If you ask a poor man, he will tell you that money is power. But if you ask a rich man, he will tell you that real power lies in information. Some of the biggest politicians and influential people thrive on knowledge. Knowledge allows control, and control is what makes the world move. The action-adventure game Deathloop by Arkane runs on this philosophy. Since information is your only way to accomplish the mission, with 8 visionaries you have to kill in the same time loop. With this idea as the main mechanism, Arkane Studios presents a well-crafted story that manages to combine elements from different game genres to create something new, unique and fun. Deathloop is not only a great game, but also the best Arkane game.
You play a character named Colt Vaughn, who wakes up on the shore of Blackriff Island without remembering who he is and what he’s doing there. Soon she’ll meet (and stabbed) Juliana Blake, an islander who seems to have one goal in life: to kill you. And the funny joke between Colt and Julianna serves as a perfect alternative to telling you all about what’s going on out there.
It turns out that Colt is stuck in a manufactured time loop, where the same day repeats endlessly. Blackrift Island is ruled by the eight prescientists who simply want to live the same day forever, in order to remain immortal. Of course Colt finds the idea too stupid and wants to get out, and soon discovers that the only way to break the cycle is to kill all the prescient in one day. This is where your hunt begins.
But gathering insights in one place to kill them may not be as easy as you expect. Each prescient person lives in a different part of the island and is fully aware of the mortal danger if they get together in case someone like Colt decides to round them up and shoot them.
This single day in Blackriff is divided into four different time periods: morning, noon, afternoon and evening. Reaching any of the Big Four Blackriff counties and back again moves time forward by one period. This complicates matters a bit because insights are only available at certain times of the day at their exact location. As a player, you will have to find clues and information to not only know where the prescientists are, and how to kill them, but also how to gather them in one day to break the cycle.
Blakereve Island is designed with a retro-future inspired by the 1960s, with each area having its own sparkle. Arkane offers a strange and intriguing place to explore, from a large city center hosting a massive party, to a vast research station near the coast, to a mansion that has been converted into a video game stage. You can choose to visit the counties at any time of the day, and every piece of information you learn stays with you from episode to episode, allowing you to collect all the pieces of the murder mystery.
So going sightseeing and exploring every nook and cranny on the island is a must. The game guides you to your goal, but you’ll soon find yourself in trouble if you try to hunt down any of the prescientists without knowing more about them. Arkane’s strong point has always been its fondness for stage design and environmental narrative, and Deathloop is rich in visual lines that convey the mood of the game as well as informing you about how BlackCrave has evolved since it all began. Each area branched out like a tree, with multiple paths to each setting, some heavily guarded, others littered with booby traps and mines, and some deserted.
The most interesting aspect about the regions is that they change, sometimes drastically, depending on the time of day you visit them. For example, Fristad Rock, which hosts a massive party for everyone, may be lightly guarded during the afternoon, but teeming with enemies and traps at night. The same goes for the Complex area, which houses the power plant that keeps the time loop running, completely empty in the afternoon, but overrun with enemies at any other time of the day. Depending on when you visit them, you may also find certain off-limits and open roads, forcing you to keep the gameplay open for any unwanted contingencies in your grand plan.
Gathering information is also a challenge, as it may or may not be present depending on the time of day you visit the area. In one case, Juliana leaves a locked safe in the library only during the morning, but the password can be found in another area in the evening. You will have to go back and forth between different time periods to solve any given puzzle, and you will have to carefully arrange your objectives throughout the day before the day ends and the time loop restarts.
Deathloop, on the other hand, is all about multiple choices, giving you enough space to uncover targets and tackle them in your own way. You can completely ignore a piece of information if you think you can achieve the goal in some other way. For example, a prescient in a secure dormitory can be killed by sneaking up on him from a hidden passage below a nearby dormitory (which you must find the access code for elsewhere), or you can simply walk away and eliminate all enemies and put yourself directly in front of completing the objective. But it should be said that this is not always the case, sometimes the game forces you to take a certain path that you do not seem to be able to pass any other way. Without burning you too much, there is a certain prescient who can apparently be killed only by one of his personal items. This was part of a goal that involved several steps to achieve, and required several leaps of time to achieve it.
Deathloop doesn’t offer as much of an open ending as the Hitman series I had hoped, and it takes a bigger part in solving the murder mystery than I would have liked. This manifests itself when the ways to kill all the prescient are revealed in one episode. The game shows you exactly how you can now take out prescientists with a straightforward step-by-step process, rather than having players discover it for themselves. Of course this would have made the game a lot more challenging, especially given how information-dense the Deathloop is, but I wish I had plotted the timeline myself and “decoded” rather than being given it.
The information is great, but the weapons are even cooler
Deathloop can be played in stealth style, or you can shoot enemies and create a great battle as you progress. The game gives you enough tools to take either style, or create a character who does both styles well.
During your exploration of Blackriff Island, you will encounter trinkets that are either found throughout the environment or fall from slain enemies. Ornaments add abilities ranging from improving overall accuracy, increasing movement speed when bending, inflicting more headshot damage, reducing penetration time for machines and turrets, to increasing your overall health and strength.
