Wednesday, September 15, 2021
Deathloop is a special game. It's the sort of experience that you'll likely be thinking about when you're not playing it, turning over different strategies and approaches in your head, before taking the time to dive in and attempt to put your plans into action. The concept is simple enough: protagonist Colt Vahn must kill eight targets, collectively known as the Visionaries, in the space of a single day, in order to break a time loop. It might sound easy on paper, but there's much more to Deathloop than meets the eye. As such, the best way to play is to go in almost completely cold.
While it doesn't hurt to get an overview of how Deathloop works (you can get a taste of that in our review here), anything beyond that would spoil the voyage of discovery – half the fun is to be found in unearthing leads, digging up clues, and finding out about certain methods that can be exploited. Take, for instance, the knowledge that two Visionaries will creep off for a spot of canoodling; that’s something you can turn to your advantage. Of course, it's never straightforward. There's often a code to break, a puzzle to unravel, or further steps you'll need to take before everything aligns. And while the most uncomplicated way to dispatch a Visionary is with a bullet to the head, there are smarter, more elegant and rewarding ways to kill undetected.
While Colt can gradually assemble a formidable arsenal of weapons and abilities to be reckoned with, only through experimentation will you determine a loadout that works best for you. Shift seems like a no-brainer, enabling you to teleport short distances for getting out of danger quickly or for gaining some height to assess the area. But which other supernatural gift do you want to keep with you? First, you'll need to take doodads called Slabs from the Visionaries who carry them, then infuse them using a resource called Residuum to ensure you're able to keep them between loops. Once they're permanently yours, the world is your oyster – you're free to figure out developer Arkane Lyon's intricately designed puzzle box. Using a guide would only serve to remove the fun of mapping out and getting to know the game’s layered island setting of Blackreef.
Loathe as I am to mention it as a comparison, Deathloop shares DNA with Dark Souls, in that death is all part of a learning curve. Failure is part and parcel, and, as it happens, the only way to grasp what's going on across Blackreef, as well as the where and when. Taking down eight targets within the space of a day turns out to be surprisingly tricky, insulated as they are by traps, locked doors, and raving 'Eternalists': patrolling enemies intent on preserving the loop, so that the debauchery and partying can continue unabated. The real fun starts once you've committed surreptitious entry points for entering a stronghold unnoticed to memory, or used your 'hackamajig' to deactivate defences or turn them on your foes. It’d be a shame to have everything already revealed to you by a walkthrough - why wouldn’t you want to get the jump on a target using your own nous and ingenuity? It’s oh-so gratifying.
The looming, random presence of rival assassin Julianna as a fly-in-the-ointment can also pose a problem, and it's a smart, indispensable aspect to the game that instantly causes tension (in a good way). This is something that a guide could never take into account. Her arrival – signified by an ominous choral cue – puts everything on-hold, as you're on-alert, waiting for a time to strike, lest you're outwitted and on the receiving end of a bullet with your name on it. And even the best guide in the world can’t prepare you for an unpredictable event like that. When Julianna’s not on the prowl, you can pick through rooms reading notes, listening to audio logs, and scoping out scrawlings on the walls or whatever - everything is a potential clue, and Deathloop succeeds in making every bit of paper, every piece of dialogue feel like it could be vital. To ignore any of it could prove detrimental. In fact, short of using a guide, we’d suggest a pad of paper and a pen to jot down your own observations and solutions.
In Deathloop, you're a murder detective, except you're the one doing the murdering – you're the anti-Columbo, nega-Kojak, Quincy's evil twin. Therein lies the inherent joy of Arkane's assassination sandbox – all of the pieces are there; you just need to find them and put them together, and if you’re using a guide to do a perfect run, you’re kind of missing the point of Deathloop. Nothing beats doing it all under your own steam, with a shotgun in one hand and a supernatural skill that enables you to lift and throw enemies with the other. At this risk of sounding like a gatekeeping arsehole, this is merely a recommendation. If you want to play Deathloop while using a guide or walkthrough, then that's your prerogative, and I won't judge you. Thing is (as an anecdotal example), I regret going through a large part of The Witness with a guide at my side whenever I got stuck, when I wish I'd persevered and saw it through to the end, solving those puzzles using my own brain.
While Deathloop is little like Jonathan Blow's enigmatic opus, there's a similar sense of achievement to be gleaned from deciphering its secrets and mysteries - I’d leave that tempting walkthrough to one side.
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