Imagine a world endlessly repeating, an endlessly repeating world that repeats endlessly. Fun fact, though, you get to remember all your past todays and can live with impunity since tomorrow is also actually today. Does that sound fun? Or does that sound like an existential nightmare that rocks the very foundations of your belief and understanding in the fundamental nature of the universe and all that dwells within it?
So yeah, that’s the idea behind Deathloop. You don the snazzy jacket of Colt and set forth into a world that keeps on keepin’ on…except that its already been doing that; you’ve already been doing that. The ever snarky Julianna—an opponent we’ll discuss more later—constantly belittles Colt for not remembering that his actions and attitude are nothing new, and that he has spent more than a lifespan chasing after his goal: breaking the loop. Why does he want to break the loop? Who knows? Not Colt, guy can’t remember anything from previous todays; well, any previous todays before you start playing. Once the game begins, Colt retains his memories of every the-same-day, allowing him to slowly build upon his plan of killing the Visionaries that maintain the stability of the loop…somehow.
See, each loop is divided into morning, noon, afternoon, and night—-four time periods in which Colt must end the lives of eight Visionaries. You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out that this doesn’t add up properly. So, Colt/you must figure out a way to group targets together for efficient slaughter. It’s pretty dark…and cool. Though the ultimate solution to this problem is linear, I enjoyed the overall puzzle aspect of the story. Using the loop to learn the habits and weaknesses of each Visionary is a fun element. Without getting too spoiler-y, one Visionary holds a party each night, creating a perfect opportunity for targets to congregate. However, some Visionaries refuse their invitation, forcing you to loop until you figure out what is holding them back from cutting loose, remove said obstacles, then slaughter everyone who just wanted to dance. Again, dark. That being said, the Visionaries are all terrible so you probably won’t feel too bad when you end them.
Taking a page out of their own book, Arkane Studios once more supplies their first-person protagonist with super-powers in their left hand and weapons in their right. Known as Slabs, these powers allow Visionaries to perform a specialised skill—a skill which you can take. Teleporting, invisibility, damage resistance, familiar abilities that will grant some more variety to your wanton destruction. Unfortunately, of the five unlockable, Colt can only bring two Slabs into each map. Does this force you to think about what approach you will take in each map? Yes. Do I still wish I could load up with every ability and just use what I need when my plan inevitable fails? Yes. But, you get two; so, choose wisely and experiment with what Slabs you like best. On the other hand (literally), Colt can utilise a number of guns to mow down his foes. Specifically three guns per map, as is the carrying limit. I understand the cap on this side of Colt’s skills a little more, as the larger variety of guns would make for a cluttered in-battle selection; but, having said that, the game did decide to include four legendary-tier weapons that possess unique abilities. Why did they make four when you can only carry three? I don’t know; it seems a little weird. Still, each weapon and Slab is fun to use, so my gripes are not overweighing my praise.
That being said, I am of two minds about Deathloop. For whatever reason, I never felt that there was a comfortable middle ground in the game. Everything was either progressing fluidly and excitingly or being ground to a frustrating halt. Though the concept of looping is narratively fun and intriguing, it can be frustrating from a gameplay perspective. It’s essentially a distillation of “replay”. Games have had checkpoints for a long time, but not many proudly voice how resetting has undone your progress. Each death is met with Julianna noting how bad Colt is and how stupid he was for failing. Again, narratively fun—since the vitriol between the two is amazing—but infuriating from the view of a player. I am well aware that I failed, game, no need to rub it in my face with such glee. Divvied into four maps as it is, one might not consider looping too detrimental, but remember that some later times require you to perform set-up earlier. Die at night? You could skip straight to that time…but you also have to activate a machine in the morning, visit someone at noon, and do something in the afternoon. Frustrating. Is this an inherent flaw in the game? Probably not. But it’s definitely something that can sap away the fun.
Speaking of fun sapping: Julianna. My word, Julianna. Though she stands as a playful and hate-filled counter to Colt, her gameplay mechanics are…divisive. Whether controlled by another person online who owns Deathloop, a friend who owns Deathloop, or an AI, Julianna has a chance to appear in any map you are playing. A warning appears on the screen and there is now a much cleverer opponent hunting you down: this is where the rest of the game stops. Though initially thrilling, you soon come to realise that you have to drop everything to take on this new foe. Also, any previous plans you had are absolutely ruined. From a personal experience, I had snuck my way into the rafters of the party I aforementioned a while back and was preparing to assassinate a Visionary from afar. A decent enough plane. Cue Julianna walking in, pointing my location out to everyone, ruining my entire loop, and having every NPC in the map gun me down. Fun. Just, like, so much fun. Made all the more entertaining by the screen after each loop that explains how you died and whether or not Julianna bested you. Then you loop once more and hear Julianna’s voice explaining how she’s better than you are. Just…what a way to make me hate a character. You, yourself, can also play as Julianna in an adjacent mode, allowing you to enter other people’s loops; but, to be honest, that felt weird to me. Is it fun to walk around a map and have the enemies politely greet you? Absolutely. Is it neat to see the other side, to look up and see some guy crouching on a rooftop thinking that he’s a master of stealth? Sure. But I also knew that I was actively a part of an element that frustrated me: if I won as Julianna, I was ruing some Colt’s loop. It just felt…mean.
So, is Deathloop fun? Yes, very much so. Is Deathloop frustrating? Yes, very much so. It’s what I would call an “interesting experience”. As a fan of Arkane Studios games I enjoyed the elements that they have maintained throughout their games. The style, the gameplay, the vibe of the world—all of these are elements I enjoyed about Deathloop. However, the constant reminders that slip ups meant re-treading the same steps and simply hoping that Julianna wouldn’t end it all with a sniper rifle from across the map meant that a lot of my time was spent mad at the game. With no difficulty slider, my whole experience with Deathloop was a binary one: a lot of fun or none at all. I found no pleasant middle ground. Still, if you’re a fan of the studios previous games, or have an interest in time-manipulating narratives or Rogue-like-like games, then Deathloop is well worth a look. Perhaps you will fare better than I and can take revenge for every Colt felled by a Julianna throughout the looping annals of history; though, I’m not sure that today counts as history…even if today was years ago.