Over the course of the articles that I have written, I think I have made it abundantly clear how much I love Arkane Studios and the games they make. Divided between two studios in Lyon, France, led by Dinka Bakaba, and Austin, Texas, led by Harvey Smith, Arkane Studios are masters of the immersive-sim genre and develop games that are smart and let players explore and find solutions on their own without much hand holding. They entered the picture a long time ago, back in 1999, but made a name for themselves with their game “Dishonored” back in 2012. “Dishonored,” if you haven’t played it, by the way, should be checked out as soon as you can, as it is one of the best first-person immersive stealth action games that has ever been made. They followed up on it in 2016 with “Dishonored 2,” which we have a review of on our website, and in 2017, they released the reboot of “Prey,” their best game to date and one of the most underrated games I have ever played. Each new game is better than the last and tries to do something new while expanding the immersive-sim genre as a whole.
They announced their new project, “Deathloop,” in 2019 with a CGI trailer and no other information. They announced that it’d be an immersive sim just like their other games and would take place in a time loop. To say it piqued my interest would be an understatement. Fast forward a year, and they started showing off the game more and talking more about it. It took heavy inspiration from “Dishonored” and tried building on top of that by dropping you on a map where you were free to run around and find ways to kill your targets, eight visionaries, in this case, to end the loop. It was a fast-paced first-person shooter this time, with crazy guns and powers that you could use. Don’t worry; stealth was and is still a major part of the game like it was in “Dishonored” and “Prey,” but this game was more action-centric this time. That’s the beauty of immersive simulations and Arkane games in particular, though—you can play them however you want, and “Deathloop” is no exception to that formula.
The game came out on 14th September 2021 as a one-year PlayStation 5 console exclusive alongside the PC and was released on Xbox Series X|S on 21st September 2022. This game doesn’t need a section dedicated to the plot or premise, so let’s quickly take a look at that before we move on to other departments. You play as Colt, the head of security for Blackreef Island, and wake up on a beach with a massive headache and no memory of who you are, why you are there, or where you are. Upon gaining consciousness, you see text floating in thin air telling you where to go and what to do, piece by piece. You reach a locked door, and it tells you that you know the password despite you not knowing it. Once you find the password, you move on and end up in a building, as per Julianna’s request, without knowing who she is, despite announcing via the PA system that she and everyone on the island are out to kill you. You try to talk to her and understand what’s happening, but she is hellbent on ending your life, and it seems like she has done this countless times before. She throws you off a cliff, and you are saved by yourself, as your other self quickly explains a little bit of what’s happening Juliana shows up and shoots him in the head, and you fall to your death and wake up back at the same beach. Now you possess the knowledge of what happened the last time, and you also have a radio on your person that Julianna feeds you information on while berating you a lot. It seems like she knows you very well, while you have no idea who she is or why she’s trying to kill you. That’s the mystery of the game, and that’s “Deathloop.”
In short, you are plopped on an island called Blackreef where everyone wants you dead, and you have to figure out what’s happening and kill eight visionaries in a single loop to put an end to this. Interesting, isn’t it? That’s the basic plot for the game, and the rest you can figure out on your own. Let’s take a look at the gameplay and other stuff and see what makes “Deathloop” worth playing, shall we?
As mentioned, “Deathloop” is an immersive first-person sim that features very fast gunplay and movement and open-ended gameplay when it comes to exploration and execution. You can use a variety of guns, from pistols to shotguns to repeaters and more, each having a unique look and packing a meaty punch. You can carry up to three guns and two slabs (more on that in a bit), which adds variety to how you tackle scenarios and adds depth. The combat here is very responsive and brutal, extremely brutal, with Colt snapping people’s necks, stabbing them through their heads, and blowing their limbs off. It’s oddly satisfying. The guns not only look one of a kind but function that way too. Despite the archetype, the guns in this game feel nothing like similar guns in other games, and that’s not something I can explain through writing; you’ll have to see it to understand what I am talking about.
Alongside your guns, you can use weird powers called slabs. These function pretty much exactly as the powers from “Dishonored,” with varying degrees of usability, of course. You start with a slab called “reprise,” which lets you die two extra times before the loop restarts, and this one stays with Colt throughout the game. All the other slabs can be unlocked by killing visionaries and picking them up from their bodies, and they are quite fun and unique in their usage. For instance, you can acquire a slab called “shift” by killing a visionary, which allows you to teleport short distances, while you can acquire a slab called “aether” by killing another visionary, which lets you turn invisible. These powers are really fun, and with 8 of them available where you are only allowed to carry 2 (plus reprise) at any given time, they allow you to experiment and try different ones in pairs to see which playstyle suits you the best. Whether it’s guns or slabs, the options that “Deathloop” throws at you and allows you to mix and match them and blend your own cocktail are very commendable and very fun to try.
