Over the last few years, Arkane Studios has steadily been growing on me. I love their Dishonoured games, and am really looking forward to a potential Prey sequel. Deathloop isn’t a game from either I.P. but I was pretty stoked to play it too…especially as this might be the last game from the studio to ever be a Playstation exclusive.
While not a recognizable I.P., Arkane’s work on Prey had me pretty confident that Deathloop wasn’t going to crash and burn. After all, this was the studio that took 3D Realms’ garbage I.P. that was Prey and turned it into one of the best sci-fi horror FPS series since System Shock.
Now that I’ve played Deathloop, how does it compare with Arkane’s other awesome offerings?
Keep on reading and find out!
What is Deathloop?
Deathloop is a single player (with an optional multiplayer 1 v 1 mode) first person shooter developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks. It’s a Playstation 5 console exclusive, but is also available on the PC.
Deathloop has you following the adventures of Colt Vahn, who has to relive the same day over and over again because the island he’s currently on is caught in a time loop.
While Colt’s not alone on the island, pretty much everybody on it is enjoying the loop as it means they can pretty much do anything during that time with no consequences. Intent on stopping Colt from trying to uncover how to stop the loop is Julianna, a mysterious assassin that seems to know the amnesiac Colt better than he knows himself.
Gameplay in Deathloop is broken up into different sections of the day. Certain events only occur at certain times of the day, which means that there’s a basic time management thing to the whole thing. As you play, you’ll gain clues on what you need to do (and when), which gives the largely structureless game some guidelines.
Deathloop plays a lot like the games in the Dishonoured series. You sneak around huge areas to fulfill your missions, killing or avoiding enemies while you proceed to your objective. Unlike Dishonoured, Deathloop’s more open ended, allowing you to revisit areas at any time.
In fact, you’ll be doing a LOT of revisiting areas, at different times of the day.
Combat is fun, though Colt doesn’t take a lot of damage before going down.
Tagging enemies (so that you can see them no matter where you are), also needs a bit of a rework. You have to be aiming right at them to tag (with the Down button on the D-pad). Sometimes you’ll try to tag another nearby enemy but untag a tagged baddie because you’re not directly aiming at the new guy. That really sucks!
While gunplay is an option (especially when you’re kitted out properly), it’s still second fiddle to being stealthy. If you’re thinking of going into Deathloop as a purely run and gun FPS, you’re going to be dying a whole lot. On the other hand, stealthy gameplay (like hacking turrets or causing distractions), will often win the day.
To stop the loop, Colt has to do certain things, but these only reveal themselves as you progress through the plot. All the while Colt is running around Blackreef Island, Julianna is throwing a spanner into the works. She doesn’t want Colt to succeed, and is not shy about taking matters into her own hands.
That means that she can appear at ANY time during a loop. She can pop in 5 minutes into the first area or 2 hours into the loop. You could be in the middle of a stealthy infiltration and she’ll decide to hunt you. You could be running around doing nothing and she’ll come.
It’s the randomness of Juliana’s visits that is one of the things that makes Deathloop feels so fresh…despite it being just an evolution of what Arkane’s accomplished in the Dishonoured series. With the right Slabs (more on this later), Colt feels just like Emily or Corvo from those games.
Julianna’s visits aren’t just for show…she’ll come and hunt you down like a wisecracking Nemesis. She’s out for blood and she’ll come for you head no matter where you are. Sometimes it’s by sniping you from range, sometimes it’ll be rushing you to stab you in the neck. It’s all random and part of the fun.
When Julianna invades you have two options; kill her or hack a marked radio antenna on whichever map you’re in to unlock the exit and escape.
Incidentally, this is also where the optional multiplayer comes in.
You can play as Julianna and invade other players’ games!
While the premise is intriguing, it falters a bit on paper. The slabs can be just as overpowered in multiplayer games as it is in single player, which means unless both players are fairly proficient (and have the appropriate slabs), the game can be a bit one sided.
If you do manage to beat Juliana, she won’t appear anymore during that loop. Restart the day though, and you’re back on her menu. Killing Juliana is an integral part of the game (though it’s damn hard until you have some quality gear). That’s because she drops random Slabs.
What are Slabs you ask? Think of them as objects that give Cole special powers.
You can ONLY carry two of these at once, so you’re going to have to pick and choose which powers fit your playstyle the best. These powers (which are evolutions of those you get in the Dishonoured games) can give Colt a wide range of abilities from teleportation to damage resistance to (my favourite) stealth camouflage.
Colt also starts the game with the Reprise slab, which gives you 2 restarts upon every death. If you die after that, you start back at the beginning of the day all over again. There’s a touch of Dark Souls at work here, as you’ll need to head back to where you died to recollect your gear and dropped Residuum if you die.
The best part is that each slab (except Reprise) has upgrades that you can unlock upon finding copies of them. Unfortunately, to get those copies (or a Slab really), you have to kill Juliana or one of the Visionaries (slab holders). That’s easier said than done.
Unlike in Dishonoured, in Deathloop you’re heavily encouraged to abuse those powers. Your power meter quickly refills after being drained. That’s a double edged sword.
While it’s undeniably more fun to be able to use powers whenever you want, once you get a certain combination (with some upgrades), the game unfortunately becomes easy mode. With an upgrade to the stealth slab, I was able to be cloaked indefinitely if I didn’t move. That meant that every time I was about to get spotted, I’d stealth myself and just stayed still till the AI’s alertness level went back to normal.
With ease, also unfortunately comes repetition.
I was pretty much unstoppable throughout the whole game once I had the stealth and damage resistance slabs. I would just sneak up to somebody, stealth kill them, wait for my power meter to refill and then stealth my way to the next enemy. For long range stealth kills, I’d take up my nail gun. If caught, I’d turn on the damage resistance slab and just go to down with my modified shotgun and rifle.
It’s a strategy that works no matter who you’re up against or how many of them there are. Even Juliana and the Visionaries go down easy because they can’t see me until it’s too damn late. By the time they do notice me, I’m right up in their face unloading with my shotgun.
I’m not denying that it’s fun, just repetitive.
If you’re not that, no fear. Like Slab skills, you can also modify your guns and Colt’s abilities (separate from the Slab abilities) with Trinkets. These come in various rarities (just like the guns) and give you a whole range up buffs as well. Some directly influence Colt (like giving him a double jump), others influence the guns.
You can even recycle the trinkets and get Residuum in exchange.
That’s the in-game currency by the way. Residuum plays a huge part in upgrading Colt. You need to use Residuum on your favourite slabs, trinkets and guns so that they’ll carry over when you inevitably restart the day. If you don’t, they’re lost and you’ll need to find them all over again.
Your Residuum cache also resets every time you start a new day, so there’s no way to hoard Residuum. It’s not really necessary anyway. If you explore and take the time to recycle, you’ll have more than enough.
There’s a ton of depth to the customization system but you’ll undoubtedly settle on your favourite trinkets to fit your playstyle.
One of the highlights of Deathloop stems from its writing. Colt’s supremely funny and his banter with Juliana’s incredibly humorous. Colt’s a damn likeable guy (even if he doesn’t know who he is) and I had a great time just listening to his musings as I explored Blackreef Island.
I’d even go as far as to recommend playing Deathloop because of that. Colt’s personality and the writing is one of the damn reasons that the game is as fun as it is. Couple that with a cool retro 50’s/60’s aesthetic, a stable framerate and you’ve got a recipe for great success.
The Bottom Line.
Deathloop is a definite must play if you have a Playstation 5. Not only is it a Sony exclusive (for now), it might be the last time Sony players get to experience an Arkane Studios (or Bethesda for that matter) game on the system now that Bethesda Softworks is owned by Microsoft.
The game’s the ultimate blend of Dishonoured gameplay, with a great sense of humor that feels spot on. Colt’s brilliantly funny at times, and is definitely one of my favourite protagonists from a game this year.
There’s a bit of repetition (no avoiding it as you’re running through the same areas over and over) but the core gameplay and optional missions should be sufficient to keep you playing to see how it all ends.
Great game with a ton of good things going for it…but it can get repetitive.
- Great writing and humor.
- Awesome gameplay.
- Open-ended objectives.
- Innovative multiplayer.
- Cool slab powers and upgrades.
- Stable framerate.
- Some optional objectives unclear.
- Needs more weapon and enemy variety.
- Tagging enemies is an exercise in frustration.