By: Stephen Machuga (ShanghaiSix)
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Arkane Studios
Available on: PC, Playstation 5
Reviewed on: PC
Well, that was a ride.
So, what is Deathloop? Well, the obvious answer is Deathloop feels like a re-skinning of Arkane's other stylized hit, Dishonored. I mean, blatant. I mean, "reusing assets" level of re-skinning. There were parts of the environment, and even some of the special abilities that you get that are one-for-one lifts from the previous game. That said, I loved the absolute bejeezus out of Dishonored, so a newer, sexier 2021 update to an old favorite is fine by me. Some people may not be as amused, and if you didn't like Dishonored's first-person assassination gameplay and mechanics, then go ahead and move on.
Imagine Deathloop as Dishonored set on the island from the television show, Lost. You wake up on the beach every morning with everything having reset..well...like Groundhog Day (okay, I'm using up all my references early in this review.) You play as a sassy black man named Colt. The island is chock-full of mysteries for you to solve as to why the day keeps repeating itself. Still, the only constant thing is that you see visual writing on a regular basis that is urging you to "Break the Loop," the loop being the four-section cycle the game thrives on: morning, noon, afternoon, evening. Meanwhile, a mean ol' lady named Juliana murders you the second you wake up and then proceeds to taunt you each and every time you wake up to a new repeated day.
There's a lot going on, and a lot of the game is discovering the series of events required to break the time loop that is happening, so I can't go into great detail as to the story that is unfolding in front of you with each loop without ruining some of the fun. Much like the aforementioned Groundhog Day movie, a seemingly impossible series of events needs to occur across the four phases of the day in perfect unison, and each time you loop, you move all the pieces just a little bit closer together.
So, back to the Dishonored analogy. One of the big differences between Dishonored and Deathloop is that the game doesn't penalize you for going buck wild like Dishonored did. I love stealth games. Much like the Hitman series, I love going through an entire part of the map, conducting an assassination, or stealing an item without anyone knowing I was there. I would agonize over tripping alarms, and I would never kill guards because it would drag down the world and change the ending. Here, on Deathloop's island of Blackreef, they did away with any of that moral ambiguity, and run-and-gun is an acceptable strategy that you're not penalized for. I feel like I was locked out of a lot of the fun that most 'normal' people had in Dishonored of setting guards on fire and conducting arcane murder, but here in Deathloop, there ARE no non-lethal options. As everyone wakes up fine the next 'morning,' wonton murder and violence are commonplace.
Unfortunately, a large chunk of the game is going to be missed by your run-and-gun player. Sneaking around, there are secrets to be discovered, conversations to be eavesdropped into detailing important information on hidden caches and ways to accomplish missions that someone walking up the street with a shotgun is going to miss. For instance, a target that you're supposed to assassinate is throwing a masquerade ball at the end of the day in his mansion, and everyone is wearing the same mask, making it impossible to identify your target. If you sneak around the house, there are several slick ways to make your target reveal himself, but even the ghostwriting in the game that shows up on the walls reminds you, "Hey, you could just murder absolutely everyone in the house too!"
Another of the main differences between Dishonored and Deathloop is the Juliana mechanic. Yes, she is a mechanic. Think of her like the Dark Souls' invasion mechanic: another online player can crash into the middle of your game to hunt you down. There is some good and bad to having another player mucking around in your space; there are times in Deathloop where you have to remain 100% stealthy and quiet, or you're finishing a successful run, and you're on your way back when you get the notification that Juliana is invading. She locks all the exit doors down, and you're forced to either kill her or use your hacking tool on a station to unlock the doors and then escape. The four main maps of the games are pretty huge, and you can spend a lot of time playing cat-and-mouse with one another. If Juliana kills you (and you have no lives left), you lose all your progress, not just on the map but for the entire day. But the rewards are pretty great, almost a little too good. Each of the game's main characters carries a thing called a 'slab,' which imparts Dishonored-style powers like invisibility, teleportation, and the like, and each time you kill one of the main characters, you get an upgrade to one of them. Unfortunately, as you can get invaded in each of the four-time segments each day, you can be pretty well kitted out quickly by just murdering player-run Julianas. Fortunately, you can turn this off by just allowing friend-list only Julianas or turning it single-player only...but I have a feeling there might be a computer-controlled Juliana invading even during single-player runs. She represents a nice bit of chaos to your perfectly manicured run that would be a shame to not have organic to your playthrough.
Like any game that makes you feel smart, looking at it from the beginning seems impossible. I have memories of puzzle games like Portal, where you sit and stare at a puzzle for a while and think, "I'm never going to figure this all out." Then, when you do come across the answer and are sitting on the other side of it, you feel like the smartest gamer in the world. Deathloop feels similar in nature, and by the time I had laid out all the pieces for a perfect, loop-breaking run, it was 2 A.M., and I refused to go to bed. I wanted to knock over that first domino and watch the chaos ensue, to see how it all unfolded.
All in all, according to the Steam clock, 26 hours to finish Deathloop, and now I'm just mad there isn't any more of it. Which is silly to say; there were still many secrets out there that I didn't even bother to play around with. Not a lot of incentive to go back and play after you finish your Colt playthrough... unless you just like screwing with other players... which even as I'm writing this, yeah, I COULD fire it back up and start leveling up my Juliana to mess with folks.
That actually sounds pretty good. I want to play more Deathloop, which really says a lot about my time with the game.