Deathloop’s greatest triumph lies in how its defining mechanic never wastes your time. You always learn or find something that helps you push forth and, while death is a temporary setback, it’s never one that makes you want to put the game down and walk away.
Whether you successfully uncover a vital piece of information or learn the hard way that the gas from your bullets is as lethal and flammable to you as it is your enemies, every new experience offers tidbits of knowledge that help you make better sense of how to work your way across the Isle of Blackreef.
Pinning down what exactly Deathloop was prior to launch proved more challenging than it should have been. One of our major worries was that every time a bullet made a highway through Colt’s skull, we’d have to deal with the frustrations inherent to repeatedly starting over. But Deathloop is not a roguelike and we often looked forward to starting over thanks to the new opportunities a “new” day offered.
Deathloop is an immersive sim that frames its stealth-action using a time loop. As Colt Vahn, you repeatedly relive the same day, learning how the Isle of Blackreef works and what you can do to break said loop.
Deathloop’s single-player campaign focuses on amnesiac Colt’s efforts to escape from Blackreef. You start off with little to your name, then gradually piece things together and gather an arsenal of tools that help you see your mission through.
As you explore four distinct districts across various different times of day, you discover more about the island itself, the eight Visionaries you have to track down, as well as the protagonist.
The 30 hours we spent with the game took us across tall rooftops, through military installations, dirty sewers, and swanky clubs that offered a moderate challenge with occasional, but far from insurmountable, difficulty spikes.
At its core, Deathloop is an immersive sim that feels familiar to anyone who’s played one of Arkane Studios’ previous games, while also being very easy to pick up if you’re new.
The main difference lies in how it eschews a linear time progression, instead of having players repeat the same day over and over. Each loop is made up of four-time periods: morning, noon, afternoon, and evening.
During each period, you can visit one of Blackreef’s four districts, the opportunities you have changing based on when you decide to do so. The eight Visionaries Colt must eliminate have a set schedule and you’ll only find them at specific times of the day. Similarly, the door leading to a puzzle you may want to complete won’t always be open.
Once you’re in a district, you’re free to explore as much as you want, as time only moves forward once you actually leave or kick the bucket.
Whether you choose to scour every apartment, library, and hidden passage or blitz through the main objectives is entirely your choice, just like how you have a free hand over how stealthy or loud you want to play. But exploration is key to progressing through Deathloop, since your success depends on the knowledge you gain during each run.
Whether it’s an overheard conversation, a stray note, or a message read on a personal computer, every bit of information helps Colt piece together how Blackreef functions.
A random Eternalist – rank-and-file NPCs protecting the Visionaries – may spill the beans on the location of a weapons depot or a secret entrance. Notes spread across the world not only add to the isle’s tapestry of lore but also reveal codes you can use to access vital places or get a step up on your opposition.
With each loop, Colt retains this knowledge before visiting those areas again to further his plans. A code found in the evening can open a door that you can only access in the afternoon, which in turn might shed light on how to stop a device that renders you unable to use your powers.
Not long into the game, you also gain access to Residuum, a resource you can collect from killed Visionaries and objects throughout the world. In between missions, you can infuse found items with Residuum, enabling you to keep them between loops.
Here, you also pick Colt’s loadout, which includes up to three weapons of different rarities, trinkets that enhance his weapons’ abilities, as well as slabs that grant powers like teleportation or allow you to link multiple enemies together so that they all die when you take one out. Over time, you end up building a strong arsenal, so the sense of fleeting progression characteristic of roguelikes is not present in Deathloop.
The chance to customize your loadout several times per loop also plays into experimenting with your approach to the game’s levels. The Havoc slab makes Colt dish out more damage while taking less, coming in handy if you opt to go in guns blazing.
Shift was a fixture in our inventory, enabling us to quickly zip across the isle and through pesky traps, while Aether’s invisibility helped us get out of tough spots or hide in plain sight, once we equipped it with an upgrade that stopped it from draining energy as long as we didn’t move.
Equipping the right character trinket lets you hack mines from a distance or become immune to gas, helping when these hazards block alternative approaches to your objectives, while hacking turrets convinces them to pepper the island’s denizens with bullets instead of you.
The level design encourages experimentation and, while stealth is the more efficient way to go about things, mowing down packs of Eternalists remains a viable option.
You progress by following and completing leads, which do direct you to certain districts at certain times of day, but the freedom of approach coupled with the knowledge gained each run – which eventually sees you easily identifying enemy locations and figuring out how to best get past them – do make you feel like you’re slowly mastering your environment. Not many games pull this off as well as Deathloop does and this alone is enough to warrant giving it a go.
But while there’s plenty to see across each of the game’s districts, as we got close to the end of our playthrough – with a fair bit of optional content completed – the inherent repetition tied to the time loop mechanic did begin to drag on, eventually making the final stretch leading into its abrupt ending feel less special than it, perhaps, should have been.
Deathloop’s multiplayer comes in the shape of invasions that let players take control of Julianna – one of the isle’s Visionaries – and hop into other players’ games to stop them from breaking the loop. Julianna is on par with Colt in terms of strength, having access to weapons, trinkets, and slabs of her own, but lacks the three lives granted by his Reprise slab.
Her unique Masquerade slab enables her to swap appearances with other characters, while her linear progression revolves around her Hunter rank, which increases as you perform certain feats, doling out rewards that expand her arsenal.
Once Julianna drops in, Colt’s tunnels are locked and he needs to hack an antenna to escape. Whether controlled by a player or the AI, Julianna becomes a natural part of whichever level she drops into, having complete freedom about approaching the hunt.
You can wait patiently near the antenna, taking advantage of the presence of multiple Eternalists and the ability to swap appearances, harass the protagonist and lead him towards an area that’s full of traps, or rush towards any sign of a gunfight and take on your quarry in a straight-up fight.
Invasions can become intense games of cat and mouse that also teach valuable lessons. Once Julianna lured us to our deaths into an area full of mines, revealing that a. Mines exist; and b. They kill Colt unless he disarms or hacks them. Another saw both us and the invader shifting across Updaam’s rooftops, exchanging sniper shots, before invisibility, patience, and a fair bit of luck lead to us getting the drop on them near the antenna.
But Invasions aren’t without their faults. As Colt, you can always disconnect or camp in a corner of the game’s fairly sizeable levels in an attempt to frustrate the opposition. The peer-to-peer connection can also come with heavy amounts of lag. But even so, stepping into Julianna’s shoes is a welcome detour from Colt’s attempts to break the loop that, under the right circumstances, can lead to some memorable encounters for both parties involved.
Blackreef’s aesthetic is rooted in the 60s, blending stern brick buildings with colorful decorations that give it an almost Warholesque flair. It’s got as many run-down areas as it has exuberant ones, its Cold War-inspired military bunkers and installations heavily contrasting its lavish mansions and music clubs that explode with style and color. It’s a bit of a trip, especially when you first run through each district and Deathloop might just have the most detailed food models in video games thus far.
At the same time, Blackreef as a whole doesn’t have as well-defined a personality as Dishonored’s Dunwall or Prey’s Talos I. It’s easy to pinpoint certain locations as stand-outs – Charlie and Aleksis Dorsey’s mansions immediately comes to mind – but Blackreef lacks a steady anchor similar to Dunwall’s rats or Talos’ retro-futurism, which ultimately makes it a bit forgettable.
Audio & Music
Colt and Julianna’s stellar voice acting is evident from the get-go and fuels their rivalry, despite their exchanges mainly occurring at the start of levels. They both have barrels of attitude that give weight to the moments when they actually engage each other in battle, where the punchy sound of guns and sharp machetes takes over. The other Visionaries also have their personalities successfully shaped by great voice acting. Once you’ve heard Aleksis Dorsey’s megalomaniac boasting or Egor’s obsession with his experiments, it’s difficult to confuse one for the other.
Deathloop’s music feels taken right out of a Bond movie and does a great job to pump you up (and inform you) when you get spotted or make you feel like a bit of a sleuth when you’re sneaking about. This level of quality is contrasted to some extent by occasionally vague directional audio. For the most part, you can easily pinpoint where enemies that you can’t see are coming from, but when buildings with multiple levels are involved, it’s sometimes hard to tell how close you are to enemies above or below you.
