I'm trapped in a room filled with kegs of chocolate beer. I've taken two shots and a stab wound, and I only have a few bullets left in my pockets. Standing between me and my objective is a room full of party-goers, each armed and dangerous, ready to shoot me on sight. Even though death isn't permanent in the world of Deathloop, my palms are sweating. I've come too far to fail.
Thankfully, my newly-upgraded handgun restores a bit of health with every shot I land, and I'm carrying a suitcase with a fold-up turret hacked to obey my orders. If I can set it up by the door and hack it open remotely, I might be able to bottleneck these fools into a spray of turret fire, picking off any that get through with my healing pistol. It's a decent plan, but I still give myself 50-50 odds at best.
Image source: Gamesplanet
Deathloop alternates between tense moments like this and humorous charges through a sea of drunkards, making for an adventure that never gets stale. Deathloop's original announcement flew slightly under the radar, but as a lover of Arkane's Dishonored series, I knew their next outing was going to be special the first time I saw its trailer. And the adventure starts at minute one: I wake up on the island of Blackreef with no idea who I am or how I got there. I quickly discover my name is Colt, and I'm in the middle of a Groundhog Day-esque time loop, reliving the same day over and over again while a mystery murderess named Julianna hunts me down.
Breaking the loop requires assassinating eight targets within one day, before everything resets. Not every target is available in a given location at every time of day, though, so most of Deathloop's missions revolve around gathering intel about the targets, while exploring the mystery of Blackreef's time-space anomaly. With the right info, I can lure them into a few small clusters, ripe for easy picking in a "perfect loop."
This would, frankly, be enough for a unique and clever take on the first person shooter, but Arkane's open-ended design gives me the freedom to tackle your intel-gathering objectives in many different ways. I can sneak your way along rooftops out of sight, rush into a building with guns blazing, or some mix of the two. And while some games restrict this freedom by nudging the player toward stealth, Deathloop's missions felt exceptionally well-balanced. In every moment, I could choose between a variety of approaches, each with their own risks and potential payoffs. The game provides a diverse assortment of weapons to aid these endeavors, each of which can be upgraded to fit my specific playstyle—though I can only bring a few weapons with me from loop to loop when the day starts anew. I quickly get attached to certain upgraded weapons I've lovingly crafted (or stolen).
Image source: Gamesplanet
Even more interesting are the powers Deathloop offers in the form of trinkets and "slabs" looted off the bodies of Blackreef's inhabitants. Assassinating one of the eight targets gains me access to their special ability, and I can approach them in any order I want (at least during the intel-gathering phase of the game). As a result, Deathloop takes on a feeling similar to classic Mega Man, where I choose each target based on powers I think might be useful in hunting down the next one.
As with my weapons, there are more powers available than I can equip at one time, so I have to pick and choose based on my preferred approach to a given problem. I was immediately drawn to the "Shift" power which allows me to teleport short distances, bringing back fond memories of Dishonored's similar ability. Other players may prefer Karnesis, which gives you telekinetic powers over your enemies for easy disposal. Silenced weapons and a trusty Hackamajig rounded out my stealthy arsenal, allowing me to convert security cameras and turrets to target my enemies instead of me while I snuck right on by.
Image source: Gamesplanet
Throwing a final wrench into my plans is Julianna, who occasionally delays the investigation with an appetite for destruction. She carries a different slab each loop, giving me access to its powers if you can best her in battle (thanks for that Shift slab, Julianna). By default, the game runs in an online mode that allows other players to invade my game as Julianna, rather than the game's AI controlling her murder spree. As if this game weren't tense enough, the sense of dread I felt when another player interrupted my mission was palpable, despite the fact I knew I'd wake up again the next day. If you'd rather forego the PvP action, the game has both Friends Only and Offline modes to dial things back. Julianna's radio banter at the beginning of each mission added some lightheartedness to the game, regularly making me laugh—and fueling my curiosity about what got Colt into this awful position in the first place.
It's little additions like this that make Deathloop such an enjoyable ride. Right from the start, the innovative gameplay, detailed open world, and Memento-like notes scrawled about my hideout piqued my curiosity for the game's story and characters. Every clue I unearthed about its many mysteries put my right in the same mindset as Colt as he figured out his new reality. One I started to get familiar with Blackreef's locations and challenges, my confidence grew. I hit that beautiful flow state, knocking out objectives with ease like a montage in an 80s movie (with just enough whimsy to match). Nailing that perfect loop is harrowing, though, requiring picture-perfect precision every step of the way. So when I finally reach the end of the line, the sense of victory is unmatched. I'm already itching to start the loop from the beginning, if only to see what new ways I can take on the island of Blackreef. I've barely even scratched the surface.
It's rare to see a game this unique and complex, while still being approachable. Whether you're a longtime fan of Arkane's open-ended immersive sims or you've never played one before, Deathloop is well worth exploring.