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.

MiSTer Multisystem’s 2nd Round of Pre-Orders Start Soon

Is it real, or is it a MiSTer Multisystem?

The MiSTer FPGA project brings old consoles, arcade machines, and computer systems back to life through something like cloning the original hardware’s processors and other chips on the fly. When we last discussed the new consolized variant of the MiSTer, called the MiSTer Multisystem, it promised an easier experience and had just launched and very quickly sold out of 500 units. This time the MiSTer Multisystem has been announced for a thousand more units to be sold on the RMC Retro Store this Monday, November 1st, at 4PM GMT which is also this time in a few zones: 

08:00 Pacific
US – 10:00 Central
US – 11:00 Eastern
UK – 16:00 BST
Europe – 17:00 CET
US – 05:00 HST

I don’t typically recommend buying anything before independent reviews are available, and as excited as I am for this project I do advise caution for anyone who isn’t familiar with your typical Linux type of rigamarole. The first group of buyers are scheduled to receive their MiSTer Multisystems in November. We could very well find out that future cores, which are the building blocks for each console or computer or arcade game that MiSTer resurrects, require something that the MiSTer Multisystem doesn’t provide. The big question right now is on RAM, the Multisystem PCB only includes 128MB of SDRAM, so I especially recommend doing some research before buying into this.

As it is I believe the MiSTer platform as a whole provides the most accurate and available method of preserving these old systems without buying stacks of consoles, computers, and arcade machines. As those older systems stop functioning projects like the MiSTer will become even more important. There are plenty of videos and other information out there that discuss the accuracy claims of the MiSTer project and I do not have one to evaluate it. The good news with this Multisystem project is that some of the components, especially the DE-10 Nano FPGA that is the heart of it, could be migrated to other MiSTer setups. Check out my previous post on the MiSTer Multisystem for more information on this subject.

Valve’s Pre-Release Teardown of the Steam Deck Shows You How to Replace the SSD

and Warns Against it

Valve published this video to YouTube today demonstrating how to open up a pre-production Steam Deck, replace the custom analog stick modules, as well as the SSD, and very much warning against doing so:

I’m not sure how I feel about the warnings. In the past I’ve definitely felt bad about breaking or inadequately modifying things that I’m working on but that is also a necessary part of learning how to modify, fix, and build electronics. The parts in modern electronics are delicate and often made to be unserviceable by the companies who design them, this is “for our protection” as users but it is also clearly for their benefit. The longer things are usable and repairable, the less money these companies make on new sales.

That also doesn’t mean the executives at these companies want users to have a bad experience. I can’t be sure of this, but from my experiences my understanding is that these decision makers want users to have a great experience and be motivated to upgrade by new features as well as repairs that are so expensive they make recycling broken hardware a better option.

Valve is also not in a great position with regard to supporting the users of their hardware but may be getting better. It’s one thing for a huge company like Apple who has physical retail stores to lock users out of repairs, there is an argument there that I disagree with from Apple that Apple can provide the best support. Valve has none of that retail presence to repair, replace, and even just troubleshoot hardware near their users. I think that’s why they made this video, essentially arming the more experienced hardware repair technicians to have access to repair these devices when they start breaking down. Valve even makes a promise in the video about upcoming Steam Deck part availability for people doing repairs.

As an example, according to a friend in Australia all Valve hardware sales and returns are done through the local EB Games chain. Apple does the same thing. In several countries where Apple does not have a physical retail presence they train third parties in how to service iPhones, iPads, and Macs. I once started but did not complete that training before my life took me elsewhere.

There are also still criticisms I have about Valve’s attitude regarding Linux porting which, to the best of my knowledge, is still putting people who are in the business of porting games to Linux natively out of work as well as advising developers not to port games natively and instead relay on Valve’s Proton Windows API compatibility layer/emulation to make games run under Linux.

The one “bright spot” in the Steam Deck’s software support is that Epic’s Easy Anti-Cheat middleware is promising Linux support. Previously, anti-cheat middleware locked out some Linux users running games under any Windows API Compatibility layer/emulation like Valve’s Proton and simply wasn’t available for native ports. Now, Epic has promised that Easy Anti-Cheat is available for both Native Linux and Mac game ports, including the Linux-based Steam Deck, and will be supported in WINE and Valve’s Proton. Unfortunately the decision to allow WINE and Proton to run these games is still only in the hands of developers and publishers who may not be interested in providing any support to Linux and macOS, quoting Epic:

To make it easy for developers to ship their games across PC platforms, support for the Wine and Proton compatibility layers on Linux is included. Starting with the latest SDK release, developers can activate anti-cheat support for Linux via Wine or Proton with just a few clicks in the Epic Online Services Developer Portal.

This makes it more likely that games using Easy Anti-Cheat will be able to support WINE or Proton, assuming business interests about support costs and other middleware doesn’t get in the way, but when those games get that support the compatibility is a coincidence that can disappear with any future updates.

Valve is still the wrong company to be making hardware and software decisions that affect the rest of the game industry. Valve are presumably, by majority of their income, a store for third parties. The people running stores have different motivations from places that exclusively make and sell hardware products and what software decisions are best for developers. Although I think the people who work at Valve clearly are trying to make the Steam Deck as open as possible and often do make the best decisions for developers and users, the motivations of people running a store are to sell things, maximize their own profit, and not to make good products for the overall health of an industry of developers who are still overworked, abused, not organized, and ruined by the success of the wealthy who are making decisions for the rest.

