In Deathloop, you play as a Colt Vahn. A man trapped inside a time loop on some Bioshock flavored Island called Black Reef. After every night or death, Colt wakes up on the beach of the previous morning. The only way to break to loop is to find a way to kill 8 visionaries in one day without dying.
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The concept ironically sounds like a video game version of Boss Level, which is a film’s take on a video game-style respawning loop with a similar premise. It’s a perfect fit for an actual video game. Or rather, it should have been.
The thing is, Deathloop is a perfectly respectable game that follows in the same vein as Arkane Studios’ previous series, Dishonored. But as far as the time loop is concerned, the game squanders its potential to a depressingly poor degree. One that comes very close to being a false advertisement from the game’s marketing and how it presents itself to you in the opening hours.
|Gideon’s Bias||Deathloop Information:|
|Review Copy Used: No||Publisher: Bethesda Softworks|
|Hours Played: 25+||Type: Full Release|
|Reviewed on: Xbox Series X||Platforms: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PC|
|Fan of Genre: Yes||Genre: First-person Shooter, Rogue-lite, Immersive Sim|
|Mode Played: Highest Loop Stress (Hard)||Price: $59.99|
Son of a Beach
I’m not sure what it is about cheating death and beaches, but much like a certain character played by an actor whose last name rhymes with fetus, Colt will also be seeing the beach a lot. Any projectile vomiting will be from a drunken hangover instead of weird dark ghost goo, however.
There is no ticking time limit in Deathloop, instead, each expedition into one of the four districts takes up one of four phases of the day. Morning, Noon, Afternoon, and Evening. After that, the loop resets back to the morning, and everything that happened is undone. If you die, it also loops.
You keep all the knowledge, files, and passwords you gather, and by finding and spending residuum, you can pick and choose weapons, powers, and trinkets to carry over as you slowly build an arsenal that loops with you. This gives Deathloop a distinct rogue-lite feel that works well and fits nicely with the time-loop concept.
There’s a catch though, you lose unspent residuum when you die, and you can only spend it by making it to the safety of your tunnels. You have two respawns that just make you drop your Residuum similar to dropping souls in Dark Souls that you can retrieve, the third death loops you.
If you choose to play with the online mode enabled (and you definitely should), you could get invaded by another player taking the role of Julianna. Invasions are intense and really help keep the pressure up. They force your plans to be adaptable. The risk is great, if Julianna takes you out, it loops. But you are handsomely rewarded for taking her out first.
Each invasion is a clever game of cat and mouse. It’s not simply a straight gunfight, but a matter of outsmarting each other, and laying traps. Julianna has the benefit of the levels NPC’s also being against Colt, but Julianna only has one life, while Colt has three. It alters the dynamic of the duel and truly feels like rival assassins hunting each other. It’s definitely one of the game’s strongest points and helps keep the game from getting stale.
The Looping Liar
Maybe I’m just dumb. But I really felt like the marketing for the game sold Deathloop’s premise as a game where YOU needed to figure out a way to hunt down all 8 visionaries in one day. Even the opening hours of the game present themselves in that manner. The tutorial is pretty lengthy, and you learn all about the loop during it. The game explicitly highlights the freedom you have to approach things however you want.
Each of the four districts changes based on the time of day. Certain areas are only accessible during specific time periods. Enemy placement differs, as does whether or not a visionary is present. With four districts and four times of day, it’s clear that you have to get some of the visionaries together at one time in order to take them all out.
By the end of the opening act, I was hyped and was even ready to break out a pen and paper to take some notes. As you explore Blackreef, you learn all sorts of information, and important bits pop up on your screen to make you aware of them. You might learn that one visionary invited another to a party, but she won’t go to it unless you alter something, for example.
However, after a few hours of attempting to use the information I was finding, something felt off. I wasn’t finding the freedom I was expecting. Events weren’t working the way I assumed they would, and I slowly came to realize the terrible truth of what was happening.
