Arkane’s eagerly anticipated Deathloop is finally here, and kicks off what is hopefully a two to three month period full of stellar AAA titles ahead of the holidays. Here’s what we thought of the PlayStation 5 version.
Deathloop’s a bit of a strange beast, and that’s not even talking about the game itself. It’s being published by Bethesda, which was purchased by Microsoft earlier this year. Yet…. it’s a (timed) PlayStation 5 exclusive on consoles because existing exclusivity arrangements are being honored. If there’s ever a sequel, will Microsoft bring it to PlayStation? Worries for another day – for now PlayStation 5 owners can be glad with another great Arkane game to play.
Where the notion of a “time loop” used to be associated with Groundhog Day, it’s become a popular tool in recent years. Edge of Tomorrow was brilliant, but in videogames we only recently reviewed Twelve Minutes and the entire roguelite genre feels like a time loop-based phenomenon as well, at least to a degree. In Deathloop, the action takes place on an island called Blackreef, which is caught in one of these time loops.
People are aware of it too, so as a result they just do whatever they feel like doing, knowing there are no consequences for their actions – which turns the island into a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah of sorts. Our protagonist, Colt, figures out he can break the cycle, as long as he’s able to kill specific targets within the time span of a single day. Fail or die, and it’s back to square one.
In a throwback to classic arcade gaming, you’re given three “lives” at the start of each loop, so death is rarely instant. There’s also a roguelite element that lets you keep some of your progression, upgrades and inventory, so eventually you’ll start feeling like your goal is within your grasp. It’s never a linear run from target to target though, because Blackreef is divided into four areas and a day has four parts. You can not travel between areas until the next part of the day arrives, so you essentially have to be on point in four different chapters for a successful run.
What’s more is that your actions in “chapter/area 1” will affect how the next parts of the game will play out, which in turn is related to the time loop. Do you already know something will happen in the afternoon? By going there in the morning, you might be able to prevent it from happening – or vice versa, if that suits your objectives better. There’s no one set path through the day that leads to success, and experimenting is definitely part of the fun. While everyone around you lives like it’s their last day on earth, you have advance knowledge that can benefit you and help break the cycle.
There’s a shadow side to Colt’s ability and knowledge as well, and that’s Julianna. She’s the other character with advanced knowledge of the world, only she wants to keep the loop intact and thus get rid of Colt. You’ll run into her during the campaign, but Arkane has also implemented a multiplayer mechanic that features Julianna. You can play as Julianna yourself, invading the games of other players to try and stop Colt – but you also have to expect other players jumping into your own game in a similar fashion. This happened to me early on in my campaign and hindered my progress, so I turned the feature off until I had completed the campaign (during which Julianna becomes AI-controlled), but it’ll be interesting to see how this mechanic evolves in the long run.
As expected in an Arkana game, Deathloop was gorgeously designed, with a stylish retro-futuristic take on a 1960s acid dream that’s a clear departure from Dishonored’s style. And looking beyond the visuals, there’s some great game design work at play here as well. There’s so much diversity in the locations you come across, and they’re all stuffed to the brim with fun little touches to discover. You might not get anywhere near your objective for ages, but you won’t mind – you’ll be having too much fun uncovering the world and all of its useful elements and easter eggs. You could even choose to waste a bunch of time inside an arcade, if you want to do – “there’s always tomorrow”, right?
Deathloop is Arkane’s first next gen game and that is mainly felt in the game’s gunplay, which makes great use of the new DualSense controller in giving players tangible feedback with each gun they equip. Visually it’s very impressive as well, although it does feel like a shame to have to turn off raytracing and other bells and whistles if you want to play at 60 frames per second. Having just switched to a new console generation, having to scale back leaves a bitter aftertaste.
It’s a minor stain on an otherwise brilliant game though – one that by nature encourages multiple playthroughs and manages to make the first one feel like just as much fun as a the last one. Another great Arkane game that, with a lack of first party releases from Sony, should be high on any PS5 owner’s lists this season.