Arkane is a studio that is known for its outside-the-box games and unique approach to storytelling through immersive worlds. From the dark stealth franchise Dishonored as well as the Bioshock-esque Prey (2017) most recently. Now with the studio’s latest project Deathloop, they look to blend their immersive world-building and storytelling with heart-pounding FPS action. Spoiler alert, Deathloop does this brilliantly.
Breaking the Loop
Imagine being stuck in a violent groundhog day where after every day you simply don’t remember the previous day. And this goes on for years, and years. That is the basic premise of Deathloop. You play a gentleman name Colt Vahn who finds himself in this predicament. His only goal is simple, he must break the time-loop and free himself from this nightmare. However, there is a violent twist to this story. Colt is mercilessly hunted by a woman name Julianna who attempts to kill him every day to stop him from breaking the loop.
What do you need to do to break the loop? You just have to simply kill 8 Visionaries who helped establish the loop in one day, without being killed yourself. Sound simple enough? The problem is, not all of these Visionaries are sitting around together waiting for you. They are spread through Blackreef at different locations at different times and trying to get them to all line up perfectly is Colt’s biggest challenge.
Welcome to Blackreef
The world of Blackreef is split into four separate locations. While each day is broken up into four sections of morning, noon, afternoon, and night. You can choose whatever location you want to visit at whatever time you like. Each location will feature unique information, and challenges depending on what time you go to them. You will visit these locations many times over throughout your time in Deathloop. Fortunately, it never feels overly repetitive.
As you go through each day, you will slowly piece together the puzzle on how you can kill each Visionary at different times of the day. To add, you can even change certain Visionaries day to day plans. By doing certain actions in the loop it can cause an almost butterfly effect to change where a Visionary will be located during the day. For example, messing with one of the scientist’s experiments will cause him to get frustrated and go to the late-night castle party instead of staying hidden in his lab all night. These small actions will help to line up the perfect day that Colt needs in order to break the loop.
The most impressive aspect of Deathloop is its ability to tell a compelling narrative even though the player will tackle each task in their own preferred order. There is no forced path in Deathloop you can target whichever Visionary or task you want, in whatever order you want. In a lot of games, this level of freedom is very damaging to the narrative. However, this is not the case in Deathloop.
No matter what order you choose to pursue, you will find interesting narrative tidbits that help to push the story forward. But you will never find information, or a story beat that spoils the final story twist for you. The narrative is expertly crafted with giving you a little bit of story at a time to keep you wanting more and more. Unlike a lot of other time-loop games as well, the story isn’t muddy or convoluted in order to appear “smart”. There were no head-scratching moments that had me wondering what was going on. Unlike a certain other 12 Minute loop game from earlier this year.
Killing Without Guilt
Arkane has always been a master at creating fun and unique ways for you to dispose of your foes. However, in their long-running Dishonored franchise, killing guards and minions often had a negative impact on the world. Not only that but it would affect the ending of the game, especially in the first game. This is not the case with Deathloop as the game openly encourages you to use escalating methods of violence to dispose of not only your main Visionary targets. In addition to their near-endless supply of minions.
This is the one aspect of Deathlop I really appreciated. Whether you wanted to go in guns blazing or take a more stealthy and precise approach, the game rewarded you for either of those playstyles. It never punished you for playing one way or another. Each playstyle had its own set of unique challenges. But it truly felt you could play the game the way you wanted. That being said, the game almost encourages you to absolutely lay waste to every Eternalist who acts as the game’s primary enemy type. As well as being able to kill the Visionary leaders in a variety of unique ways as well.
Residuum to the Rescue
Deathloop with its mix of unique firearms and supernatural powers makes Colt into a killing machine in no time. When you initially start out, it feels challenging to clear various levels in Blackreef. Especially when trying to kill a Visionary. However, the reward for killing them on every loop is enticing. When you kill a Visionary you will gain their slab that grants you a special ability. In addition, Visionaries will also drop legendary versions of many of the game’s best guns. These weapons are outfitted with some incredibly powerful perks.
