Dark Light
Deathloop like other video games rewards attention and commitment. Nevertheless, it’s more rewarding when played creatively with experimentation and exploration in mind.

 

Deathloop has been the centrepiece of the Playstation Showcase for the better part of the year now. In the absence of power hitters like God Of War, Horizon Forbidden West, it’s up to Deathloop to keep the Playstation brand going strong in 2021. Of course, Deathloop is a milestone game for other reasons too. Developed by Arkane Lyon, and published by Bethesda, it might be the last game that comes out on the Playstation platform from that combo for a while. So does the game live up to the hype and its place in history, or is it the case of an AAA studio trying to ride the genre of the year (in this case roguelike) and tripping in the process? Let’s find out.

Deathloop is a 2021 action-adventure game developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks. It was released in September 2021 for Microsoft Windows and PlayStation 5 as a timed exclusive.

Groundhog Day Meets Edge Of Tomorrow

You are Colt, specifically, Colt Vahn former director of security on Blackreef, an island that has been placed in an eternal time-loop, re-visiting a specific day in 1963, along with all its inhabitants over and over again. The catch, the inhabitants are all perfectly aware of this and have in fact been invited to this island so that they can do exactly that, relive the same day over and over again, doing anything and everything that their heart desires with no repercussions. Want to launch yourself through a giant cannon, go for it. Want to try out drugs and dance with no pants on, have at it. Want to drive a car through a booth, what’s stopping you, nothing that’s what. Since everything goes back to how it was when midnight hits, there is nothing that you can’t do on the island of Blackreef.

The only thing you can’t do is “Break The Loop”. That’s exactly what Colt sets out to do and to do that he needs to kill 8 visionaries/targets/people inside a single day or as the game would call it a single loop. Fail to do that, and you would end up on the shore of the island the next day, starting the morning before once again. The who, the what and the why are all things you would learn in due time, as Colt makes his way to different parts of the island, and learn more about it, him, the visionaries and Julianna.

Julianna, the other possible playable character is the Kraven to Colt’s Spiderman (You are welcome Spiderman 2), or Tomy Lee Jones to Wesley Snipes in the seminal movie, US Marshals. While Colt is hell-bent on breaking the loop, Julianna is tasked with protecting it. The kicker is that Julianna is not only one of the visionaries, but she is also always in contact with Colt, and most of the story is told and explained through the casual banter they have over the radio. The voice-acting has been done brilliantly, and the various quips between Julianna and Colt keep the mood light, even as you rampage through tens of eternalists (that what the islander call themselves) on your route to breaking the loop. Their personalities, their relationship and even their emotions are perfectly captured by the voice actors which doesn’t get boring even after your 10th loop.

The Past Informs The Future

Let’s be real, you won’t complete the game on your first try. Honestly though, when was the last time you finished a game without dying once? Exactly, trying, failing and trying again is the epitome of how video games work. In that sense, Deathloop does not try anything new. What it does try to do is to switch up the rogue-like, rogue-lite formula and tries to find the right balance between its mechanically complimenting gameplay with a dynamic level design which has become Arkane’s hallmark over the years.

You start-start the game with nothing, just like you would in a rogue-like (or in any video game for that matter), and as you make your way through the island you collect items, skills and information that you can use to your advantage. You die or the day ends before you can kill all 8 of the visionaries, you start again, with nada. Simple right. Well yes, for the most part, that is true.

You see there are a few ways for you to circumvent these basic/classic rogue-like laws.

Knowledge Is Power

First up, all and any information that you encounter is recorded and carried through loops in the form of different leads. So not only do YOU remember what you did the last run, Colt does too. What that means, is you can act on that information instead of wasting time to get it again in the current loop, and as someone who has played enough rogue-likes to be frustrated by it, I can verify that it’s an amazing time-saver.

It’s also an integral part of the end-game as well because, with the game divided into 4 locations and 4 times of the day (Morning, Noon, Afternoon & Evening), you are restricted to visiting one location every period. You could visit the same location 4 times a day, or you can skip a certain part of a day if you want to. Ultimately however you have 4 shots to kill 8 visionaries, and to find the optimal path to do so, requires information about where each visionary is at different times of the day, so you can knock off more than one in one go.

