Live, die, repeat. A simple formula that Arkane Studios has used to reinvent the first-person shooter genre with Deathloop, my full review.
Developer Arkane Studios has been no stranger to creating brilliant first-person games, case in point: the Dishonored series and Prey. It’s found ways to reinvent aspects the genre with new mechanics and fresh ideas. Deathloop is the dev’s latest foray into “shoot em’ up” action using lessons from the past to create a masterclass experience.
I must admit, I wasn’t sure about Deathloop leading up to launch, there were lots of moving parts that would require flawless execution to pull off. I was worried that all the different gameplay and time travel elements might not mesh as intended. Thankfully, Arkane has done it again, masterfully bringing a new universe to life.
Everything about the game is expertly crafted, from the gameplay, storytelling to time looping, it’s an experience that shouldn’t be missed. Let’s enter the loop and explore what makes this one my top “game of the year” contenders.
Platform: PlayStation 5 and PC Reviewed On: PlayStation 5 Developer: Arkane Studios Publisher: Bethesda Softworks Genre: First-person shooter Modes: Single and Multiplayer ESRB Rating: M (Mature - 18 years and over)
Story – A beachfront view with a serious case of amnesia
Step into the shoes of Cole Vahn, an assassin stuck in an infinite time loop on a mysterious island. To stop the cycle, Cole must eliminate eight targets called “Visionaries” before the clock strikes midnight. If even one is left alive, or Cole is killed, the entire day “resets” and it starts all over again. Scientist Egor Serling and his cronies are using the island’s mysterious powers to gain immortality. The time shifting is being used to stay in the same 24-hour cycle indefinitely, allowing the island inhabitants to live hedonistically.
" If even one is left alive, or Cole is killed, the entire day “resets” and it starts all over again."
To add a wrinkle to things you are constantly hunted by Julianna Blake, a fellow assassin who is immune to the memory loss each reset incurs. She knows just about everyone of your moves and will do everything in her power to stop you. As the game progresses you also start to remember more from each loop. You’ll need to learn from past missteps to save the future. Each time you fail to break the loop, you’ll end up back where you started on Blackreef Island’s frigid beach.
"You’ll need to learn from past missteps to save the future."
Live, die, and repeat until you can break the loop.
Gameplay – A well balanced, refined experience
The best part about Deathloop’s gameplay is that it lets you approach the game however you’d like. Go in guns blazing or with more calculated stealth tactics, it’s up to you. I often opted to take the “louder” approach, but I also mixed in a stealthy approach when areas were heavily populated with enemies.
A well-balanced arsenal
Your arsenal is composed of parkour, guns, gadgets melee skills and supernatural powers. I found the overall feel of the game closely mimicked that of Dishonoured, if you’ve played that series, you’ll feel right at home. Deathloop doesn’t have a morality system like Dishonoured, nor does it lean as heavily on stealth, so there’s even more freedom in approach here.
Upgrading defies space and time
Weapon upgrades are available through an in-game currency system and each power-up to weapons carries over. The same goes for your powers, which are very similar that of Dishonoured. You have access to Aether (invisibility), Shift (teleportation) and Nexus (a power that binds enemies for a chain kill). Weapons, powers, and upgrades can be carried between loops, which really helps to take the “sting” out of death.
"Weapons, powers, and upgrades can be carried between loops, which really helps to take the “sting” out of death."
Live by the rules of the loop
No matter how you undertake each run, you are beholden to the rules of the time loop. Thankfully, there is no timer going in the background and time shifting provides you with more freedom and creativity with how you eliminate your targets. Days are divided into morning, noon, afternoon, and Evening phases when you move between the island's four districts (Updaam, Karl's Bay, Fristad Rock, and The Complex) time advances. You’ll need to learn from your previous paths and do plenty of sleuthing to figure out where all your targets will be.
Multiplayer “Protect the Loop”
Deathloop also offers a fun and inspired multiplayer mode where you need to protect the time loop. The single player experience focuses on Cole’s story, where multiplayer lets you play as Julianne invading other player’s games. You can create obstacles to their objectives while trying to hunt them down and eliminate them in a dangerous game of cat and mouse. The added “human dimension” to the gameplay really ratchets up the tension and I found it to be a lot of fun. If you are hoping for more of a solitary experience, you can toggle who can join the game. I recommend trying your hand at protecting the loop, it offers lots of unexpected twists.
"The added “human dimension” to the gameplay really ratchets up the tension and I found it to be a lot of fun."
The first major hook for me in Deathloop is the 1960’s aesthetic. It just oozes its own unique style and charm with colours that pop. Much of Blackreef is cold, grey, and stark, having the punchy 60s colour palette makes the game standout. From the old school architecture, fashion, and artifacts in the environment, you feel like you have taken a step back in time.
"From the old school architecture, fashion, and artifacts in the environment, you feel like you have taken a step back in time."
There are also other neat touches, like Cole’s inner monologue spilling out as text on walls hinting at where to go next. All these little touches combine into something that makes Deathloop standout from the FPS crowd.
Deathloop feels extremely polished visually, from rich textures to fluid animations. On PS5 and PC the game features different visual modes that allows players to prioritize certain visual aspects. You can choose from Performance, Ray Tracing and Visual Quality Mode. The standout for me is Performance Mode which targets 4K resolution while scaling dynamically to hit 60 fps. The framerate in Performance Mode is rock solid on the PS5, this is how you should experience Deathloop. Ray Tracing and Visual Quality mode introduce more eye candy, but Performance Mode is where it’s at. I do enjoy taking plenty of screenshots, so having different visual options is appreciated.
Final thoughts – step into the loop
Deathloop is an experience you shouldn’t miss out on its unique approach has revitalized the tired tropes in the FPS genre. The gameplay is extremely polished offering a wide variety of ways to interact with Arkane’s brilliantly created universe. The way Deathloop brings together so many mechanics that wouldn’t usually mix is masterclass. This is a confidentially designed game bursting with creativity that has raised the bar for the shooter genre, do yourself a favour and step into the loop.
+ Beautiful visual design with a 60’s spy aesthetic
+ Story has many interesting mysteries to unravel
+ Multiplayer mode offers a lot of replayability
+ Excellent retro sound design and great voiceover work
+ Incredibly well-designed open-ended environments
-Graphical glitches pop up every so often
-Enemy AI is lacking
-Story’s conclusion left a lot to be desired
Overall Rating: 36.5/40 (91%)
A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.