I think I just bounced off of this one.
Deathloop is not a bad game by any means. I played a lot of Dishonored and Prey, though, and Deathloop feels like a step down by comparison: limited, repetitive, low on meaningful choices. I recognize its quality and it pulled me along for a time, but I think the issue is simply that it’s not what I want out of an Arkane Studios game.
You play as Colt, who wakes up on a beach on the island of Blackreef without his memory. He quickly finds a cache of documents and weapons, left for himself by himself, which fill in some of the blanks: Blackreef is home to a temporal anomaly, which causes the events of this one day to eternally reset. Everything that happens on Blackreef, including the deaths of everyone on the island, will be undone overnight.
Much of the current population of the island are “Eternalists,” who have come to Blackreef for that specific purpose. Every day is a party, without consequences or regret.
Something happened to Colt, however, which he doesn’t remember, but which has left him determined to find a way to end the anomaly. Wherever he goes, he sees messages from an unknown party, possibly himself, which gives him warnings and cryptic pieces of information. He’s also opposed by Julianna, the island’s current head of security, who seems to remember what’s happened on previous cycles and is determined to hunt him down.
A lot of this setup feels like Arkane’s making a metajoke about roguelikes, which I can appreciate. If you die more than twice in a given day, the loop resets you back to the beachfront near Colt’s hideout and leaves you empty-handed. However, after a couple of hours, you can find a way to unlock a system that lets you preserve specific items so they’ll stick with you between loops.
At this point, Deathloop opens up, and lets you tackle the mystery of the island in whatever way you’d like. The game ends up being a freeform assassination mission, where Colt can break the loop and attain victory if eight specific people on the island are ever all dead simultaneously.
However, many of those people make themselves very hard to find. Half the job is figuring out where they are or will be, and half of what’s left is figuring out a way to manipulate events so all eight of your targets will be vulnerable over the course of a single day, in one of the four maps that make up the settled portion of Blackreef.
The rest is a stealth-based first-person shooter, which should be instantly familiar to you if you ever played the Dishonored games. Colt even gets a version of Corvo and Emily’s Blink power early on, which allows you to teleport short distances.
The big difference, however, is the anomaly. Since everyone on the island respawns the next day until and unless you break the loop, there’s no particular reason not to shoot everyone you see, as soon as you see them. While direct confrontations rarely go your way, since Colt has relatively low health and enemies tend to move in packs, you can get a lot done with guerilla tactics.
In theory, another limiting factor is your arsenal. You start almost from scratch on each new day, with a couple of weak small arms that are barely better than harsh language. Your first challenge on each new day is trying to accumulate something better before you actually end up in a fight.
In practice, each of the visionaries either carry a rare weapon or have one on them, or you can raid the Library in the first zone for a high-end version of your favorite gun. Once I found a silenced pistol with insane accuracy and decent punch, which happened two hours in, the game might as well have rolled credits.
At that point, Deathloop degenerates into a shooting gallery. The only challenge comes from Julianna, who may randomly appear in any given area and start to hunt you down, either as a powerful NPC or a player-controlled adversary. Either way, Julianna is the only opponent in Deathloop that poses a real threat.
In general, Deathloop feels like it’s gotten some harsh edits over the course of the last year, like a lot of other recent games. Much of Deathloop feels like it’s working against itself; it’s sort of awkwardly balanced between a “spectacle fighter,” where rank-and-file enemies are dumb enough that you can style on them without consequence, and a stealth game, where you can still easily get murdered if you aren’t careful.
It’s also way too easy to find a game-breaking weapon, most of the powers are fairly useless, and you’re constantly visiting and revisiting the same four maps, which don’t change enough between trips to break up the monotony. I like the basic hook, where you’re trying to accumulate enough information to set the visionaries up for a fall, but getting there is a slog.
In fact, there’s a lot I like about Deathloop. It’s got a cool grimy ’60s aesthetic, the script is crisp, each of the characters is a crazy eccentric, and the story kept me interested when the gameplay didn’t.
I applaud Arkane for switching up the Dishonored stealth/action formula here, and for addressing a few of the issues Dishonored had. Deathloop just feels too limited by comparison, though, and too repetitive by half besides. I know a lot of people who really like it, but it fell pretty flat for me.
Reviewed By: Thomas Wilde
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
This review is based on a digital copy of Deathloop for the PC provided by Bethesda Softworks.