Deathloop Review

Richard Walker

It all begins with a machete being violently sunk into your ribs, and not knowing exactly why. From the off, Deathloop is a mystery wrapped in a riddle, protagonist Colt waking up on a beach of dark basalt sand - which presumably gives the island of Blackreef its name – with no recollection of how he got there, other than the memory of being unceremoniously skewered through the abdomen. Forced to relive the same day over and over, there's only one way to escape the confines of Blackreef, hemmed-in as it is by fatal icy waters. There's no swimming to safety, no catching the next plane out, or signalling a passing schooner – you're trapped and need to find a way to get free. Doing so means breaking the loop. Stylish and relentlessly entertaining, Deathloop sits comfortably in developer Arkane Lyon's wheelhouse, and it’s predictably brilliant.


Sorry, Frank.

Very quickly, you learn that the only way to break the loop is to dispatch eight targets known collectively as the 'Visionaries'. A debauched band of what Julianna Blake (the most powerful of their ranks and Colt's nemesis) calls “murderous little children”, the Visionaries have only one aim – to preserve the loop and ensure that Blackreef's perpetual party never ends. It’s your primary goal during each loop to acquire knowledge about the Visionaries, with new leads cropping up as each region of Blackreef changes with the time of day. Some objectives can only be tackled during a specific portion of the day, and ultimately you'll need to figure out where and when each of the Visionaries are most vulnerable – Colt has to determine how to dispose of all eight Visionaries within a single day, and therein lies the real challenge.

Every bit the self-styled 'immersive sim' as Arkane's own Dishonored and Prey, Deathloop injects a roguelite twist (extra emphasis on the 'lite') to its open-ended action, Colt losing everything he's gained with the end of each loop or whenever he dies. Should one of these eventualities occur, you're jettisoned back to Blackreef's shore to begin anew, until you're able to unlock the ability to use 'Residuum', a valuable resource created by Dr. Wenjie Evans, one of the most fiercely intelligent Visionaries. Residuum is a currency acquired by absorbing objects imbued with the stuff, sacrificing items you don't want, or extracted from the shimmering ghost a dispatched target leaves behind. It can be spent on 'infusing' items you've gathered during a loop, so that you can hold on to them. Residuum doesn't carry over between loops, so you're encouraged to part with it liberally and retain whatever Slabs (artefacts that grant Colt otherworldly skills), Trinkets, upgrades, or weapons you want for subsequent loops.

As Colt plunges deeper into the rabbit hole, you'll develop a better grasp of what Deathloop demands from you, assisted by an expansive array of weapons and tools that make your life easier. Weapons are fairly diverse, encompassing ranged one-shot rifles, devastating shotguns, machine guns, and high-calibre handguns (all of which can be dual-wielded), with collectible 'Trinkets' available to buff both Colt and his armoury. They all fall under tiers of varying rarity, the rarer weapons more powerful and less prone to jamming. 'Slabs' imbue Colt with supernatural abilities, albeit letting you only ever equip two at any one time (your third Slab slot has the 'Reprise' ability permanently locked to it, granting Colt three lives). As such, you can experiment with Shift (Dishonored's Blink, in essence) for traversal; temporarily turn yourself into 'death incarnate' with the Havoc skill; throw enemies (masked cultists called ‘Eternalists’, in thrall to the Visionaries) around with Karnesis; or connect them so that they share the same fate, using the Nexus Slab.


Each Visionary has their own Slab to snatch, levelling the playing field. By the time you've sussed out the shortcuts – there are ways to get certain Visionaries together in one spot – and mapped out your victory lap, dispatching all eight in a single run, you'll be a formidable killing machine. While the plethora of tools at your disposal facilitate your mission, it's the minute-to-minute action that will keep you locked-in – Deathloop is Arkane's most accomplished game from a straight-up gameplay standpoint, the entire experience seemingly geared towards providing raw and unadulterated fun, all while making you feel like a total badass. The 1960s-inspired art design, meanwhile, oozes effortless cool. It's Shaft in a leather trenchcoat (yes, I know it came out in 1971), Steve McQueen in a Ford Mustang, Michael Caine's thick black frames in The Ipcress File, it’s Bond's tux and shaken-not-stirred martini.