Now my fear heading into Deathloop was the entire roguelike element that was teased during the lead-up to the game’s launch. Typically in many roguelikes, when you die and reset you lose a lot of your gear and powers. Causing you to have to go through and find all of your favorite gear and powers all over again. Fortunately, Deathloop avoids this with the “Residuum” system.
Players harvest Residuum to forge gear and abilities to Colt. Then, on every subsequent loop, when you kill that same Visionary again, it will net you more Residuum. Naturally, you’ll need more residuum to keep more rare gear and abilities. The more time you loop and kill as you try to figure out the puzzle to have a “perfect” day, the more you are rewarded. The flexibility that Deathloop allows you is possibly one of my favorite aspects of the game. It offers players a choice to prioritize what they feel is important for how they want to play the game.
Gunning For Glory
One criticism that many had leveled about Prey (2017) was how the guns feel. Some people felt that gunplay simply wasn’t intuitive. Fortunately, this is not the case in Deathloop. The gunplay seamlessly blends with the powers at your fingertips, and before you know it you are playing Doom (2016). This might be a slight exaggeration, but it is not far from the truth as the amount of mobility and fluidity in Deathloop lends itself for a run and gun style.
I spent much of my time sliding, jumping, and phase shifting with a revolver and shotgun combo, just laying waste to hordes of Eternalists. Overall, guns feel punchy. For example, it was immensely satisfying when you hit an enemy with a shotgun blast and they explode into a pile of dust. All of the guns feel incredibly powerful. Even the basic automatic pistol can lay waste to a horde of enemies if you place your shots right. It is a careful balance though as it only takes a handful of bullets to send you barreling back and having to start a loop all over again. This is where the Deathloop’s variety in gameplay options really shines through.
There is a very simplistic hacking system that allows you to hack a variety of different security devices in Blackreef. From simple security cameras to powerful machine gun turrets, there is plenty of different objects for you to hack and use against your enemy. Possibly one of my favorite moments in Deathloop was turning the security system against a building full of enemies.
Guns and Music Hit Hard
Often one of the biggest detractors from an FPS game is not only how the guns feel but also how they sound. If you have incredible fast-paced gunplay with firearms that sound like they were fired in a tin can, it can end up being absolutely immersion-breaking. This will really take players out of the combat loop. The Dualsense helps to make the gunplay itself feel incredible. The haptic feedback and adaptive triggers make every gun feel unique. This paired with the incredible audio design makes for a true heart-pounding combat experience. When you fire a shotgun or eventually acquire a legendary sniper rifle, you can feel and hear every shot as it tears into your enemies. Headshots make a healthy mushy sound as you execute Eternalists around every corner.
The music is just as equally incredible, as it greatly adds to the game’s late 1970’s aesthetic. The soundtrack feels almost like an ode to classic James Bond films in its dynamic delivery and tones. As you enter combat the music ramps up with dramatic orchestrated pieces that almost feel like they are from Live and Let Die. These epic pieces are balanced by fast-paced classic rock tracks with heavy guitar and drums. It provides a tonal variety, that while it fades into the background often due to the fast-paced nature of the game. Without it, the combat just wouldn’t feel complete. I tip my hat to the audio team for their ability to balance soundtrack and overall audio.
Julianna Is On The Hunt
Now, the one wild card that will constantly throw a wrench into your plans is Julianna. Her appearance within your run through a day is entirely random. Sometimes, she will appear in the morning when you are just getting started. Other times, she’ll show up later in the day. No matter where Julianna appears in your day, she can certainly end your day, as quickly as it started.