Speaking of strength, here are the similarities with Dishonored. Powers can be drawn from vanquished presbyters in the form of a tablet. There are five boards to collect: the Shift board, which lets you teleport over short distances (much like Blink’s ability in Dishonored), and the Nexus, which lets you link the fate of one person to another (or multiple people together) ), allowing you to commit mass killing with a single tap of the trigger, Aether, which makes you invisible for a short time, Karnesis, which lets you capture enemies and throw them into the air, and Havoc, which gives you a higher defense and more of damage as long as your power lasts, helping you to eliminate enemies easily. Each board can be upgraded by killing the Presbyters again (and another) and picking up the falling boards from them.
Upgrades don’t change the power in substantial ways, but they do give you a helping hand in making it somewhat more effective in your playstyle. Upgrading the Shift pad allows you to teleport to greater distances, which will be an important element if you want to sneak in and gain an edge. Whereas, the Nexus upgrade will automatically seek out other enemies to connect with, making your task a little easier to hunt down enemies hidden from view.
Finally there are the weapons. Both weapons and trinkets can be found in different quality levels (gray, blue, purple) each giving you a higher quality arsenal that is more effective. In terms of guns, they range from simple, Uzis and shotguns, to pistols that emit a gas cloud that can then be ignited into a fireball, or double pistols that can be linked into a high-powered shotgun. You’ll want to avoid gray weapons altogether, as they tend to get stuck at random moments, which isn’t something you want to happen when you’re arranging that perfect shot, or in the middle of a fierce gunfight. Not only do high-quality guns offer better performance, but they also carry unique features that add another layer to your playstyle.
A gun may have a higher reload speed, while the same weapon elsewhere may have more stopping power or give you strength bonuses on damage. My favorite weapon was the short range uzi, which I upgraded to give better performance at longer distances and have a higher reload speed, which gave me health every time I killed someone. And of course I stuck with it throughout the game because it really helped me when things got tough.
Colt is a very fragile character, and as such you will die easily if you are not careful. And with the time-loop mechanism that allows the game to place roguelike elements, surviving will immediately be your top priority. Fortunately, and unlike Returnal, which strips you of your progress entirely, Deathloop is less punitive. Early in the game you are given a permanent board called Reprise which allows you to die three times before restarting the whole day. You can also keep various upgrades for your boards, trinkets, and weapons by spending the Residuum (Relics) on them, which can be obtained from certain items or from slain visionaries. The items you spent Relics on will stay with you in each episode, preserving your character’s structure even if you have to repeat the kill again.
But even though the game is very forgiving in terms of its roguelike elements, the fear of losing your progress to death hovers over you very hard, especially at the end when you try to kill all the prescient in one episode. Deathloop made me use my Dishonored gameplay, which means sneaking from room to room and taking out enemies with a silencer pistol, finding a better observation post whenever I can to keep all possibilities in front of me.
However, even with my character’s stealthy build, I kept enough firepower in my pocket to handle unexpected situations caused by an enemy with inconsistent AI not because I chose it. In the twenty hours I spent in the game, I could never understand when and how far the enemy could spot me. Sometimes I could get away without anyone noticing, while other times they would spot me even when I was perfectly hidden. Provoking a single enemy means alerting the entire crowd from within and around the area, which requires me to either run quickly and hide (which wasn’t always possible because enemies kept finding me anyway), or to confront them head-on, which is more convenient for a person impatient like me. Deathloop doesn’t punish you for committing bouts of mass murder, in fact it encourages you to, and if you’re creative enough with trinkets and boards, you can do some pretty impressive kills.
Inconsistent AI is one of the reasons I describe Deathloop as more action-oriented than Dishonored ever did. You can choose to go undercover but most of the time you will find yourself having to fight, and the game requires you to be prepared. To make matters worse, Juliana will constantly infiltrate your game and actively hunt you down and alert nearby enemies to your presence. Defeating them always requires massive amounts of gunfire, which means making loud noises, which ultimately leads to the failure of your grand plan of infiltration.
I feel a struggle between whether I like Juliana in the middle of my game or not. On the one hand, I enjoyed the challenge, and the moments of “ahhh, damn” every time the game alerted me to its presence. On the other hand, it made it even more difficult for me to stick to my favorite style of play. The plus is that it leaves excellent loot when defeated, including board upgrades so you don’t have to kill prescients again (and another).
But there is a problem with Juliana. They can be controlled either by artificial intelligence, or by another human player (if you leave this option enabled). Deathloop includes an online bonus as a gift, which allows you to play as Juliana and hack into your friend’s game or a random person’s game. Here you can continue her thirst for Colt’s blood by disrupting his plans, attacking him and alerting enemies to his presence. There are no roguelike elements here, and you don’t have three lives to depend on. You will have to survive as much as Colt and make him suffer as much as possible. You can level up by achieving certain objectives (like surviving for 3 minutes, killing a Colt with a grenade, etc.), and gaining two boards from the start: Shift and Masquerade, allowing you to pose as the enemy in order to blend in. I haven’t been able to play much of the online mode as there are only a few players playing before the release, but on the other hand, I don’t see myself coming back for more of this mode because it’s a lot less exciting than playing as Colt and revealing more Blackrift secrets.
Bursting with clever ideas with a powerful world design, Deathloop offers something very different and unique. The inconsistent AI issues seem like a negligible obstacle to a passionate adventure that uses various elements such as time loop, roguelike elements and the RPG loot progression system, and combines them into a very smooth and fun experience. Arkane rarely gets it wrong, and Deathloop is one of her very successful hits.