Deathloop is one of the most fun videogame experiences to be released in the lackluster gaming landscape that is 2021. It is a wonderful amalgamation of typical Arkane Dishonored FPS gameplay, an Outer Wilds / Majora’s Mask time rewinding mystery mechanic, with a beautifully crafted 60s We Happy Few aesthetic, and Dark Souls invade mechanics. Although it may not be a perfect game, Deathloop is absolutely one of the best to come out this year and is more than worth your time if you own a PS5 or PC. You wake up on a beach as an amnesiac soldier named Colt who finds himself stuck in a continuous looping single day cycle. His main goal is to figure out how to stop that cycle and you find out soon enough that the only way to do this is by murdering the 8 visionaries of Blackreef. All of which being powerful and influential figures there to impose their desires. What’s stopping you from just outright killing all of them? To start you need to concoct a plan to take out all 8 in a single loop while also dealing with Julianna who is there to….well do the exact opposite and maintain the integrity of the loop by killing you.
Why You Should Play Deathloop
Deathloop is one in a small handful of MUST PLAY AAA titles to be released this year. It really only holds hands with Resident Evil Village right now, at least until Halo Infinite releases (if it doesn’t get delayed). There is a bit of a long intro to all of the mechanics of the game, the gear slots, introducing the characters and dichotomy between the protagonist Colt and the main antagonist Julianna. Once you get past that introduction period the game really opens up, allowing you to play however you want. You have access to 4 large sand boxes with a 4 period day cycles. Each location changes between day cycles and you are basically open up to just go out, explore and unravel the mystery that is BlackReef. This is where the real game takes place.
You get access to a fairly extensive arsenal of weaponry, trinkets and slabs to upgrade and customize Colt with. Each of which having their own variations on how to approach gameplay. Some people may fully embrace the tight, clean gunplay. Others might try to lurk around the map, hacking turrets and sensors to do the work for them. What I found myself doing the majority of the time is just blasting my way through the sand boxes in order to have no distractions while I fully explored each location to find clues and solve secrets.
By far and away my favorite mechanic of the game is the looping, mystery solving scenario that plays out each day. Yeah the gunplay is great, stealthing has some flaws, but the riddle solving and the putting together of puzzle pieces was what kept me waking up every morning thinking of new ways to approach the next loop. You can enter into any of the areas and find yourself completely side tracked by a sparking fuse box that when following the wire takes you back to a fireworks shop with spotty electrician work. You listen to some audio logs, dox your way onto the Minicom terminal and find out it’s Frank’s firework shop. Guess what? There’s nothing left for you to do with that until Noon. So you head back and stumble into the Library of Updaam that is packed to the brim with enemies and you spend the next 25 minutes clearing that building out looking for more clues. Then you come back at Noon to find the fireworks shop exploded because you missed a fuse box. The most engaging aspect of Deathloop is this repeating cycle of finding one string of yarn then spending the next 3 hours trying to unravel it, whether it be digging information for the visionaries you need to kill or just a random side distraction.
Deathloop is a gorgeous game filled with character and style. The 60s era aesthetic helped to emphasize the, hang loose, mentality of all of Blackreef’s inhabitants. Each character is brimming with personality which is heavily supported by the incredible voice acting put on display here. As we discussed on episode 250 of Not Another Gaming Podcast, Jason Kelley absolutely steals the show and near single handedly puts the entire weight of voice acting on his shoulders as Colt, since the majority of the time all you are hearing is his reactions to things happening around him. Ozioma Akagha does a brilliant job as well as Julianna, really pushing the banter between the two as the mystery of not only Blackreef, but the mystery of their relationship unfolds throughout the game. Each of the visionaries are all well done too, with a few stand outs being Frank and in specific a mission where you need to carry a bobblehead of Aleksis across Updaam to a brain implanted AI named 2Bit. The entire time the bobblehead is just spewing utter nonsense, really driving home the fact that most of these visionaries are just morally reprehensible people doing whatever they please on Blackreef with no repercussions. Not only is the VA work top notch, but the music is incredible and the actual sound mechanics of the game are brilliant. I found myself stopping and firing off weapons in different locations like, in the wide open on the snow, or in the bunker, or in a storage container just to hear the different variations of sound the bullets made each time.
The gunplay and movement all feel tight and play well with each weapon or slab being used. It is truly impressive to see how each location changes as the day cycle progresses. In Karl’s Bay, the later on in the cycle you go there the tide changes making certain areas inaccessible and some buildings are now open to explore. By far my favorite aspect of the game was the puzzle solving. Not in the sense of, oh here’s a moving block puzzle, but more so the over arching riddle that is, how do I break this loop? How do I get enough information on each of these visionaries to establish a timeline in which I can kill all of them in a single loop? There are also dozens of other riddles to solve in order to find legendary weapons or hidden trinkets throughout the game that just soaked hours of my attention. Very few games have gotten me to the point of having to take notes (you don’t have to Deathloop tracks everything), but I kept finding myself writing things down on post it notes trying to keep my own personal tabs on my progression.
As much as we praise Deathloop for being a breath of fresh air in 2021, it is not perfect. There were a handful of mechanics that could have been implemented much better and would have really sold Deathloop as a HARD 10/10 game. The first being the limitation to weapon and slab accessibility. As wonderful as the guns and slabs are, they’re limited to a loadout section that only allows for 3 weapons and 2 slabs to be equipped. Weapon wise there are really only about 10 different guns to choose from, granted they can have unique attributes such as life steal, explosive rounds, or being silenced, but a couple more wouldn’t have hurt. With a smaller armory of weapons, why not just replace the loadout with a fully functional weapon wheel that allows to set the attributes for each gun you want then cycle through as you play in each sandbox. Same goes for the slabs, there are only 5 slabs with Shift being almost required when playing. Only allowing for players to equip 2 at a time (in reality only one because Shift is too good not to take) really kneecaps the chaos we saw in all of the trailers and sizzle reels promoting the game. Speaking of, Deathloop has been promoted as this insane new first person shooter by trailers and major gaming sites, when I really think it is more of a mystery roguelite with great FPS mechanics. To me the mystery solving is the biggest and most important aspect of Deathloop with the gunplay coming second, so the idea of pushing it as a huge new FPS title doesn’t make the most amount of sense to me.
The stealth leaves a lot to be desired especially coming from Arkane and their incredible Dishonored franchise. Enemies either can detect you from within a certain radius, or are completely oblivious to you when you stand right next to them. It really seems like an AI coin flip. There is also no enemy variation at all in Deathloop. You just keep murdering the same looking Austin Powers villain looking henchmen in every single cycle through every location. It would have been incredible to find out maybe halfway through the game the main bad guy visionary, Aleksis, started to catch on to your plans and paid for armored reinforcements to come to Blaackreef to defend them. It would have been awesome to not only implement the slab and weapon wheel, but also given us enemies that require specific slabs to defeat, like a shielded enemy that you needed to Havoc pull the shield from in order to damage. The actual gameplay is pretty easy and I tended to find myself just sniping every person in an area just so I could go explore unhindered. These small additions, along with maybe varying difficulty levels could really make Deathloop far more replayable and rewarding. I would have also loved to have more variation in how to kill each visionary or even some form of pacifist way around killing the henchmen.
I would have also loved to see even just 1 NPC we could interact with at some point in the game. Maybe one visionary goes rogue and tries to help Colt or someone else washed up on Blackreef out of nowhere to help. Completely spoiler free, but each ending left a lot to be desired. None of them really felt like they mattered or had any impact on the characters besides maybe one. This just screams to me that there needs to either be some sort of follow up story DLC or a sequel to come out exploring the questions left unanswered.
Enemy AI seems to be all over the place when it comes to detection as well as general combat. We’ve seen with older generations of games, enemy AI can be unforgiving, the prime example being the FEAR games. Enemies would through grenades and flank to try to corner you. In Deathloop they kind of just find the most direct path to you, then run it. It doesn’t matter if you are on a roof or there are hacked turrets firing at them, they just go straight after you. There are also a handful of mechanics that just don’t work. Throwing bottles or shooting fireworks to try to distract enemies works maybe a quarter of the time. (No Spoilers), but on the final mission I found 2 of my targets together on the roof of the party with a half dozen henchmen around dancing to a boom box plugged into an electrical fuse box in the room across. I stealthed my way over, destroyed the box, anticipating this to make the henchmen leave, but they just stayed there dancing to no music so I had no choice but to kill everyone. Also worth noting, online invades are heavily reliant on peer to peer networking. As hectic and fun as they can be, I ran into a Dutch streamer with clearly much higher ping who was teleporting around the map just melting me.
Now you might be thinking to yourself, “wow Bob it seems like you have quite a few negatives to Deathloop why are you still holding it so highly as a GOTY contender and should I really still buy it?”. The vast majority of the negatives I took from Deathloop are mild at most. Enemy AI can be adjusted in future patches, weak endings can be salvaged with story DLC or a sequel, new enemies could be implemented in future updates, and the rest are really just personal preferences that I believe would improve the game overall. Does Deathloop NEED a weapon/slab wheel? No it plays perfectly well with the systems currently in place. Do I think having access to one would make the game more enjoyable? Absolutely, but others might think otherwise. The minor gripes I have with Deathloop (in it’s current state) do not detract from how much fun I had with the incredible polished gameplay or how engaging solving the mystery of Blackreef hooked me in. Yes there are issues with Deathloop. No it is not a perfect game, but man was it a fucking blast to play through. Games that really get my mind racing to beat are few and far in between for me and Deathloop did that all tied up into a beautifully crafted, wonderfully voice acted, colorfully morose bow. If Deathloop released alongside titles like God of War, Spider Man, and Red Dead Redemption 2 back in 2018, it may not have been GOTY then, but right now in 2021 it certainly holds a very strong spot.
4.5 /Oh Shit There’s a Mine/ out of 5