Developed By: Arkane Lyon
Published By: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: PlayStation 5 & PC
Reviewed On: PS5
Deathloop comes from the highly acclaimed Arkane Studios responsible for the Dishonored series as well as the Prey reboot. The reason why I mentioned these two is due to how both games are highly regarded with excellent premises, highly adaptable, addictive gameplay as well as amazing replayability in seeing how to achieve the multi-layered objectives play out with different methods. I absolutely adore both games and when Deathloop was first announced I was just ready to jump in.
Thanks to the incredibly gracious folks over at Bethesda we were granted early review access and although it has not been a very smooth experience at times mostly because of minor bugs and performance issues it really grew on me the more I played it and I just ended up absolutely loving it.
This Time It’s Different
In case you haven’t been following what Deathloop is all about, players take control of Colt who wakes up not remembering anything and quickly discovers that he is stuck in a time loop on the island of Blackreef. As Colt players would then need to slowly rediscover who Colt is, why is there a time loop on Blackreef and why is everyone out to kill him. Constantly shadowed, taunted, and hunted by Juliana whose primary focus is protecting the loop, players discover that maybe the only way to stop the day from repeating itself is to kill eight targets before the restart.
Even though at the beginning it can feel like there is just too much information being handed down to the player, I was immediately hooked and as a whole absolutely loved how the game slowly unraveled its mysteries. In my opinion, part of the reason why games like Dishonored and Prey were excellent is that the storytelling was interwoven tightly into the carefully crafted gameplay where you can get as little or as much as you wanted out of it. With Deathloop I feel that it has been elevated even further as the entire game is a complex puzzle box. It is not meant to frustrate but to curate the journey that players will embark on with multiple strands and breadcrumbs that left me as a player wanting more each time.
The voicework and performances of Colt and the supporting characters are so well done and magnetic that I found it really hard not to enjoy every single line of dialogue that the game throws at me. The stand-out has to be the conversations between Colt and Julianna that always leave me cracking up because of how smooth they both play off each other.
History Is Overrated
When it comes to how Deathloop looks while playing it, the game is for the most part gorgeously atmospheric. The art direction is fantastic, and oozing style with vibrant colours splashed around giving each arena a distinct identity that lingers long with the player. The soundtrack complimented the art style effortlessly with smooth funky tunes inspired by spy thrillers with loads of charm and character. The voicework was spectacular and even the sound design of the weapons and environments are solid, punchy, and impactful. There was just a couple of things that didn’t live up to my own expectations.
One thing I could never get used to was the distant backgrounds of the locations I was in. It might be a weird thing but I am one of those people who love that feeling of travelling within the game geography and seeing that progression. Deathloop does give the player that view but I don’t know why it just feels geographically off. It might be such a minor thing that no one really cares about but it did bother me.
The performance of the game was a mixed bag as there were a few instances of instability that clearly need ironing out. The game has three modes which are; Performance (dynamic resolution / 60fps), Quality (higher dynamic res / can hit 60fps with occasional dips), and lastly Raytracing (dynamic res/raytracing enabled / 30fps). I tested all three graphical modes and settled on Performance mode because it fit what I wanted and felt how the game should be played, in a locked 60fps. The quality mode looks great but I just couldn’t get used to how the framerate kept fluctuating as it definitely was not just occasionally dipping below 60fps. Raytracing mode looks great as well with all those sweet reflections but a game like this in 30fps just felt wrong.
There were more than a few instances where the game would also freeze up only at a particular area for about 15-20 seconds before going back to normal. Since the latest patch, I haven’t personally experienced any freezing issues again but a rare crash still happened to a colleague of mine. Aside from that, there are a few bugs here and there like glitching enemies or even my own weapons that disappeared off me for no reason.
Colt One, Science Zero
When you first start out Deathloop (and even my colleague commented on this) it does feel like the game is teaching the player too much too soon but I can assure you that even though it feels that way it does feel absolutely necessary for the transition after where the game does not hold your hand anymore and leave you to waddle in the sandbox pool of your own decisions. There is quite a bit to unpack to let me just start with the “arenas” that players will be assassinating in.
Blackreef is divided into four distinct areas which are Updaam, Fristad Rock, Karl’s Bay, and The Complex. Now you must be wondering why only four areas? That sounds very limiting right? However, like everything else in the game thematically not everything is as it seems. These four areas are also influenced by four separate distinct time periods which are Morning, Noon, Afternoon, and Evening. The exciting thing about this is although the general layout of the area map is the same, everything else, like enemy placements, or access to areas are different depending on the time of day. This also extends to quests and important development information. Essentially the levels are remixed and that does keep it fresh for subsequent runs, so it doesn’t ever feel repetitive or boring quickly. Because of the time separation as well there are domino effects that can be set into motion where one action earlier in the day might affect another later.