Every time you die, you leave something called a residuum behind that you must go back and pick up. Residuum acts somewhat like a currency that you can use to affix certain weapons and slabs you find that you may want to use after this loop ends. In short, you use residuum to carry your gear forward with you into your next loop instead of scavenging for it once again. Speaking of the loop, Blackreef is divided into four districts, namely Updaam, Carl’s Bay, Fristad Rock, and The Complex, with each area taking heavy inspiration from the 1930s and 1940s architecture and being densely packed with buildings to sneak into crowded streets. Despite it being a time loop game, time only moves forward in “Deathloop” when you move between the districts and is divided between morning, noon, afternoon, and evening. Your job is to gather information across the districts, create opportunities, and find ways to kill all eight visionaries in a single loop titled “The Golden Loop.”
There is a twist to all this frantic action, though; remember Juliana? You have to kill her too, but she isn’t a normal visionary, as she can be controlled by an actual player who can invade your game at any time and make your life a living hell. From the menu, you can choose to “break the loop,” which gives you control of Colt, or you can “protect the loop,” which gives you control of Juliana in another player’s game, seamlessly blending the lines between PvE and PvP. You can turn this off from the options menu, but it’s a very fun gameplay mechanic, albeit a little undercooked, as at a moment’s notice, your game can go from a slaughterfest to an intense game of cat and mouse where both players try to play hide and seek and outsmart each other. A very nice concept that could’ve used a little more time in the oven, but it is fun regardless. Juliana can be anywhere and disguise herself as other NPCs, so always be on the lookout for her. You’ll know when she is hunting you because you’ll hear a loud siren or chant of sorts when she is looking for you.
Overall, the gameplay for “Deathloop” is very well-balanced and designed and asks players to use their wits and find ways to tackle situations as they see fit. The “play your way” philosophy that Arkane is known for is on full display here, and although they cut some corners and simplified a few things here, the running, gunning, and searching for clues gameplay of “Deathloop” is as chaotic as it is fun and never gets old.
The Technical Stuff
On consoles, the game offers a 60 fps mode, a 4K raytracing mode, and a performance 120 fps mode, all of which run well. It’s not a game that’ll blow you away with its visuals, but the Void Engine powering this game is capable of rendering gorgeous visuals that look like they were ripped straight from a painting with incredible lighting and detailed texture work. The sound design is top-notch, and the voice acting is some of the best I have ever heard. There’s a lot of humor in this game, and the way the lines are written and delivered makes you feel like these characters are real and not just reading off a script. There’s a ton of believability in the line reading here, and it’s very welcoming and fun to listen to. The music also deserves praise, with jazz tracks and themes strewn across the game that include original songs that are groovy and fun to listen to and sit in my playlist. Guns sound like they look as they should, and almost everything you interact with in the environment makes a sound, be it stepping on shattered glass or the loud thuds when running on floors made of wood, and why shouldn’t they? Arkane is known for its AI that responds to sight and sound, so the sounds have to be the best they can be.
Speaking of the AI, that’s the one thing in this game that could’ve been better, a lot better, may I add. The AI here is just dumb and uses no tactics to surround or swarm Colt; it just brainlessly charges toward him, one by one, making it easy to pick them off. It could be a design choice, as the number of people you face at any given time can get out of hand, but it still doesn’t change the fact that if you alert one person isolated in a corner and all of a sudden everyone in a 5-mile radius will know your exact location and come charging at you. The AI here is bad. Despite its hindrances, “Deathloop” is a well-made game with pretty visuals, incredible sound and voice work, and stable performance, at least in my experience. It could’ve been a lot better in a lot of ways, but what we got isn’t half bad, and I can’t complain too much about it, in all honesty. Call it my bias for Arkane games, if you must.
“Deathloop” is a game about information. The more information you have, the more powerful you become. It’s a game about getting to the bottom of a mystery while wrecking everyone standing in your way. It’s a game that asks you to understand it and then execute things as you see fit instead of telling you exactly what to do and how to do it. Most importantly, it’s a fast-paced first-person shooter with crazy fun gameplay that allows experimentation and shows us a different, more restrictive side of the immersive-sim genre, all while being stuck inside a time loop where time doesn’t organically move. For a lot of people, “Deathloop” is Arkane’s weakest game, and despite the game being really good, it doesn’t deserve all the praise it got upon its release. I am not one of those people. For me, “Deathloop” is a new type of game from Arkane where they tried a new spin on the immersive-sim genre while sticking to their roots. It’s a perfect entry point for new players who are not acquainted with this genre while also giving old players a bone to chew. The story is interesting here, and the gameplay is very fun. Despite its few minor shortcomings, “Deathloop” is one of the finest games Arkane Studios has crafted. It may not be as immersive as “Prey” or as wild as “Dishonored,” but it is its own thing, and I thoroughly loved what they did here. I can hardly wait to see how they take their expertise and use it in a full-blown open world when “Redfall” arrives next year. Despite tending to niches, I am happy that “Deathloop” got more mainstream attention, as Arkane Studios deserves all the love it can get for being one of the most talented studios in the industry.