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Deathloop (2021) Review

A loop for death!

Deathloop loading

I just finished playing Arkane’s Deathloop. It is a blend of time-looping first-person shooter with some interesting characters, light RPG style looting as is the norm these days, and other elements you might be familiar with from Arkane’s older games, to bring a great deal of good to what would otherwise be just four levels and a dozen or so weapons.

You play as Colt, a guy who wakes up with no recollection of his past which is the perfect narrative device for explaining a wild situation like the plot and gameplay of Deathloop. Colt gets to be ignorant of his surroundings due to the forgotten past as well as being a great character to learn about Blackreef, the island everyone in Deathloop is trapped on.

Blackreef has a ton of well done 1960’s style that is pretty fun and colorful, and the levels change a little bit as you progress between the time periods of morning, noon, afternoon, and evening where you can enter into one of the four different parts of Blackreef and shoot them up only to do it all again the next day. Time does not really progress while you’re in the levels, only in-between them. So you might go into one area in the morning and find that more of it is only accessible in the afternoon due to more ice forming on the water which is otherwise deadly to dip your toes into.

Colt wants to break the time loop in the world of Blackreef with more confidence and attitude than I’ve seen out of any previous protagonist from Arkane. Colt has a fantastic antagonist in Julianna who wants to protect the time loop and harasses Colt both over the radio, a very video game trope that I don’t honestly mind. Julianna also harasses Colt as an invader played either by the computer or other players who can drop into the otherwise single-player Deathloop and hunt down Colt. Blackreef is also protected by the Eternalists, and Visionaries. Eternalists are your run-of-the mill cannon fodder enemies of various stripes and the Visionaries are the rich people and other elites that made their way onto the island of Blackreef either by being rich and terrible, smart and terrible, or just terrible. Visionaries also have similar abilities to Colt and Juliana, so they are tougher to kill.

Deathloop title

Julianna and Colt both share an array of abilities acquired via Slabs, some of which are so familiar to players of Arkane’s prior catalog, like Shift which lets Colt or Julianna teleport for some distance or Karnesis which lets them telekinetically annihilate enemies. Players can upgrade those abilities by killing Julianna or Colt through the invasion process and looting their dropped items, or those dropped by the Visionaries and Eternalists. For example you can get an upgrade to Shift that extends the distance that you can teleport, or pauses any fall in mid-air to select where to teleport to.

Only Colt’s gameplay gets to really progress the campaign and unlock secrets and lore about Blackreef and you can (as Colt) turn off the online invasion system which restricts the game to an AI that is easier to cheese when it invades. Julianna’s progression seems to be strictly level-based progression and she cannot collect items from the levels to bring back to use later. The single player mode with AI invasions is also the only way to get an actual pause while you’re in-game, something I did not understand until I got got by another Julianna while I thought the game was paused.

Speaking of things I did not understand, the time loop on Blackreef lasts for one in-game day and you have the option to infuse weapons and their RPG-loot rarity tiered upgrades with an in-game currency of Residuum and keep them to the next day or choose to sacrifice them for more Residuum.

I had the wrong-headed idea that somehow you could infuse an item like a weapon and then still sacrifice it and get it again the next day. This is not the case and I’m sure the game explains it, but somehow playing well past midnight without enough sleep I must have forgotten that detail and kept starting with hardly anything and not realizing the loss. Embarrassingly, it wasn’t until I streamed Deathloop and someone watching pointed out the mistake I was making that I realized what was going on. Fortunately I at least had some trinkets and weapons that hadn’t been sacrificed and once I reacquired Shift through killing the visionary that drops it, I was more prepared than ever to re-run over the rest of the game and get more and better upgrades and weapons. Like a Souls game, the knowledge you pick up about Deathloop might let you speed through it even when you’ve lost everything else.

Deathloop inventory

I almost exclusively found myself going into levels carrying only the Shift slab that lets you teleport and leaving the second slab slot empty because I didn’t want to miss out on picking up a slab or losing one I cared about. This was in retrospect a real waste because I missed out on gameplay possibilities that are only available if you’re playing with a variety of the slabs. The same thing happened with the weapons, and I only brought one or two guns into the levels so that I wouldn’t risk dropping a weapon I cared about and would have one or two open slots to pick up new weapons of the three total you can bring into a level.

The good news about those loadouts is that you can really pick and choose what kind of gameplay you’re going to have through the items you select. Colt always has the option of a stealthy approach with the accessible machete. Murdering any of Blackreef’s inhabitants does leave behind a bit of smoke when they get got that bothers enemies, and quiter firearms seemed rare to find. After finding a few silenced weapons I embraced them fully and could usually get through most of a level before alerting the entire zone to Colt’s presence. Julianna doesn’t have to worry about that, because she is protecting the loop along with the other characters.

After about 45 hours with Deathloop, played almost entirely as Colt even though there is a completely separate progression system for Julianna, I am very happy with the game with a few exceptions.

For me, Julianna’s invasions are impossible to play. The latency over the internet between my location and any other player was so great that anything I did as Julianna was rolled back, even turning the camera with the mouse. I could gradually fight through the lag but it was always impossible for me to actually be successful as Julianna and kill Colt. Other players on the Steam forums for Deathloop complain about the same thing. When rollback is that painful it isn’t a fun experience for invaders or Colt, and the game might do better to give Julianna the option to quit out and be replaced with a bot, and of course maybe the game could try not to connect players if the network latency between them is so high. I’m not a network engineer, so of course there could be other solutions but either way, the current situation stinks. Most of the people who tried to invade my game had the same problem, but I did see more success on their side in connecting to my computer with lower latency than the other way around.

Unfortunately, the ending to Deathloop is disappointing and feels unfinished. Deathloop could have lent some mystery to the ending, or explained more, but instead you have a few choices and I didn’t really feel like any of them did justice to Colt and Julianna who are the stars of this show. Throughout Deathloop I was pretty entertained by Julianna and Colt taking verbal potshots at each other until one day Julianna literally said she had run out of things to say to my Colt and the radio dialog ended, but this was after I had completed the main campaign and done a bit more.

It is difficult for players to avoid how much Deathloop as a game wants to hold the player’s hand through certain parts by placing objective markers in-game and having two different idea boards that you can access to keep track of where exactly you are with different storylines.

Still, Deathloop is a good time and I’m always down for more of whatever Arkane wants to do with the formula of first-person adventuring and violence that they improve with style and a lot of substance. The time loop is more popular than ever with other games, but the Deathloop is so uniquely Arkane. I loved exploring Blackreef and even up until the end I was enjoying finding hidden spots in the levels and secret areas with more lore about the game while optimizing my loadout.

4/5 Loops for Deathloop.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

By Jack Slater

A Philadelphian living in Hawaii. If you enjoy my writing please consider supporting me on Patreon or Ko-Fi. You can follow or contact me on Twitter where I'm @MrNuclearMonster, via the contact page, or via e-mail to zjs@zacharyjackslater.com.

Find out more about Nuclear Monster here.

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