Colt’s objective is to assassinate eight targets or Visionaries to stop the time loop he has an arsenal of weapons, artifacts and slabs augmenting his playstyle according to how the player would like to go about surviving and performing the assassinations. There are a couple of weapons that players will come across throughout their playthrough and some of them include the Limp-10 submachinegun or the PT-6 Spiker which is a nail gun for stealth assassinations. Trinkets are accessories divided between weapon and character trinkets to enhance a specific weapon or to provide bonuses across the board. Lastly, slabs are obtained only from assassinating visionaries which will grant Colt otherworldly powers (which might be familiar to fans of Dishonored) like the Nexus slab which allows you to link up enemies and take them all out with one well-placed headshot of the Karnesis slab which let you throw things (and people) around telekinetically.
There is an added layer of quality levels that provides better perks for the player ranging from the grey common quality to the very rare gold that has unique perks, but these only extend to the weapons and trinkets. For the slabs, there are upgrades that can be acquired by killing the Visionaries again to unlock benefits such as extended range or damage on the ability end.
Some of you might also be wondering that if this is a time loop game then isn’t it kind of a roguelike game as well when your progress reset after the loop resets? Thankfully the devs have included the Infusion system where players are able to collect a resource called Residuum that allows them to infuse any equipment they want to keep for subsequent runs and not lose them.
One thing that really quite impressed me also was the variety of scenarios for players to tackle when it came to assassinating the Visionaries. Like I mentioned earlier that the layouts of the areas are the same but there are supplemental factors that players do need to consider as Colt isn’t exactly as tough as he seems to be. It can be incredibly easy for Colt to be overwhelmed by normal enemies just because of poor planning or a gung-ho attitude (although later on, you should be strong enough to do so). Some of these Visionaries hide in plain sight in a party or will initiate a nuclear reactor meltdown as soon as they are alerted to your presence. The game isn’t designed to be fully stealthy, but stealth is your biggest ally. Scope out and familiarise the area, know what your advantage is and exploit it mercilessly.
Throughout your runs, Colt will occasionally be stalked by Juliana who is looking to kill Colt and restart the loop early. Julianna is deadly and has access to slabs which makes her a formidable foe especially when you can’t anticipate where she comes from. The upside is once you kill her to can pick up whatever weapons or slab she had on her and also a healthy dose of Residuum to infuse them with. The downside? Well instead of an A.I opponent, other players can invade your session as Julianna and attempt to end your run early.
The cat and mouse gameplay add yet another layer on top of stress on the player as there are some levels that can be brutal and require precision planning and an annoying Julianna just piles on the pressure of a restart. I tested out this multiplayer feature with my colleague and also other reviewers who enabled this feature and it really was a blast to play. There was a very minor delay but it really didn’t affect the experience and the back and forth was just laugh out loud hilarious at times. The more players play as Julianna the more weapons, trinkets and slabs they can unlock for her and also new outfits for Colt. It really does feel well designed and I really do look forward to exploring more of the mode when the full game goes live.
Another point of disappointment for me was how being a next-gen PS5 game, the adaptive triggers and haptics feel underwhelming. It’s there but it feels tacked on rather than essential to the experience. 3D audio also feels like it’s good but never great. Of course, having really quick loading times is still a godsend but if I’m being honest Astro’s Playroom still is the best example of how to do adaptive triggers and haptics right.
What I Loved
- Story – Mind-bending mystery which layers upon layers of discovery expertly unravelling.
- Gameplay – Arkane has managed to evolve their formula to make what was great even better and it shows in spades.
- Soundtrack – What can I say I just loved the music
- Characters – I think the best thing that I love about this game is just how Colt and Julianna have amazing chemistry and their dialogue just makes me feel very invested.
What I Wished Was Better
- Bugs – I mean it is wishful thinking but bugs are bugs. In time I do hope they get ironed out.
- Gunplay – As much as I enjoyed using the guns there is just something about the gunplay that it’s good enough but doesn’t feel as good as it should be.
- A.I can be dumb – There really were moments where the A.I can just get stuck in places where they shouldn’t and that results in an easy kill.
Shoobey-Woo Electrical Man
I think by now Arkane Studios have already proven themselves of creating incredibly varied and invested sandboxes for players to just go nuts in may it be having moments of complete badassery or just extreme hilarity with hijinks. My wife even commented that this game seemed designed for someone like me as I love intricately layered mind-bending stories and when they are executed well like it is here, it is just a fulfilling experience. For those who are big fans of the Dishonored series Deathloop is a must buy but there still are minor issues to fix obviously when it comes to performance. I do feel that as this is probably going to be the last game Arkane will be releasing on the PlayStation I am glad I got to experience it and I really do look forward to unravelling every last thread to completion. It is just that satisfying.