trinkets (which are used to upgrade yourself and the weapons you carry) as well as the Slabs, which give you the supernatural powers to one-up your enemies, to the next day.
There is some strategy involved here as you won’t have enough Residuum each loop run to keep everything, but over time I started to amass quite a collection of Slab upgrades, weapons and more. Residuum is collected from items scattered around each map, as well as from killing Visionaries or Juliana when she is on the hunt. If you die, you lose everything not kept with the resource, so it does behoove players to be a bit careful when running through each map.
Playing your way
Thankfully Deathloop, like other Arkane games before it, really allows you to lean into your own personal style, though I would say I found it was an experience I couldn’t simply only stealth my way through, or go in loud. The situation also will dictate how you approach a situation. The maps themselves, especially since there are only four of them, have to be well designed. And I’m happy to say I found that they were. Each one has multiple avenues and ways to approach a target, as well as hidden nooks and crannies to explore. Verticality is a key point here too, with Colt able to climb and, when the Shift Slab is unlocked, you can teleport anywhere within its range (which unfortunately it’s too far, but far enough).
I found early on I would vary my approach each time, though as I approached the end of Deathloop I had picked out the best route for me – to the point where it was down to a science. Headshotting enemies became routine, as well as linking six or seven Eternalists using the Nexus Slab and taking them out with a single bullet. I felt powerful, though the routine diminished a bit of that over time.
Funnily enough, I’m not a stealth person. I mean, I’m awful at stealth in most games I play. However I found it rewarding to be able to slink through the different avenues of Blackreef (the island you’re trapped on), taking out enemies left and right. Though when I was caught and all hell broke loose, having to take the fight directly to the Eternalists was a joy. The gunplay in Deathloop is incredibly solid – it’s not the best gunplay I’ve had in a game, but it’s definitely up there in my opinion. Each weapon felt distinct, with the feedback on screen selling the illusion. The Fourpounder – a hulking pistol hand-cannon that boomed everytime I fired off a roun – became my weapon of choice for most of my playthrough. Taking out enemies either with a well placed round or frantically firing from the hip never stopped being satisfying, and I would find myself ignoring objectives altogether just to take out every Eternalist in a zone first because I enjoyed the combat so much.
When coupled with some of the rarer or special variants of each weapon, your arsenal gets even more varied and powerful. As I favored stealth most times I loaded into an area, getting an almost silent Tribunal meant I was always going to have that one slotted for the rest of the game. A Fourpounder where rounds spit out gas that chokes enemies (and explodes when shot) became more of a hazard for me as well, especially when my stealth run didn’t pan out and I had to fight my way through hordes of Eternalists to find a safe spot.
Thankfully, in addition to weapon and Slab upgrades, you can slot up to four character trinkets, such as the ability to double jump – or not be killed by choking on the aforementioned gas (though explosions are still an occupational hazard). These vary in rarity as well, though towards the end of Deathloop I found myself letting these upgrades go at the end of each loop as I was pretty set with my load out.
One area I appreciated though was the room to experiment with loadouts, though. Given that the loop itself resets each day, your enemies none the wiser to your actions (except for Juliana, of course), you can experiment with builds and weapons till you find the exact build you like. Arkane gives you plenty of space to ensure when you’re ready to hunt the Visionaries, you are doing so on your terms.
Running through each location over and over again is made a bit easier thanks to the incredibly soundtrack accompanying you each time. The adrenaline fueled jazz tracks remind me of 60s spy movies, and I found myself sometimes just sitting still listening to the music. Additionally, the voice acting is superb, especially the banter between Juliana and Colt. Initially I wasn’t sure I’d like the gamey and campy dialogue between the characters, yet as I kept playing it grew and grew on me. Juliana’s performance by Ozioma Akagha is the true highlight, as the sometimes playful, teasing tone instantly can turn menacing and angry on a dime. Colt’s gruff attitude and incredible penchant for cursing never stopped being entertaining as well, and these performances were only heightened by superb performances by the rest of the cast.
Hunting the Hunter
While the story centers on Colt hunting the Visionaries he needs to kill in order to break the loop, along the way he’s accosted by another member of the cast – Juliana. Juliana herself is trying to stop Colt breaking the loop, even seeming to take some joy in each attempt to kill Colt on what feels like endless repeat.