There is nothing the workers at Valve can do to change that unless they are organized to reject the false non-hierarchical model of Valve’s workplace, gain equal decision making abilities, and their independence from the store business.

The first Steam Decks are still supposedly shipping before the end of the year. Valve has never responded to any of my requests for comment. If you’re a game developer who is interested in commenting on this story please feel free to comment below or get in touch over E-Mail. My address is zjs@zacharyjackslater.com.

The Consolized MiSTer Multisystem Promises an Easier MiSTer

Will that be with SCART hole or NO SCART hole?

For a few years now there have been systems that replace classic video game system and computer software emulation with field-programmable-gate-array hardware (FPGA) like the open-source MiSTer FPGA kit and the commercial Analogue line-up of home consoles. There’s now a product that bridges the gap a bit in the MiSTer Multisystem.

Both systems can be expensive but the Analogue consoles replicate the SNES, Genesis, PC-Engine, and NES with modern flairs for minimalist design and are defined by requiring original cartridges with mysterious firmwares that are occasionally available to use ROMs but either way you’re gonna need a separate (expensive) Analogue console per-system for their level of high quality experience.

The MiSTer has always leaned more towards the “oh boy” end of technical challenges by requiring users to play a choose-your-own adventure of stacks of components to end up with a custom setup that plays the games you want, with the video and audio outputs you prefer, and managed with a Linux layer at the top. Cartridge connectors aren’t even an option for the MiSTer.

Either system eventually got you to the same goal of amazing hardware recreated on the fly using that FPGA magic. The MiSTer just does it in an open-sourceror way for the benefit of everyone and letting everyone develop cores that turn that FPGA into everything from the Acorn Archimedes to the ZX81 and Analogue prefers to keep their hu-cards closer to their chest as a commercial entity with more control over their consoles.

The MiSTer Multisystem supplements the traditional MiSTer stack with a dedicated all-in-one motherboard that turns the barebones DE-10 Nano into something more like a console. It handles USB, VGA, HDMI, your controversial SCART connection to the TV for RGB output, and more on a dedicated PCB inside of an optional 3D printed case that looks at home under a modern TV or next to an old CRT video monitor for scanline lovers. Just about the only limitation I can see is the lack of built-in S-Video or composite output. The MiSTer Multisystem also has support for input adapters using the SNAC system to let users plug in old controllers and lightguns as directly as possible.

There’s nothing here you couldn’t do with a more custom MiSTer setup, but it might be easier and more attractive to someone interested in FPGA gaming and vintage computers to have one add-on board in a 3D-printed case than having to farm out each of these things separately.

Unfortunately, if you don’t have a DE-10 Nano already you’re looking at about $618.76 USD or £454.80 GBP for the entire Consolized MiSTer Multisystem before shipping and any import fees and that isn’t cheap. Other bundles of MiSTer hardware end up around $455 for the kit from MiSTer Add-Ons. None of these MiSTer setups are really going to be the easiest things in the world to configure, but I’m curious if it ends up being easier than dealing with a Raspberry Pi which is the traditional go-to setup for an emulation box. Compared to the Analogue consoles, with the MiSTer, you don’t need more than one to play multiple systems.

The first round of 500 MiSTer Multisystem kits that ship in November sold out quickly and another round of 1000 more are promised to go up for pre-order soon. They’ll be announced on the MiSTer Multisystem Twitter account.

The MiSTer Multisystem creators also have a lengthy video answering questions they received about the console:

Robert Yang’s Quake Renaissance

The Internet’s JP tweeted about this fantastic series on RPS from Robert “radiator” Yang about Quake’s history, how to play it with mods today, and the wonderful history of the scene around it:

Quake modding symbolizes the opposite of work – it is life. And ultimately this is what the Quake Renaissance is about: when our communities control our own games – from the source code and tools, to the social hubs and archives – we can reinvent it as necessary, and through it, reinvent ourselves too.

I love this view on the state of the Quake game, engine, and tools, and it’s always been true about communities: Nothing is owned by the companies involved, they are owned by the communities around them. The harder companies try to lock down on games (or any work), the more they strangle community interest in the thing. The id software of today is only capable of producing locked-down experiences with the noose of capitalism around them.

There are some mods in the new 2021 re-release of Quake, and more coming which is excellent. Get those map-makers, artists, and developers, paid. But this re-release services as an excellent comparison to the wonderful communities that have formed around the original Quake. The 2021 release of Quake will never be the open platform that the full source of the original engines and tools and people produced and the executives above the developers of these ports will likely never understand why people continue to engage with the open-source tools and engines around id’s old games. The money people only engage in open source when it is profitable and exploitable, otherwise they will continue to release locked-down, useless versions of their new games that nobody forms a permanent community around. Is anyone modding Doom 2016 or Doom Eternal? (I mean this seriously, I do not believe they are, but it is possible people are doing their best with the tools available) The executives involved should still be embarrassed by the comparison between classic Doom modding and what isn’t possible with the latest games.