Deathloop, put plainly, is a really fun game. It manages to overcome many of the issues that befell the Dishonored franchise while also managing to maintain its own sense of style and substance which make it uniquely itself. However, it is also far from a perfect game. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed by aspects of the experience and there is quite a bit that Arkane could and should improve on in future patches… but all the same, I cannot help but love this game with the giddiness of someone who loves Arkane Studios just that little bit too much.
Deathloop follows Colt, one of the many people caught in the Blackreef anomaly which causes each day to repeat over and over but one of only two who can seem to remember each “day” to the next. The game begins with Colt having conveniently forgotten everything — which is apparently a regular occurrence if Julianna is to be believed — and its signature gimmick is that, at the end of each day cycle, you reset to the beginning and lose any weapons you accrued over your time running around Blackreef. There is a way to eventually keep these weapons, trinkets and Slabs but Residum, the material needed to maintain them, is somewhat a scarce commodity and easy enough to lose.
This concept, though somewhat hard to initially wrap your head around, is actually an ingenious play by the developer. There are four key locations on Blackreef — Updaam, the Complex, Fristad Rock and Karl’s Bay. It sounds scarce, but each location changes slightly with the time of day, leaving each area feeling fresh and unexplored, and the level design itself is intricate and engaging.
While Dishonored suffered from having areas that were supposed to be freeing but often ended up being too large and tedious to evoke proper exploration, Deathloop narrows its scope just enough to make every room and detail feel vital to progression. Whether it’s how Charlie’s games and puzzles only pop up at certain times of day, how the Eternalists progressively get drunker and more chaotic as the day moves along or how certain Visionaries can be drawn out of hiding with the right information, Arkane has imbued Deathloop’s level design with sophistication and detail that never leaves you feeling bored.
Visually, the game also boasts an amazing aesthetic. Sitting somewhere between We Happy Few and Dishonored, Deathloop’s environments are bursting with colour and style. The game is set sometime in the ‘60s and you can see that setting through the furniture, enemy costuming and architecture. Blackreef is never ugly to look at, although Fristad Rock and the Complex do suffer from being the least visually interesting from one time of day to the next. Character design and costuming also perfectly reflects each Visionary’s personality: Fia surrounds herself in colour as the resident art director; Egor wears a Steve Jobs style turtleneck to reflect his CEO status at AEON; and Harriet’s bowl-cut further cements her downright cult-like beliefs in the anomaly’s “rebirth”. The aesthetic fundamentally serves the world-building rather than feeling like a simple set-piece, which is a signature trick that Arkane has carried over from both Dishonored and Prey.
A secondary hook of the game is Julianna, Colt’s mysterious rival. Story-wise, Colt and Julianna seem to have a feud going on that’s lasted a while but in terms of multiplayer, Julianna acts as a method for other players to invade your game and actively try to ruin your run. From a multiplayer stand-point, Julianna works…fine? While the tension of having an enemy invade your game and potentially ruin the run that you may have spent hours on is palpable at first, it is a trick that quickly wears off the further you get into the game. One of the only reasons I kept multiplayer on for so long was that the majority of Juliannas I ran into were quite easily dispatched and were likely to drop useful guns or Slab upgrades that I hadn’t acquired yet. Combined with the fact that the Australian servers are a relative ghost town due to the lack of PlayStation 5s in circulation, Arkane really has a long way to go in terms of making this interesting.
This is not to say that Julianna is all bad news. One of the highlights of this game is the voice acting work by Jason E. Kelley as Colt and Ozioma Akagha as Julianna. The pair of them ooze charm, vulgarity and insanity. It’s a joy to hear them banter and bounce off one another, which you will regularly be hearing at the start of each mission segment. This is another part of Deathloop’s world-building — it feeds you the narrative bit-by-bit as you follow Visionary leads to try and figure out how to eliminate all of the key targets in one day. Most of the info you find is contained in audio logs, diary entries and notes lying around certain locations. Certain bits of information and access to locations will also only be available at certain times of the day, forcing you to find something else to do until you can come back to it. The freedom to unravel the story as you pleased was incredibly freeing and engaging but admittedly, this method of storytelling isn’t for everyone: my fiancé got quite overwhelmed with the sheer amount of stuff to do after completing the lengthy tutorial and just put the game down.
This comes back to another issue Deathloop has for certain players: a very sudden and steep learning curve. Deathloop throws about sixty pages worth of tutorial at you in the first hour alone and it feels like a slap in the face on a cold morning. You will be confused for the first few hours of your run and even after that, there will be sections that will completely stump you on what you should be doing. One segment of Fia’s questline in particular was very poorly articulated and I spent nearly an hour fumbling around her compound trying to figure out what to do. This really gets in the way with what I would consider Deathloop’s greatest strength: the fluidity of its gunplay and combat.
Arkane essentially eliminated Dishonored’s core issue, which was having a morality meter which actively discouraged you from killing and engaging with all the cool gadgets laid out in front of you. Deathloop has no such predilections and you really get an amazing sense of energy, movement and ingenuity in this game. This is only somewhat dampened by the lacklustre enemy AI, which often clump together in one space that can easily be exploded or run at you one-by-one like a bunch of chumps. Even the Visionaries seem to move in illogical ways which can be somewhat immersion-breaking, but I would be severely underselling Deathloop’s combat if I didn’t emphasise how much fun it actually is; it feels incredibly natural to this game and you’ll no doubt have plenty of fun blasting your way through levels while on the way to find some story.
Ultimately, Deathloop is a great game with fantastic combat, amazing voice acting, a delectable aesthetic and a slow-burn story but to say that there are no issues would be an outright lie. If you’re looking for a fun new campaign to solve like a jigsaw puzzle and are willing to ignore poor AI and messy multiplayer, then this one is certainly for you.
It does have a couple of significant issues, but Deathloop packages a delectable aesthetic and slow-burn story with brilliant gameplay mechanics and voice acting to deliver a great game that’s well worth your time.
Kate reviewed Deathloop using a PlayStation 5 code purchased at retail.