The information wasn’t for me, the player, it was for Colt. The story doesn’t progress through cutscenes, it moves unseen in the background with the information you find. Your goal as a player isn’t even to kill the visionaries at first. You will do it anyway to steal their loot and powers. But it’s the information you’re hunting, but not so you can use it to form a plan of how to kill all 8 visionaries in one day, but so Colt can.
Once you find the right bits of info, the game explicitly tells you the exact sequence of events you must perform to kill them all in one day. The time loop is largely a story mechanic, not a gameplay mechanic. Sure, you can memorize enemy positions or puzzle locations. But, you can do that in any video game that reloads a save or checkpoint after dying. It’s not special.
Your role as a player is to use the game’s rogue-lite mechanisms to build up your powers and upgrades to the point that you can both gather the information and pull off the final sequence. There’s no freedom in how to kill the 8 in one day. I felt like this was a massive misstep, and I also felt lied to. By both the game’s marketing, and the game itself as I was playing it.
The Wrong Kind of Deja Vu
The kicker is, Deathloop is a solid game. The shooting and stealth mechanisms work well. The powers are fun, and the rogue-lite system works great. It’s fun to build up your arsenal and adapt Colt to your own playstyle. You can also swap out powers and your load-out between districts to better adapt yourself to that location at a given time of day. Finally, the invasion system keeps you on your toes.
Each district is an open playground. You can sneak and climb around the rooftops. Launch people with telekinetics, set traps with land mines, hack auto-turrets, and all kinds of fun stuff. I often found myself linking enemies together with the Nexus power, which causes every linked enemy to be affected by my sniping headshots together. It was at that point Deathloop actually started giving me Deja Vu, just not the kind I wanted.
It’s Dishonored. The Shift power is Blink, Aether is Shadow Walk, Karnesis is Windblast and Nexus is Domino. Deathloop feels like it’s actually Dishonored 3. I guess that’s to be expected to some degree, given that the universes are actually connected. But the concept of the time loop made it feel like it should have been something more. Instead, it’s just a thinly veiled smokescreen, and that’s incredibly disappointing.
I think it’s important to judge a game based on what it is, not what it could have been. Managing expectations is a big part of that. Deathloop is the rare case where the game itself set my expectations and later pulled the rug out from under me.
If the game didn’t put so much emphasis on its time loop. If it didn’t constantly paint the illusion of freedom, I would have a more favorable view of it. The Dishonored games are great games, and Deathloop is basically a reskinned Dishonored. Despite its deceptive concept, I still had a lot of fun, and the invasion system is fantastic.
It does have some other issues though. The AI is some of the worst I’ve ever seen in a game. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was able to dial up how much damage they deal through some options settings, it would have ruined the experience. There’s not much point in planning and creativity if you can effortlessly gun down a hundred goons at once. The increased damage is a band-aid, they are still dumb as a box of rocks, but if I make a mistake they can at least melt my HP and force me to loop.
The invasion system definitely adds some heat to the challenge. But If you choose to play offline, Julianna will still invade you as the AI, but it’s essentially free epic loot due to how bad her AI is. As the player base dwindles, the light will start to fade from that feature. Playing as Julianna has its own progression system, but the queue times are already pretty long.
Once the invasion system dies out, Deathloop will be a much lesser game, an issue that could have been avoided if the AI were more competent.
Deathloop’s a solid shooter with room for creativity in how you approach the individual districts. But its hamfisted linear handholding of a single viable sequence of events to actually break the loop greatly diminishes the novelty of the experience and reduces the game down to what feels like a reskin of the Dishonored games.
- Difficulty Settings present
- The Invasion System is thrilling
- There’s plenty to explore in Blackreef
- You can get creative with your own personal playstyle
- Building an arsenal of powers, weapons, and upgrades to loop with you is satisfying
- The time loop is largely a plot device, it’s potential is squandered when it comes to gameplay
- There is a single solution to dispatching all 8 visionaries that the game explicitly tells you how to perform as part of the story
- The AI is completely brain dead
- As the player base shrinks and the Invasion system ceases to exist, the game will become much less interesting