Deathloop – A Puzzle Only Violence Can Solve
I have to be honest with you, I was sceptical about Deathloop. I am not 100% sure why that was. Was it a general feeling of apathy to another rogue-like title? A worry about a lack of variety in exploring the same locations over and over again? The sense that the 60’s exploitation vibe would wear thin? Possibly a combination of all three? I honestly can’t say, but there is no doubt I was worried. That worry was misplaced because with Deathloop, Arkane has put together their most complete title yet.
For those who haven’t caught the pre-release media blasts, Deathloop works like this: Colt, our gravelly-voiced, suave hero wakes up on a beach. Suffering from amnesia, he sees sentences floating in the air, all offering advice on what he should do next. With no other ideas, Colt follows this advice, coming to a mansion on an island and running into the mysterious Julianna, a killer that seems to know you and want you dead, a want that she fulfils a short time later. Flash, Colt is back on the beach waking up again. The clues have changed, the path forward is now different. This is when the realisation hits that you are in a time loop, reliving the same day over and over again. Now to escape the loop you must orchestrate the deaths of the 8 visionaries that created the loop and free yourself from the cycle in the process.
After this brief intro, the game is broken up into four time periods for each loop, morning, noon, afternoon and evening and there are four locations to explore within these time periods. These four areas can change dramatically over the course of the day, with enemy numbers and locations, building accessibility and routes all changing depending on the time. For example, one area in the morning sees very few people wandering around making stealth easy, at noon you can get access to a whole new section of the map and by evening the map is chock full of people there to see a concert, attend a party and watch a fireworks display. What you do in the level can change what happens later in the day as well, in one instance after discovering a certain building on fire during the afternoon I realised I could stop that fire from happening if I went to that building in the morning and therefore have access to it later in the day.
If your head is spinning already trying to keep track then don’t worry because Deathloop does a wonderful job of pointing you in the right direction to solve the mystery and kill the visionaries. The trick to the game is to arrange it so you can kill all eight visionaries in one day and to do that you need to manipulate the world and the visionaries, arranging it so you can take out two or three at the same time. The in-game guidance here is wonderful, providing leads to follow on how to make this occur. The real delight here is, the system is neither too obtuse or too hand-holding, walking the fine line in-between those two extremes. Exploration is rewarded with new leads and most importantly, knowledge of the levels, but if you need to follow the clues, the game gives you a clear way to do that without having to manually track it yourself.
There is an extra wrinkle to this formula and that is Julianna. Julianna is one of the visionaries and her goal is pretty much to make your life difficult. She is your rival and your biggest confidant at the same time and she is a huge spanner when it comes to well-laid plans. At any time during the game, Julianna could come after you. If that occurs, you can no longer escape the level without hacking a certain terminal, a terminal that Julianna uses as bait. She will be waiting for you and each time she is equipped with different weapons and special abilities, so it is always a unique battle. Succeed and your rewards are great, fail and it is back to the start of the day. It is a wonderful system that adds a huge amount of suspense to proceedings, the constant threat of her arrival is something that hangs over your every step. The multiplayer mode allows for people to take the role of Julianna as their own, invading friends games and messing up their runs in interesting and quite unusual ways. This makes for quite the fun mode, though not one I would recommend trying with those you don’t know.
During each run, you collect weapons, powers and boosts that you lose when you die or complete the day. That is until you research an element called Retainium. Once you have the knowledge of Retainium you can collect it during your runs and use it to infuse your weapons and powers, allowing you to keep them after the day is over. As time goes on you begin to amass a large collection of special powers and death-dealing guns, allowing you to mix up your load-outs to suit your upcoming goals and desired playstyle. Speaking of playstyles, the moment-to-moment gameplay is very much of the Arkane DNA. Combat, though more action-oriented than Dishonored, feels very familiar and some of the powers are almost straight copies from previous Arkane games. In fact, it took me a little while to realise I didn’t have to play Deathloop like Dishonored. Stealth, while still a valid option, is not always the best way to go here and a more guns-blazing approach is often more appropriate depending on the situation. A bit of strategy is usually the best way to go, combining stealth, shooting and the use of traps and turrets into your approach, ensures you have all bases covered when you approach vital moments in the game.
Technology-wise this is perhaps the first game I have played that I feel really uses the potential of the PS5 hardware. Other games, like Ratchet and Clank, have come close, but Deathloop really uses all of the system’s bells and whistles to give a wonderfully immersive experience. There are two ways to play, a performance mode which is 60fps or a quality mode which is 30fps but with ray-tracing, the latter of which I chose as my preference. The use of the haptic triggers on the controller feels just right without being invasive and it has the best use of the controller speaker I have ever seen in a Playstation game. What’s more is each of these features are used to enhance the experience, not just to tick a box on a features list.
The whole Deathloop experience is one that has been extensively curated by Arkane, with just about every possible feature, trick, exploit and pitfall having been considered. Often you hear developer’s say that they are surprised about what people can do in their games, how they can do things they never even thought of. In the case of Deathloop it very much feels very much the opposite, that Arkane knows what you can do and how you can do it. Their goal is to give you a playground to take their toys, their tech and their tricks and solve one of the more intriguing mysteries in recent video game history. Deathloop is a unique joy. A game that may not hit for some, especially those who didn’t like the feel of previous Arkane titles, but for those it does click with, I expect it to become a title that is talked about, replayed and savoured for years to come. Simply put, Deathloop is a triumph of subverting and exceeding expectations and I can’t congratulate Arkane enough on this achievement.
Deathloop was reviewed on the PS5 with code kindly supplied by Bethesda Australia