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Deathloop Hands-Off Demo Impressions: The Circle of Death

If at first you don't succeed... die, die again

by Joshua Garibay

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Arkane continues to leave its mark on the gaming scene in a major way by enabling player freedom to thrive in their games. The unrestricted design of their past titles, Dishonored and Prey, allowed player input to take on a wide variety of creative forms. Arkane is all about ensuring their digital experiences respond in unique and interesting ways regardless of how straightforward or unorthodox the player’s approach. Deathloop is the evolution of this ideology, borrowing heavily from Dishonored’s mechanics and meshing it with a refined take on Prey’s roguelike Mooncrash DLC.

Deathloop is a zany first-person murder puzzle wrapped up in sci-fi 60’s aesthetics that boasts Arkane’s signature style through and through. The protagonist, Colt, is having a bad bout of amnesia alongside a repetitive Groundhog Day-esque episode. Having woken up on the mysterious Blackreef island without his memories to aid him, Colt arms himself and sets out to eliminate the eight Visionaries inhabiting the island in pursuit of ending the time loop that keeps resetting the same day. However, the either AI or player-controlled Julianna (another of the Visionaries) is out hunting Colt to thwart his efforts and preserve the time loop.

In a hands-off demo preview, which was captured on PS5, we were shown a brief overview of Colt’s journey from a confused, feeble character to a “superpowered John Wick,” as Game Director Dinga Bakaba called him. That much became clear as Colt’s early moments were spent slowly navigating one of Blackreef’s four districts with a trusty machete and rusty gun, the latter of which had a tendency to jam. Later on, the full suite of Colt’s gained powers were on display, as he effortlessly teleported between vantage points using Shift and flung foes around like ragdolls with a flick of his wrist, courtesy of Karnesis. Each run in Deathloop serves to build Colt up on his rise to power, whether that comes from learning how to break Blackreef’s rules, gathering a formidable arsenal of exciting weaponry, or simply obtaining new intel for a successive attempt.

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Deathloop is all about ensuring that there’s a feeling of progression between loops, even if that only comes in the form of knowledge gained. Investigations play a large role here, meaning knowledge is key. In our demo, Colt was on the hunt for Aleksis “The Wolf” Dorsey, one of the island’s Visionaries. In order to hunt the target, Colt needed to gain information on his whereabouts. Aleksis can be in a completely different area depending on if the mission is undertaken in the morning, noon, afternoon, or evening time period. To add an extra layer of complexity, Aleksis’ identity was covered by a mask, making him indistinguishable from other nearby NPCs on a visual level. Recon was necessary to pinpoint the right guy.

Of course, players can go in guns blazing, killing every character in sight, if they wish. You don’t have to worry about properly identifying the target if you massacre the entire map. This is a viable albeit highly difficult option. Our demo showed how poorly this approach played out for our underprepared protagonist. Here, a Souls-like system emerged where Colt’s essence remained at his point of death. Collected resources, such as Residuum, could be regained if Colt returned to the site of his demise.

Thanks to the Reprise power, which allows two respawns before the day resets, the current attempt continued and took a more thoughtful approach. By listening in on NPC conversations and uncovering an audio log recorded by Aleksis himself, Colt learned of where the main man would be and a secret, alternate route to get to him with little resistance. Upon closing in on the target, Julianna broadcasted on the radio to taunt Colt. She will appear as Colt nears his objectives. Using the details found throughout the level, Colt was able to sneak into Aleksis’ speech and stealthily open a trap door, sending the wolf-masked man plummeting into a bloody grinder. As far as assassinations go, it was smooth. It’s too bad Julianna set up across the street, perched in a window with a sniper rifle, awaiting Colt’s attempted escape. As Colt entered the crosshairs, the demo concluded.

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Even once the gameplay demo ended, there was so much to digest. Seeing days repeat and items lost painted a bleak picture for Colt. But progression beyond certain points allowed Colt to effectively break the rules of the looping world and maintain his abilities, weapons, and perk-like Trinkets after death. The punishing roguelike took a turn towards an eccentric action RPG. The goal was no longer to get as much done before it’s all lost in vain, but rather to explore, analyze and understand the connections and routines of the Visionaries until the components of the perfect loop run revealed themselves. How many loops it will take to piece together the final, correct run will change drastically between players.

Everything I have outlined pertains to Colt, but Julianna is player-controlled, too. At least, she is for those that leave their games open to the PvP invasion. Those playing Julianna will have their own abilities and challenges to make their counter objectives exciting. However, Arkane is not fully pulling back the curtain on the antagonist just yet. More information on the most formidable of the Visionaries will be shared in the coming months. And we will be sure to have those details for you the moment they drop.

Deathloop will release on PC and PlayStation 5 on September 14th, 2021.

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