There are infinite possibilities when it comes to opening a Deathloop review with a time joke. Tempting and potentially precise enough to offer an accurate taste of proceedings, well… these elements are the very fabric of Arkane’s latest foray into the rejuvenation of the first-person shooter genre. Yes, off the bat it brings me immense pleasure to confirm that Deathloop is worthy of every bit of praise coming its way. But in a year where hitmen and lone time-bending explorers are proving the worth of Sony’s ninth-generation titan, just how does Deathloop stack up?
Arkane sets the stakes pretty clearly from the get-go. You wake up as Colt Vahn. You’re stuck in a violent time-loop, where spaced-out hippies are out to guarantee your daily demise. A mysterious Bond-adjacent organization (AEON) and its fierce archivist, Julianna, are spearheading all efforts to make sure the island of Blackreef is your hellish, futurist purgatory. Oh, and if you want to escape, you’ve got to figure how to pull off the PERFECT day of pin-pointed assassination. One or two kills won’t cut it. Freedom awaits if the player can dispatch all eight Visionaries in one flawless day. This is a Christopher Nolan fanboy’s dream.
The initial introduction to Deathloop’s gameplay mechanics and various menu options can be a blazing blur of information. It’s a heck of a lot in a very short time. It is also worth noting the sparsity of accessibility options too. Thanks to Courtney Craven on Twitter, the sheer lack of meaningful implementations is sad to see in such a high-profile release. Hopefully, these issues are improved in future patches—but should have ideally appeared with Deathloop’s launch.
For someone living on infinite time, it all clicks with repetition as Colt and the player forge a path to freedom. Each loop begins with the option for planning, studying and, ultimately, calculated bloodshed. Surprisingly, the notion of preparing a loadout appears in Deathloop.
Combining the game’s secret weapon, a devasting kick, with superb weapons like the Tribunal handgun always leads to some of the most impactful, gutsy combat felt in recent years. Weapons like the Tribunal, in particular, are so delectable to use as silky handling and astounding sound design champion the best of Deathloop’s gunplay. The only thing that could have made Deathloop’s combat even stronger would have been the inclusion of an FOV slider.
Despite that minor setback, there are more than just a few basic weapon selections. Over the course of encountering Blackreef’s Visionaries, successfully defeating them allows the collection of supernatural abilities known as Slabs. Ranging from the Dishonored-inspired Shift ability or the immensely satisfying Karnesis ability, Colt can become a fairly formidable foe. Trinkets effectively act as perks, and there are plenty of dazzling combinations to experiment with.
And experiment you shall, as the art of practice-makes-perfect has never rung more true. What makes the consistency of repetition so palatable in Deathloop is the lack of attachment. This isn’t designed to evoke nail-biting consequences or devasting knock-on effects. Deathloop lets the player break the loop on their terms. Want to see how a certain area acts at a different time of day? Want to use silly abilities and unreal weapons to manipulate your unsuspecting enemies? Just what lies beyond a previously inaccessible area in the afternoon? Don’t wait for anyone to tell you—this is your game and your literal time to piece it together.
It really is fascinating how Deathloop’s central mystery can unfold. Talking to PLAY’s own Aaron Bayne recently, he was SO CLOSE to figuring out the perfect day. What really threw me through a loop, so to speak, is how different his day was unfolding. As someone that resorted to good old pen and paper to plan out my kills, I was eager to see if Aaron could achieve the same result via difficult means of progression.
Progression would have to wait though. I wouldn’t have pegged a multiplayer aspect as a winner for Arkane’s time-loop shooter but, incredibly, the “Protect The Loop” element of Deathloop is so damn fun. After a few connection issues here and there, I managed to invade poor Aaron’s game right at the start of his “perfect day” run. Just like the “Temporal Pincer Movement” detailed in Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, I could use my knowledge of the game to cancel out Aaron’s plans. Spawning into Karl’s Bay on this occasion, I made sure this area’s specific Visionary hadn’t met an explosive end.
Fortunately, I was just in time to foil Aaron’s assassination attempt. I’m sorry mate. Better luck next time. The multiplayer isn’t only a testament to the solid formula of Deathloop’s gameplay, but a testament to the world itself too.
Blackreef is split into various sub-sectors, each offering a majestically rendered iteration of an espionage-laden swinging 60s. While Deathloop may allow Colt to feel more like Connery or Moore-era Bond purely in gameplay, Arkane’s approach to the trappings of Colt’s world is far more likely to appease fans of Austin Powers—and that’s just fucking awesome. From the snowy S.P.E.C.T.R.E-influenced Complex area or the almost Wicker Man flavor of Karl’s Bay, each and every facet of Deathloop’s world is impeccable fleshed out right down to the food our characters digest. Seriously, Arkane is putting themselves in serious contention for some of gaming’s most deliciously depicted meals.
Throughout the eighteen or so hours that it took me to eagerly blast through Deathloop, I never once complained about revisiting each area, especially when one mission requires FOUR separate days to enact a single task. Every salt-infused shore or dilapidated underground base had new pieces of information to collect and fresh additions to the wider lore of Colt’s journey.
Of course, for all of Arkane’s technical wizardry, Deathloop absolutely lives and dies on its two central performances. Jason Kelley and Ozioma Akagha voice Colt and Julianna respectively, serving up two of the most memorable performances in recent memory. Bouncing off each other with the same feisty and infectious corny gusto that would make Rudy “Dolomite” Ray Moore proud, every interaction is as captivating as the last. Not every joke hits, but the effort for extra cheese is admirable as the pair’s relationship develops into unexpected scenarios.
It would be criminal not to mention to the Visionaries themselves either. Be it the raspy, whiskey scent of Ramblin’ Frank Spicer (Andrew Lewis Caldwell) to the narcissistic, hyperactivity of Aleksis “The Wolf” Dorsey (Michael Croner), each villain is carried out with perfection in their performance.
Deathloop is Arkane operating at the height of their powers, offering up a simpler remodeling of their past approaches in a stylish, refined package. Upheld by virtuous world design, punchy combat, and a thrilling spin on the current time-loop trend, Deathloop deserves its place in the echelons of first-person-shooter greatness.