Crucially, despite repeatedly visiting the same areas, no loop is ever a waste of time, nor do you ever get a sense of déjà vu – the overarching sense is one of complete agency, every gadget, power, and weapon lending you the freedom to approach any objective in whatever way you see fit. You're always learning something, whether it's a fresh method of murder, a new route, or some other form of clandestine secret that further empowers Colt in shattering the loop. Using his 'hackamajig' device, Colt can also mess with antennas, scramble enemy radios, open doors, cause distractions, or hack sensors and turrets to pacify them (or better still, use them against enemies), giving you further strings to your stringy bow. Deathloop also matches Hitman in giving you the toolset to orchestrate each kill, and a wide-open playground in which to experiment.

Deathloop's crunchy combat makes every enemy encounter utterly gratifying, too, the DualSense controller ensuring that every pull of the trigger packs a punch and every footstep pulses through your fingertips. It just feels good to shoot things. Of course, you don't have to resort to blasting your way out of every situation; you can tiptoe past patrolling enemies, take to the rafters and rooftops, dispatch them quietly with a machete, kick them into the frozen waters, or make use of the Aether Slab to bypass traps and sensors without arousing suspicion.


Eat boot, scumbag!

Occasionally, rival assassin Julianna may also invade your game, and successfully dispatching her will leave behind a different Slab or Slab upgrade to snaffle. But be warned: she's tricksy. Julianna’s Masquerade Slab enables her to change her physical appearance to that of any NPC, so once her choral audio cue kicks in, you’re immediately on-edge. Playing solo, an AI Julianna can randomly drop in, but, if you choose to go online, another player can take control of her to potentially ruin your loop. Naturally, you're able to play as Julianna whenever you like, confronting another player's Colt and wrecking their run in an effort to garner rewards (linked to her Hunter Rank). And there's a delightfully sadistic joy to be had from that.

But then, everything that Deathloop has to offer is utterly joyful, every region of Blackreef – from Updaam to Fristad Rock – a pleasure to explore and figure out, each loop gradually revealing more of the island's secrets to you, building towards a rich tapestry of clues and information that bring you ever-closer to mastering and breaking the loop, once and for all. If Bill Murray had been an assassin packing heat and supernatural skills in Groundhog Day, the result would have been Deathloop. And if that description doesn't make you want to jump feet-first into unravelling the myriad mysteries of Blackreef, I'd suggest seeking some sort of help. It’ll make you feel like a god.

Deathloop

Yet another elegantly composed and impeccably designed Arkane sandbox, Deathloop is an intricate murder puzzle that’s part-Hitman, part-roguelite, and entirely sensational. There are few better ways to kill time.

Form widget
90%
Audio
85%

The voice performances from Jason E. Kelley as Colt and Ozioma Akagha as Julianna are superb and delivered with genuine gusto, while the dynamic soundtrack beautifully adapts to fit the action. The music is excellent, with a sultry, swaggering sense of style.

Visuals
90%

Deathloop's '60s-inspired design is fantastic, every environment drenched in bold colour and detail. Environments are diverse, taking in concrete facilities with huge steel doors, craggy coastal regions, and towns with narrow alleyways. The occasional flickering texture is forgivable.

Playability
90%

Initially a bit of a muddle, wielding weapons and powers very quickly becomes second nature, everything perfectly mapped to the DualSense. Shooting feels weighty and tactile, supplemented by the rippling of the PS5’s nifty controller.

Delivery
90%

Comprising four large districts connected by Colt’s subterranean tunnels, Blackreef is a wonderfully layered and complex place to master. Like Dishonored, objectives are open-ended, offering freedom to complete the game in whatever way you like. An action game with brawn and brains.

Trophies
80%

A great list that rewards exploration and discovery, differing approaches and thinking outside the box occasionally resulting in a satisfying trophy ping. There’s an excellent spread here, and some cool approaches in taking out targets to figure out.

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