Wednesday, May 19, 2021
Deathloop is the next game from Dishonored and Prey developer Arkane Lyon, the master of the 'immersive sim'. As such, you'll already have some idea as to what you ought to expect before going in – an open-ended first-person sandbox, of some description. But there's much more to Deathloop than first meets the eye, its time-looping structure (as per the game's title) providing all manner of gameplay opportunities, quirks, and interesting wrinkles to discover. The Groundhog Day-inspired conceit is simple, yet brings with it enormous potential for complexity and experimentation – it's a “violent murder puzzle” that you can solve in whatever way you see fit.
Your mission, if you choose to accept it (not that you have a choice), is to dispatch eight targets, known as 'The Visionaries': not the old action figures from the '80s with holograms on their chests, but a cabal of shady bastards whose influence pervades every inch of the island of Black Reef. You play as Colt, a man who awakens on the shore with amnesia, and determines that the only way to escape is to 'break the loop'. Inevitably, this involves assassinating The Visionaries, which is far easier said than done, especially since Julianna, the most powerful of the group – and Colt's assassin arch-rival – is singularly focused on killing you over, and over, and over again. And then over again some more.
Eventually, Colt will discover a way of breaking the rules, enabling him to retain any weapons or upgrades he's accumulated between loops, which, according to Creative Director Dinga Bakaba, means you'll progress from “ordinary soldier” to “super-powered John Wick”. Starting with a simple machine pistol, Colt will soon receive supernatural abilities, earned by collecting 'Slabs', as well as artifacts and trinkets that grant various perks and buffs. One Slab, called 'Reprise', enables Colt to rewind time twice upon death, so you can prevent the loop from starting over; while another, called 'Nexus', enables you to link several targets simultaneously, then execute one to have them all die at once. 'Havoc', meanwhile, temporarily renders Colt stronger and more resilient.
You'll no doubt remember similar abilities from Dishonored, and to that end Deathloop even has a teleport just like Corvo's, and a telekinetic 'Karnesis' ability that enables Colt to pick up and throw enemies. As in Dishonored, orchestrating the assassination of each target involves paying attention to what's going on in the game's world, overheard NPC conversations, found notes, and general recon providing clues as to where your target will be and when. Obviously, you can charge in guns blazing if you want (enabling you to enjoy the DualSense's natty haptic feedback), or adopt a more measured, stealthier approach – it's entirely up to you. Ultimately, you'll need to get each of The Visionaries in the right place at the right time, exactly where you want them, springing your trap like a beautiful, well-oiled Swiss watch.
Black Reef comprises four districts, each with its own time zone and day/night cycle that dictates enemy movements, so you'll need to keep your eyes and ears open to absorb and learn everything you can before you're killed by Julianna (or anyone else you might fall afoul of), and the loop begins anew. Through gathering 'Residium' (yet another resource to look out for), you can keep everything you've added to your arsenal during a loop – such as a multi-functional grenade, with remote, proximity, and trip modes. Dying means losing any Residium you haven't banked, so you'll have to go back and get it during the next loop, not unlike regaining your lost souls in a Dark Souls game. Thankfully, ammunition is never a concern, as you can get it for free from an ammo vending machine. Handy.
Each of the four districts has its own signature design, one a concrete industrial complex, another a city drenched in colourful street art, with distinctive architecture and oppressive narrow streets. All have one thing in common: they've been made with a “twisted version of the 1960s” in mind. Some interiors are inspired by the elaborate James Bond sets of Ken Adam, and, as Art Director Sebastian Mitton states, 1967 Lee Marvin revenge movie Point Blank, directed by John Boorman, also provides an inspirational touchstone. It makes for a unique aesthetic, a long way from Dishonored's dank, rat-infested Dunwall, or the sequel's plague-ridden island of Karnaca.
In the gameplay we're shown, Colt is on the trail of a Visionary named Aleksis, who, much like Lady Boyle in Dishonored, likes to throw masquerade parties. As was the case in that mission, identifying Aleksis means putting in the legwork to find out which masked figure he is, before coming up with a way to execute him, preferably in the cleanest way possible. Entering his HQ, 'The Wolf's Den', Aleksis is surrounded by armed henchmen, but there are ways to silently infiltrate the party, if you know the right entry points. “No loop is wasted,” says Bakaba, who teases the idea of “The Golden Loop'' as your “victory lap”, once you know how to take down all eight Visionaries in a single run. That's the ultimate goal, with Bakaba noting that Deathloop isn't a roguelike, despite the resetting of the loop each time you die. Instead, it's a playful sandbox in which you push and prod at the envelope, figuring out the best approaches and strategies to “master the time loop”.
More than simply 'Dishonored with guns', Deathloop is an “investigation”, Bakaba adds, “a freeform anecdote creator” designed to generate “water cooler” stories that you'll share with friends. Most of these come from Colt's encounters with Julianna, whose presence is subtly signalled by ominous choral singing. Once that kicks in, you'll know that you're in imminent danger – unless you're an invading online player assuming control of Colt's wily adversary, then, you are the danger. It's the conflict between Colt and Julianna, as well as the suggestion that the pair have a murky past, that forms an added frisson in Deathloop – and, in the spirit of Dishonored and Prey, the open nature of its missions, the wealth of tools at your disposal, and the scope to get creative with how you dispatch your quarries promises to make Arkane's latest something quite special. As Bakaba remarks, “Deathloop is maybe our wildest exploration,” and, on the basis of what we've seen so far, we're inclined to agree.
Deathloop will be coming to PlayStation 5 and PC on 14th September 2021.
Wednesday, May 19, 2021 @ 09:48 AM
Wednesday, May 19, 2021 @ 10:30 AM