Arkane comes in with a clutch on level-design though (do you expect anything less than the people who made the Clockwork mansion) and makes all those 4 locations seems very different according to different parts of the day, for eg. Updaam has some Library event going on during the morning, and is jam-packed with eteranlists, while during the afternoon it’s relatively empty, while it’s snow-covered and full of fireworks in the evening. Not only does it mix up the visuals of a familiar location, but each location also has different pathways, routes and options available to you at different times and indeed different runs, it’s also a fun variation on the randomness which is such a staple of rogue-like games.

Not Everything Is Temporary

Secondly, Deathloop allows you to build a load-out across runs. Remember that time, when you got just the perfect weapon with the right perk in Dead Cells, and then died promptly after since you had 1 HP left, well Deathloop tries to circumvent those problems by letting you keep weapons, perks, and abilities across loops by spending an in-game currency called Residium, collected throughout the game or by killing Visionaries. Be careful though, residium might make your load-outs permanent, but whatever residium you collect on a run, stays on that run and is lost every time you die.

This mechanic, however, does take away the chance handicap from the rogue-like to a certain extent. You might not run into a weapon you like for a while, but once you do, you can make sure it becomes a part of your arsenal from that run onwards, and suddenly you are playing a rogue-like the way you like, instead of depending on the roll. Yay Deathloop.

Press Start To Continue

Finally, in a final bid to avoid frustrations that may occur when you accidentally jump off a ledge, because your teleportation skill was not up to it, Deathloop also allows for Reprise. It’s basically the 3 Continues that you used to get in classic 8 Bit video games before it was Game Over for real. Every time you enter a new area, you essentially get 2 more lives, and a small window to correct your last mistake or learn from it, depending on the case. It’s a nice little tweak to the start-over formula since a lot of Deathloop revolves around you exploring and experimenting with different approaches as you learn more about the game.

The Hunter and The Hunted

There is also an option to play as Julianna which opens up after you have played through the extended tutorial of the game (which is basically 2-3 loops). This is the PvP aspect of the game, and as Julianna you are tasked to invade other player’s runs and try to stop them from achieving their mission. Julianna has a lot more tools at her disposal. As OP Julianna might feel at the beginning, you do have to take down Colt thrice, to record an actual win; so the scales kind of balance out in the long term. People who have spent enough time in Dark Souls should have no problem understanding the concepts.

If you are not a fan of this and want to play the game as Colt undisturbed, you can turn off online invaders completely (and AI-controlled Julianna may still attack though), or you can make it that only friends can do the invading. Be warned though, it’s through this mode that players can unlock cosmetics for both Colt and Julianna as rewards for earning ranks in Hunter mode.

Real Talk

Deathloop takes a lot of inspirations from rogue-like games, however its real and more substantial inspirations comes from Arkane games before it. Like other games from Arkane, Deathloop is a product of what has come before it.  This is not an affront to the game and does not in any way suggest that they have just copy-pasted the Dishonored mechanics and given them a new name (though that’s exactly what has happened to some skills). Instead, it’s a culmination of all that Arkane has learnt and perfected in their earlier games, like how you learn all the mechanics of a game, and then use them all in glorious harmony to defeat the final boss. It’s like a love letter to everything that makes Arkane good, and it’s set in the 60s.

Ironically, Deathloop might also inherit another aspect of Arkane games, of being critically acclaimed but not being financially blockbusters. There is a certain learning curve involved, and not many would like the variety that the game provides, preferring instead the linearity and limited but easily remembered options of other games. The story too is told in a hands-off manner, and players too focused on the task at hand (killing the visionaries) might miss/ignore the various text blurbs or audio logs that explore Colt’s origin and motivation.

Deathloop like other video games rewards attention and commitment. Nevertheless, it’s more rewarding when played creatively with experimentation and exploration in mind. The fact that it differs so much from the definition of a AAA could very well see it not reaching the same renown as say a Ghost Of Tsushima. It is a game though, which will garner a cult following, spew creative runs years after its release, and discussion about its level design for even longer.

FINAL RATING: RECOMMENDED


With less time and more wisdom at my disposal, I have decided to create a whole new rating for games that I review. How many times in a week will I stay up after 11 PM, once my family has gone to sleep on a workday and spend 2 hours with it, knowing full well that I need to enter the rat race at 8 AM the next morning. Well on that scale, I give Deathloop:

“Every day, until I break the loop for the first time. After that who knows.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts