You start the game about to be murdered by a young woman who seems extremely annoyed by the fact that you tell her you don't know anything about anything. She executes you.
You're dead. And then... you're not. The next morning you wake up on a beach. Dizzy and with your mouth full of sand you realize you don't know who you are or where you are or how you got there. In fact, you don't remember anything. There are guns and ammunition all around. Luckily, because very soon you realize that the environment is not only very strange but also dangerous as everyone recognizes you and for some reason wants you dead. Things get even more awkward when the lady who killed you starts talking to you from somewhere and when she finds you again ready to annihilate you, you are momentarily saved by... you. Yes, you, another you, but still you. Then both of you (or the two of you if you prefer) are executed by the girl.
You're dead. And then you're not. The next morning you wake up on a beach.
But is this really original?
Yes, I get it, there are about a hundred games and about eight hundred movies and series in which the plot starts with an amnesiac protagonist. I realize this sounds trite but in this case the choice is not a cheap narrative gimmick, it ties in with the plot.
In Deathloop you play (mainly but not exclusively, more info below) as Colt, who finds himself trapped in a perpetual cycle that for some reason only lasts for a day. At the end of it, he always returns to the beginning. While he is amnesiac, for some reason at the start of the game he begins to retain the details of the actions he performed in the previous days even though he is still unaware of his past. The only other person who has any sense of what's going on is the mysterious Julianna who for some reason is terribly angry at Colt. Armed with his slightly and gradually recovered memory and a skillset that infers military training, the protagonist will begin to investigate the world (practically an island), which seems to be a mysterious combination of cities, cosmic centers and villages with science stations and military bunkers.
By gathering fragmentary information, reading notes/books and emails, or listening to recordings and conversations, Colt gradually begins to gain insight into the situation. He soon realizes that, in order to break the loop he is in, he must take several actions, which must occur in a strict order for the story to progress. But this sounds easier than it is. The loop, i.e. the day, you see, is divided into four parts: morning, noon, afternoon and evening. But the island is also divided into four distinct locations: Updaam (an urban center), The Complex (a mostly underground facility), Karl's Bay (a district of theme parks and warehouses), and Fristad Rock (a combination of science facility and holiday resort).
Colt can only be in one of the locations at any given time of day. For example, if he has clues to pursue and things to do in the morning at more than one location, he will need more than one loop. And believe me, to finish the game you'll need a lot, because, on top of that, as the story progresses, sub-areas previously inaccessible are unlocked in each location.
In the beginning, the game explains very little and deliberately leaves a creative ambiguity, so that we can better get under the skin of Colt's role, who, I remind you, is completely confused at first. But after 1-2 hours the situation and the gameplay, ahem, loop, become clear, and this is helped by the game's menu, which stores most of the information we gather in the form of the so-called Visionary Leads. These group our data and put it into an order which is communicated to us by the UI and by following it, the plot progresses.
But beware. Death means that the current loop is cut with a knife and starts all over again, regardless of the time of day. At least Colt has, via his Reprise ability, two "lives" per sector, meaning he can die twice without the loop being cut. The third time, however, is the charm unless he kills Julianna, in which case it reverts to +2. Oh yeah, I didn't I mention that. Julianna isn't limited to talking to Colt, but also frequently gets in on the action trying to kill Colt, and using the same abilities as him.
But what exactly is Deathloop.
Although the Shooter label is mentioned right and left, let's be clear from the start: the game is actually an Immersive Sim based on the tradition of titles like System Shock and Deus Ex and naturally (since it's an Arkane title), it shares a lot of DNA with the Dishonored series. Just like the aforementioned names, this one throws you into a non-linear world where every problem can be approached from multiple angles and generally has more than one solution.
This means that the gameplay can be cut and sewn to suit most players. Want plenty of shooting and a storm of action? Absolutely. Prefer to jump from the shadows as silent death? Yes sir. Do you like to move in the background without being noticed? Of course. Would you like to annihilate your opponents without guns or blades, simply by using supernatural powers? Are you going to play it here or should we wrap it up for you to go?
This kind of pluralistic gameplay was achieved in two ways. The first is the clever design of levels that let the player explore at their leisure ways of solving puzzles and achieving objectives that will allow them to complete missions and advance the plot. The second is the well-crafted gameplay systems. Our character has an extensive loadout that includes "Slabs" and weapons. Colt will find various powers (Slabs) during the course of the game, of which he can have two at his disposal in each level.
All Slabs are powerful and provide alternative ways to play. The slab that, at least for my style (as a fan of the Dishonored series), is an absolute must is Shift, which is none other than Corvo's Blink. For the uninitiated it's a short range ninja-style teleportation. But the other Slabs are not to be ignored. There's the ability to turn invisible, lift enemies into the air and vaporize them, become a berserker, link targets together who then share the same health pool and by killing one you can wipe them all out, etc. These powers are supplemented in a very organic way by personal trinkets (performance boosters) and of course various weapons. Some are silent and allow stealth, others have long range and allow you to kill opponents without them realizing where you are and raising the alarm, some practically offer life leech, others reload automatically etc. That is all very positive, but this is where the problems start.
The game's four locations are too few. After a few loops I found myself resenting them since apart from being few they are not particularly extensive, and the story, while interesting, cannot make up for the lack of freshness from a certain point onwards. Add to that the mediocre Ai of the enemies, who are neither good nor fully consistent in their behavior, and act as if they're on a leash in their own territory, and things start to get dark. The AI in particular will be quite disappointing to fans of immersive sims as it ranges in sensitivity from brain-dead to gradually super sensitive (if you opt for very aggressive gameplay with several boss kills) but nevertheless at no point is it deemed satisfactory.
With a little patience anyone can literally clear all levels of enemies using one of the more silent weapons, and the situation doesn't get much more difficult if an alarm goes off and a crowd of enemies starts to gather. Retreat to a higher altitude and then you can just start the murder spree over. These are the major weak points of the title for me, especially since they make the stealth component less rewarding in comparison. My guess is that both are a byproduct of a relative lack of development time for such an ambitious title. In any case, though, the core gameplay remains solid. We're dealing with a quality effort here, to be sure.
All of this means that Deathloop can indeed be played more or less as Dishonored, as Bioshock, as Control and partly as Hitman, Deus Ex or even as Splinter Cell. Up to a point, of course, since aside from the AI and low difficulty, its world is with discrete interaction limits (e.g. you can't move too many objects, break lamps or modify the lighting, which doesn't matter anyway, etc). Immersive sim on the one hand, noticeably "lighter" than a Deus Ex on the other.
But there's a major twist. In addition to the single player experience, the game allows you, if you want, to play against other human players either as Colt to break the loop, or as Julianna to protect it. Personally I only tried Multiplayer twice, as the constantly repetitive nature of the levels caused burnout and I didn't feel the world was engaging enough to continue after the single-player "campaign" was over. The feature is there for those who want more, however.
After taking a break with Prey (Cryengine), Arkane returns to the Void Engine on which Dishonored 2/Death of the Outsider was based. The art direction does have a fleeting feel of those titles, but that's about it. The aesthetic is retro-futuristic. Basically the game uses visual codes of the 60s (architecture, fashion, interior design etc) with plenty of references to the 70s and 80s (e.g. electronic devices). The retro touches include music with some rock and jazz/fusion tracks of impressive quality (the soundtrack is definitely one of the strongest aspects of the title).
The graphics, while not particularly impressive, feature superior lighting and detail levels compared to older titles. The game is also more optimized than Dishonored 2 when it was released but has some issues of its own. I personally experienced difficulty changing graphical options (the game refused to change some settings, and sometimes changing them caused the framerate to get stuck low and forced a restart) and I experienced a menu glitch that forced me to close it with alt+F4, as well as a crash in the middle of a mission. At the same time many players seem to have encountered a timing and frame skipping issue that manifests itself as momentary stuttering or in my case a similar type of momentary but periodic cursor acceleration. Fine print overall, since the test system (Ryzen 5900X/Radeon 6800XT/32GB RAM/NVMe SSD) had no problem keeping the fps constrained steady at 90 in ultra detail and 3440×1440 resolution. The overall experience is judged to be smooth and very playable.
To Sum Up
There aren't many AAA immersive sims out there these days. The genre requires detailed and intelligent level design, quality writing, possibly motion cap, all of them expensive elements to produce, and is not particularly friendly to concepts like multiplayer, live service and other methods that generate revenue long after each title is released. In this light, Deathloop is a welcome breath of fresh air for all fans of this type of games, namely the fans of titles like Deux Ex, Dishonored or even Bioshock or Splinter Cell. It may in no way match the top games of the genre in terms of quality, but it still offers immersive sim entertainment and keeps the genre in the spotlight.
We would like to thank AVE - Group of Companies for providing the review code.