Deathloop’s AI does tax you if you’re too ballsy about moving out in the open, but it also won’t win any awards for being particularly smart. Equipped with a silent weapon, Colt has an easy time taking out smaller packs one by one. You can effortlessly kill an Eternalist out in the open, especially if you use height to your advantage, then headshot the others coming to investigate the body, to the point where this can trivialize navigating certain areas.
In crowded spots, you’ll need to exhibit considerably more caution but that mostly comes down to the number of enemies and how easily they can swarm you. Colt might be a badass, but he has a hard time taking on an army’s worth of enemies if he can’t maneuver using his abilities. The AI’s accuracy is all over the place, too: sometimes they waste entire magazines from up close, in other cases, they’re expert marksmen. They can easily be attracted towards loud noises and are mostly there to fuel Colt’s creative kills.
The Visionaries are just as susceptible to being taken out if you’re silent but do put up a better fight if you’re discovered since they also have access to slabs and bigger health pools when you go in loud. AI Julianna’s performance also varies and, generally, she fails to put up as good a fight as some of the human players that invaded us.
The closest thing Deathloop has to accessibility options at launch are some that let you customize subtitles alongside several that let you choose the elements shown on your HUD.
On an Intel i7-8700K, 16 GB RAM, Nvidia RTX 3080 @1080p, the game ran at a mostly consistent 60 FPS, but there are a few things you should be aware of. AMD upscaling resulted in blurry image quality, which takes away from how great the game looks. We also noticed occasional frame drops when more geometry was involved and during a few firefights.
Updaam – especially at night or when getting invaded – was the most egregious example, slashing as many as 20 FPS, on occasion. On top of that, the game also crashed, very often when inspecting weapons in the menu and trying to add trinkets while having raytracing turned on.
The option also caused a number of crashes in levels – around 10 over 30 hours of gameplay – which made us lose progress three or four times, since quitting sends you back to the start of the level and the lack of a quicksave option is baked into the game’s DNA. While this may not affect all PCs equally, it’s disappointing to have to turn raytracing off for the smoothest experience.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Hiding in plain sight using an upgraded Aether slab and surprising and invading Julianna with a swift machete stab she never saw coming.
In many ways, Deathloop feels familiar to previous Arkane Studios titles, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What makes it shine is not just how it offsets this familiarity by introducing a time loop element but, more importantly, how it skilfully avoids frustration by constantly making you feel like you’re learning something new.
Venturing across Blackreef did lose freshness by the 30-hour mark, but the vast majority of that time was filled with loud gunfights, intense games of cat and mouse against invading Juliannas, lots of sneaking, manipulating the environment to score satisfying kills, and plenty of discovery that made us feel like a master detective that’s pretty badass with a gun.
Deathloop turns both succeeding and failing into learning experiences and never makes you miss the lack of a quicksave option. It’s a mean feat that sets it apart from other games, and one of several reasons why it should be on the list of any immersive sim fans out there. It might not be Arkane’s best game and Blackreef may struggle clearly defining a personality for itself, but it’s certainly no stranger to great moments.
Guns feel and sound great
Time loop mechanic is implemented in such a way that you don’t dread starting over
Consistent, empowering sense of discovery and feeling that you’re mastering your surroundings regardless if you succeed or fail
Customization and great level design both enable different approaches to each of the game's four open levels
Each period of time comes with new challenges across each district
Colt and Julianna’s rivalry is backed up by very strong voice acting
Blackreef’s mishmash of aesthetic elements is a bit of a trip but comes at the cost of having a clear, defined personality
Raytracing-related crashes and performance issues hurt the experience
while time loop is executed well, it does eventually lose novelty
Colt’s story can end a little abruptly if you don’t scour the isle for notes
The AI’s performance is rather hit-or-miss
About Bogdan Robert Mateș
When not brewing coffee or debating serious topics with my cat, you'll either find me playing video games or writing about them.