Break The Loop
Arkane have a knack for creating solid games. The Dishonored series, Bioshock 2 and Prey – to name a few – are all solid shooters that still stand up to this day. And Deathloop will undoubtedly follow suit too.
Armed with solid gameplay and an interesting premise, Deathloop is a weird kettle of fish. It’s a game that thinks it’s cleverer than it actually is, and despite boasting a plethora of different tools to finish off your enemies, the end-route is actually surprisingly linear. While I loved my time with this game, spending over 25 hours trying to collect all the achievements, there are big flaws with this title that are hard to ignore.
Before we get to that though, the story itself places you in the shoes of amnesia-stricken Colt, a man stuck in an endless time loop on a fantasy island littered with assassins.
You’re public enemy number 1, and with numerous goons littered around and a handful of guns and tools to play with, your mission is to break the loop by killing 8 deadly assassins dotted around 4 different areas. The only trouble is, time will reset if all 8 targets aren’t dispatched before the day is up.
This sets the precedent for the high-stakes mission to follow, which is broken down into 8 different tasks to obtain information about your targets and take them out in one fell swoop. Despite the game advertised to be an out-and-out shooter, there’s a surprising amount of investigative work and puzzling that needs to be done to set everything up for the final mission.
It’s a simple enough structure in truth, one that will keep you busy for a good 12-18 hours across the course of the game’s story. Essentially these targets need to be grouped together to make killing them an easier proposition. Of course, this includes learning more about these boys and girls through reading emails on computers, listening to audio logs and even sabotaging experiments. This also has the knock-on effect of fleshing out more of the world at large and these individuals characters.
Without giving too much away, the opening few hours of the story hint that we’ll be revisiting key scenes again from a different perspective, as you interact with other versions of yourself and a key target – Julianna.
Now, Julianna is a constant source of information, banter and antagonizing throughout the game. With every loop (more on that in a minute) bites of exposition are exuded around her and Colt’s history, how long Colt’s been killing and just why Julianna hates him so much. It’s a clever way of building a relationship between characters and in a way, feels reminiscent of the narration in Bioshock 1.
However, Deathloop’s biggest inspiration is not Bioshock or Dishonored. It’s Timesplitters: Future Perfect. Minus collecting crystals, Deathloop’s whole premise feels ripped right from the ps3 classic – but it doesn’t have the chops to follow through with its storytelling like that shooter does.
In fact, the ending just sort of finishes and although the main loop story is concluded, there’s no big pay off to some of the teased foreshadowing hinted at through the game. As someone who binges a lot of time travel shows, films and books, it’s disappointing to see Deathloop skimp out on what could have been a very satisfying way of rounding everything out at the end.
Story beats aside, Arkane have absolutely knocked it out the park when it comes to gameplay. Movement is incredibly fluid and the maps have been meticulously designed to make traversal as easy as possible. The gameplay is very similar to Dishonored in truth, although the onus here is less on stealth and more on creativity.
Guns come in four different flavours, with pistols, machine guns, shotguns and rifles to play with. There are numerous different tiered guns too, with a plethora of enhancements ranging from slowed movement to toxic gas clouds upon impact. There’s also a rather effective machete you can wield, which can be used to take out enemies with a couple of well-placed slashes. I won’t lie, most of my playtime was dominated with rushing enemies and hacking wildly, although you can go a lot more stealthy if you wish.
Turrets and camera sensors also play a role in how you approach areas, although you come armed with a hackamajig which can hack them within a close proximity.
The final component to your arsenal are upgrades and slabs. The latter comes in five different flavours which range from teleporting across the map, bursts of invisibility and a “rage-mode” called Havoc. Each of these can be upgraded too, obtained as rewards for killing your assassination targets.
Mixing and matching different loadouts is given an extra level of strategy through character and weapon trinkets. These are basically buffs that can enhance your character traits (think quicker regeneration of powers or extra health) or weapons (better accuracy or increased recoil etc.)
Eventually you’ll settle upon a loadout that works for you, and what begins as a rather challenging roguelite actually becomes pretty easy by the time you complete the final mission.
Don’y get me wrong, you can still mess up your timing or fail to assassinate targets and meet a grizzly demise, but the game’s forgiving respawn system (you’re granted 2 extra goes before you have to repeat the loop) allows you to plan out your moves with a little more swagger than you ordinarily would.
With each cycle of the loop comes the ability to save your gear for the next day. The loops themselves are split into four distinct periods of time; dusk, noon, dawn and evening. Interestingly, each of the four areas you can visit change slightly depending on what time you visit them. Targets come and go, enemy numbers can swell or diminish, while environmental changes like weather or burning buildings etc. allow for a slightly different challenge.
Adding an extra dimension to the game is Residium, which is basically the game’s personal currency system. This is used to infuse gear or sacrifice duplicate trinkets or slabs that you pick up in the field.
It’s a pretty good system in truth, and there are ample opportunities to stack up on this throughout the different areas. Killing targets nets a cool 10,000 while random glowing items around the landscape bag around 1000 or so. Of course, if you die then you’ll have to retrieve all of this from your deceased body again.
Aesthetically, Deathloop is nothing short of perfect. The art direction works so well within the game, combining elements of Bioshock and Dishonored together into something wholly original.
At the end of each mission the game cuts in with an animated bite of narration too, helping to show a sense of progression, while the soundtrack is nothing short of perfect. While that may sound like hyperbole, Deathloop’s soundtrack is pitch-perfect from start to finish. Whether it be the jazzy undertones of Aleksis’ party or the cult sci-fi of The Revenant, there’s an eclectic range of influences here that reflect the different targets you’re hunting.
Deathloop as a whole though is not perfect. The story has some issues and the ending doesn’t quite hit as well as it should. However, the gameplay is undeniably fun and the variations with the different loadouts allow for a number of ways to tackle your assassinations.
The trouble is, all of this hides the relatively simplistic and linear objectives, which holds Deathloop back from being a more open-ended experience it was perhaps marketed to be. Given the amount of backtracking and repetition the game demands, there are patches of downtime that can feel dull or outright tedious, but it’s also full of these adrenaline soaked moments and euphoric highs that blanket over these critiques.
Deathloop is a fun, vibrant shooter with an excellent art direction and a stunning soundtrack. For a game all about replayability though, this has a surprising lack of it once you’ve broken the loop. Still, there’s enough fun to make the ride worth taking.
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