Equipped with a variety of powers and high-end weaponry, no matter when she appears, Julianna can be a handful on her own. Add in a horde of Eternalists, and things get hectic quickly. While she adds plenty of risk to your run, Julianna also is a key figure in upgrading your arsenal. As she always drops a high tiered gun, a variety of slab upgrades, and a massive pile of residuum which can go to infusing your gear. So, while it is tempting to try to stealth your way past her, the reward for taking her on head-on is certainly worth the risk. If you can get the drop on her she can fall quite quickly. Especially later in the game when you have some powerful weapons in your arsenal.
Deathloop’s Interesting Take on PVP
Now, the unique factor of Julianna is the fact that she can be controlled by outside players. Deathloops unique take on PVP is that the invading Julianna can be a human-controlled player. This adds a layer of difficulty when playing online, as you never know who is controlling Julianna. Due to the many options at a player’s disposal in terms of weapons and powers, it is almost impossible to predict how a player will pursue you. It makes every encounter feel one of a kind and will test the skill of even the best player to use all of the tools in the environment to fight off an invading Julianna.
If the idea of PVP isn’t appealing to you, you can easily change this within the settings of the game. You can select to play online, which allows other players to join your game. Additionally, you can set it to friends only, meaning only people on your friend’s list on PSN can invade your game. You can even go one step further and completely disable the online features of the game. This will revert Julianna back to the game’s AI systems. The option of PVE versus PVP in Deathloop is a breath of fresh air. To add, it is fantastic how Arkane allows the player to choose how they want to experience the game’s multiplayer portion.
Now, if invading people’s timelines sounds appealing to you, then you can load up as Julianna from the main menu. I was surprised at the amount of depth that could be found on this side of the game. While playing as Julianna, you can gain experience from completing a variety of unique challenges. Most of these challenges mainly focused on different ways of killing Colt. Upon completing these challenges you will gain XP. Naturally, as you begin to level up, more gear becomes available to you.
In a short amount of time, I found my Julianna was a killing machine. Joining a random player’s game became a murderous dance, as you try to outwit and outmaneuver each other. Through the progression system, you can also earn skins for Colt to use in the main portion of the game by killing other players as Julianna. It is an interesting way to incentivize players to play Julianna. While many players will likely spend a majority of their time playing the campaign as Colt, sometimes swinging into a few games as Julianna can be an absolute blast.
Immersive and Detailed World Building
Arkane has always been known for its incredible worlds, and the world of Deathloop is no exception. The world of Blackreef feels like a look into the past with its blend of the 1970s and 1980’s aesthetics. From open beachfront to underground Cold War-era nuclear bunkers and then an incredible finale at night featuring a massive castle party. The sheer amount of detail that went into Blackreef is impressive but not entirely surprising.
Arkane is known for its immersive sim elements, and ability to build compelling worlds such as Talos 1, the massive space center in Prey. Even with this being said, the amount of detail that can be found in the world is staggering. I constantly found myself admiring the small details put into each location, that made them feel believably lived in. From strewn dishes all over a kitchen to weapons leaning precariously all over the safehouse, it adds a sense of realness that many developers just can’t seem to nail.
The verticality of the world was great but kind of expected due to my past experiences with Dishonored. That did not make it any less fun to scale and learn each of the different levels and the way they could be approached. Mobility is a key focus for Deathloop, especially if you choose not to take the stealthy approach.
The world allows for you to find a path to flank and get behind your enemies which make disposing of them almost effortless. From teleporting from rooftop to rooftop to get superior angles against large groups of enemies, to running and parkouring through houses, windows, and sneaking in tight vents. At times, it felt like you were in a premium Bond film from the ’80s, which is an untapped time period in games. It made Deathloop feel incredibly unique not only in level design but as well as how it all aesthetically melted together.
The Final Loop
Deathloop is an incredibly unique FPS, blending together some of the best aspects of Arkane’s previous work. Whether you prefer to sneak and target your prey slowly, or to tackle the challenge head-on with a limitless arsenal of weapons and powers. Deathloop blends an intriguing narrative, with incredibly diverse combat, and truly makes it one of the best games on PlayStation 5 right now. It is without a doubt one of the best games by Arkane to date.