Arkane's time loop murder puzzle is a great time.
There sure have been a lot of time loop games recently, huh? This year alone we’ve gotten 12 Minutes, The Forgotten City, Returnal, and now Deathloop. It feels like we’ve been seeing Deathloop trailers for forever at this point, but now that the game is in our hands, how does it hold up? Deathloop has that Arkane flair that everyone was expecting it to have, but the studio really went above and beyond with this game.
Deathloop is a first-person shooter from Arkane Studios, the developer behind the acclaimed Dishonored series. You play as Colt, a man stuck in a time loop on a mysterious island called Blackreef. The only chance Colt has of breaking the loop is to kill eight specific targets called Visionaries before the day ends and everything starts all over from the beginning. It’s a lot more complicated than it sounds, especially because he’s also being hunted by a rival assassin named Julianna the whole time. Solving this murder puzzle is the core of Deathloop, but it isn’t as simple as running and gunning through Blackreef until you find the right people.
Because of the whole time loop thing, you can only visit so many places during the day. Each loop is split into four parts: morning, noon, afternoon, and evening. That means you can only go on four missions each day. With four missions and eight targets, you’re going to have to get creative with your approach. You also get three lives during a loop, after which you’ll be sent back to the beginning of the day. Revisiting areas, learning schedules, and discovering new information are key to solving the puzzle.
There are only four playable locations on Blackreef, but they change depending on the time of day you visit them. This is the most interesting piece of the puzzle. Places feel very different in the morning versus the evening, and taking care of something earlier in the day can have ripple effects throughout the rest of the loop. For example, one of the Visionaries throws a party every evening in a region called Updaam. Some of the other Visionaries are too busy to attend, unless Colt frees up their schedules by sabotaging their work earlier in the day. Little things like that can cause multiple Visionaries to end up in the same place at the same time, bringing you one step closer to killing all eight in a single loop.
Of course, all four locations feel unique because of Arkane’s level design prowess. These are the Dishonored devs, and it really shows. Updaam is the most Dishonored-like level with windows to climb through and rooftops to sneak across, but all four levels are a joy to explore. You can really see a lot of Dishonored’s DNA in Deathloop, but it still feels fresh thanks to its unique style. The decision to make each level smaller but with different variations depending on the time of day is brilliant. There’s no wasted space, and you can get familiar with layouts and shortcuts very quickly.
You’re not going to break the loop on your first try, but you don’t have to start fresh every day either. You can carry over weapons and abilities between loops by infusing them with a currency called Residuum. You can harvest Residuum from certain items found throughout levels, but most of your Residuum is going to come from slain Visionaries. At the end of a loop, you can spend whatever Residuum you have to permanently add something to your arsenal. The game isn’t stingy with Residuum and you can find some pretty great weapons early in the game, so I had a solid range of weapons and powers at my disposal after just a few loops.
While I went into Deathloop expecting top-notch level design and a beautiful world to explore, I wasn’t expecting to be hooked by its story and characters. Discovering the truth of the time loop and learning more about the Visionaries is interesting, but Colt and Julianna are the heart of the story. They have a much friendlier rivalry than I was expecting. Even though Julianna is constantly trying to kill Colt, the two are really playful and flirty with each other. They recognize that the stakes aren’t really that high since death just means they get to do this all over again tomorrow, so they have some fun with it.
Julianna is much more present in the story than I thought she would be too. She calls Colt at the start of every level and will comment on your actions when you reach certain parts of the story. Most of the time she’ll just tease Colt, but other times she’ll casually drop really important plot-relevant information on a whim. She’s a fascinating character, and learning more about the dynamic between her and Colt is easily one of the best things about Deathloop.
Julianna is also part of the game’s most interesting mechanic: invasions. Julianna can appear at any point during a loop to try and kill you, but she can be controlled by another player if you’re playing online. When she appears, Colt is unable to leave the area until he hacks a special device, trapping the pair in a cage match. The game doesn’t tell you where either player is, so it’s a tense game of cat and mouse. Julianna typically won’t end your run because the odds are skewed in Colt’s favor because he has three lives and she has one, but she can absolutely screw up your plans.
I thought PvP invasions would ruin the experience, but they’re actually one of the best parts of Deathloop. They really make you appreciate Arkane’s brilliant level design even more, because each location not only has to function as an interesting single-player level, but also a somewhat balanced PvP arena as well. Also, both stealth and action are viable options for dealing with invaders. If you’re a stealthy player, you can just sneak over and hack the device, finish up your objective, and then leave without being seen. If you’re going in guns blazing, then you can take Julianna head-on. Invasions don’t feel tacked on. Instead, the whole game feels designed around them.
Playing as Julianna is a ton of fun, too. I only expected to do one or two invasions to test out the PvP for the purposes of this review, but I ended up sitting there for hours killing as many Colts as I could. I felt rewarded for all the time I put into single-player because I knew all the routes and objective locations to search. Every player plays differently because the game allows for so many different playstyles, so no two invasions feel the same. Do you place mines in a shortcut that you know most people will probably take? Do you wait on a rooftop with a sniper rifle until Colt walks into your crosshairs? Do you just run at him with a shotgun? There’s a ton of depth to Deathloop’s PvP mode, and I can’t wait to see the plans people come up with as Julianna.
Deathloop is just an all-around amazing game. The level design is great, as expected, but Arkane has really improved upon its formula in every way with this game. Whether you want to play this as a stealth game like Dishonored, play an action-packed first-person shooter, or just want to experience a great story, then Deathloop will accommodate you. Deathloop takes Arkane’s fantastic level design and world-building and adds an interesting story with great characters on top, leaving you in a time loop that you won’t want to break.
- This article was updated on September 13th, 2021
- Score: 4.5 / 5
- Available On: PC, PS5
- Published By: Bethesda Softworks
- Developed By: Arkane Studios
- Genre: First-Person Shooter
- US Release Date: September 14, 2021
- Reviewed On: PS5
- Quote: "Deathloop takes Arkane's fantastic level design and world building and adds an interesting story with great characters on top, leaving you in a time loop that you won't want to break."