Juliana as a character is immediately endearing, and I found myself wanting to know more and more about her motivations. Why exactly did she want to keep the loop going, and why was she the only one who could remember each loop when the other inhabitants seemed to suffer from amnesia (Colt included to a degree)?
Juliana randomly will make an appearance during one of your runs in the loop, locking down Colt’s escape each time. This added some tension each run as I was never sure if Juliana would pop up at the worst moments (spoiler alert: she did), and the thought of losing my loop progress because of an unwelcome visitor definitely added to the suspense.
Juliana is a strong foe, with the chance to drop a Slab or Slab upgrade I needed if she was defeated. Additionally, her Slabs, including the Masquerade Slab which allows Juliana to take on an NPC as a disguise, are powerful, making her a threat every time she enters the arena.
This is heightened when you’re set to Online in the campaign, allowing other people to invade your game. I found this a bit mixed, though, as while I don’t mind PvP, the last thing I want to deal with is another player when I’m in the middle of an infiltration I’ve been struggling with for hours.
You can also play as Juliana, invading other player’s games and wreaking havoc as they try to stop the loop themselves. In doing so you’ll upgrade rewards such as cosmetics for Colt and Juliana by raising her Hunter rank. Refreshingly, Bethesda and Arkane have not added microtransactions to these, meaning the only way to unlock them is through gameplay.
I didn’t mind the Hunter mechanic, but I can’t say the draw of running through other players’ games will keep me logging in a Juliana. But it is a nice change of pace, especially if like me you kept hitting brick walls when trying to take out a Visionary – or simply get away from a segment of the game that was causing Deathloop to crash consistently.
As I mentioned in our Review in Progress last week, the PC version of Deathloop isn’t without its fair share of issues. Stuttering has plagued my experience since day one, and a myriad of crashes – especially during the nighttime runs through Updaam – took me out of the experience completely. It was reminiscent of PC issues Arkane dealt with when they released Dishonored 2, especially the stuttering. It was a shame as well, as the game itself ran otherwise quite well on my machine, which is equipped with an Intel i7-10700K, 32GB DDR4 RAM @ 3200MHz and an Nvidia RTX 3080 Ti. I’m happy to say that Deathloop has decent ultra-wide support, having played my run through at 3840 x 1080 resolution. Pre-rendered cutscenes are still 16:9, but the rest of the presentation fit perfectly at the higher aspect ratio, with me having to do little to nothing to tailor the experience to the wider monitor.
Thankfully, since launch Arkane has been hard at work fixing the experience, addressing it with a patch as recently as yesterday, and after launch the crashes seemed to have cleared up, allowing me to actually finish the game. However, it’s a shame that Deathloop launched with these issues, especially since their last game should have been an indication that there were some kinks to work out with PC and their Void Engine.
At the end of the day, though, Deathloop has been one of the more enjoyable games I’ve played in quite a while. From the soundscape – especially the soundtrack and voice acting – to the enjoyable gunplay, Deathloop definitely kept me interested in the almost two dozen hours I spent stalking Visionaries and the occasional Colt player in Blackreef.
It's not perfect – the loop can be frustrating after a while – especially when a poorly timed Juliana player joins in because you forgot to set your game mode to single-player only and they ruin a nearly perfect run through a region. I did find the routine built up by nearly endless runs through the same four areas to get a little boring towards the end as well. However, I never not felt powerful and impactful when I would jump into each location. The Slabs give each run a variant that makes the different loops feel varied enough to where I didn’t completely get tired of running through the same four areas again and again.
However, what’s clear is just how confident Arkane was with their vision of Deathloop. This game drips with Arkane’s DNA; it’s a game that so clearly fits the studio that made it. Deathloop combines what made the Dishonored games so good: satisfying stealth coupled with incredibly well designed environments to play within. Deathloop has these elements, as well as fun gunplay and an incredibly entertaining cast of characters that endeared me almost immediately.
The technical issues on PC made the experience less than stellar, especially in moments where crashes were incredibly predictable for me towards the end of the campaign. However, technical issues aside, Deathloop overall is simply just fun. I had a ton of fun hunting – and sometimes being hunted – in Blackreef.
Deathloop is one of the best games to hit in 2021. It’s confident, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it combines what makes Arkane games great – and makes it better.