So delightfully original and fascinating, Deathloop is like playing a game of inverted Cluedo and that’s just the start of it.
Here’s the thing. If you want to enjoy ‘Deathloop’, don’t read this review. It’s so delightfully original, fascinating, and just plain fun that it would be a shame to spoil it. If you’re really sure you want to continue, I’m under strict instructions to only talk about the first five hours so the spoilers should be minimal.
You play as Colt. You wake up on a beach, wretchedly hungover, with no memory of who you are or how you got there. The opening hour of the game is piecing together what the hell is going on and why a wisecracking, expletive-loving assassin named Julianna is trying to have you killed.
The dialogue between these two characters is supremely entertaining: akin to the some of the best-written action movies.
What you soon discover is that Colt has woken up in a Groundhog Day-esque time loop, doomed to repeat the same day over and over until the loop is broken.
You’ll discover mysterious messages and clues — visual reminders from Colt’s previous runs like “turn around” and “kill them all”, But are they from him? Or could they be trying to trick you the way is safe, only to walk headfirst into an ambush?
There’s a lot of mystery in the world of Deathloop and so much of the fun of it is unravelling the world’s secrets.
It’s not like we haven’t seen time loop games before, in fact they’ve been very popular in recent years, Returnal and Twelve Minutes being two that prominently comes to mind.
But Deathloop is nothing like any game you’ve ever played before. It’s modelled after other roguelikes (games in which whenever you die you go back to the beginning) it that it’s designed to be mastered through experimentation and repetition, but it’s so much more dynamic than that.
As game director Dinga Bakaba described the game: “It’s like an inverted Cluedo,” and the more knowledge you have, the better your chance for a perfect run.
You’re contained to the island of Blackreef, a former army base where strange experiments were once held. To break the loop, Colt must kill eight “Visionaries”, the ones responsible for maintaining the loop, in a single day, or else return to waking up on the same beach. Initially you’ll lose any weapons you pick up, but Colt does retain his memories after he dies. Any evidence, safe and door codes, or storyline you collect can help inform changes in your future gameplay strategy. Do you go in guns blazing this time or sneak around to avoid conflict?
The island features four separate districts: The Complex, Fristad Rock, Updaam, and Karl’s Bay, and each district is split up into four time periods: morning, noon, afternoon, and evening, with each time period offering a different way to experience the same setting. Sounds confusing, but the game does a great job at easing you into the complexity of the world without being overwhelming.
The action is great fun and really satisfying. The way you approach enemies is entirely up to you, but Deathloop does encourage a combination of stealth, creativity, and all-out shooter mechanics. It’s signature gameplay from developers Arkane, who’ve established a reputation for allowing players to choose their preferred playstyle and you’ll find most success if you mix it up.
What makes this game so unique and so enjoyable is the culmination of all its elements: intricately designed mystery, maps that encourage exploration and experimentation, and the amusingly hostile relationship between Julianna and Colt. It would make for a great movie, but it makes for an even better video game.
Deathloop is out now on PC and PS5.