It isn’t lost on me that my time with Deathloop, a game about a murderous version of Groundhog Day, began to drag. An adventure so startlingly fresh began to wear on my patience as it slowly loses its way the further you find yourself embedded into it.
Players take on the role of Colt, who wakes up alone on a beach with nothing but the cool jacket on his back. No memories of the previous night, nothing. He soon discovers that he’s trapped in a time loop and is being hunted by not only the inhabitants, but an incredibly angry individual called Julianna.
Deathloop’s strongest point is its story, with an incredibly funny protagonist and the consistent slow reveals of what the island holds ranges from wild to upsetting. It also helps that Arkane, the developers, are immensely aware of the type they’re making.
Whenever you die or reach the end of the day, Colt reawakens back on the beach and must replan his day until the task of killing all the head honchos of the island, The Visionaries, are dead. With eight of them, you must find the best route through each loop until you’ve killed each one.
Personality is king
The game doesn’t leave you in the lurch though, as there’s an extensive menu system that allows you to follow all leads, set quest markers and even experiment with different sections by skipping over portions of the day.
You get different sprinkles of dialogue each loop, new story reveals and if you follow the leads, you’ll actually discover so much with each individual loop. The issue comes towards the middle of the game, where you’re into the swing of things and the game begins to ease up on the flood of new things to hear, almost punishing you for the intended point of the game – failure.
Deathloop is also heavily made with an anti-rich, anti-capitalist agenda and it is delightful. The enemies that litter the maps are drunks, slackers and all around out of touch morons. Dispatching them and their Visionaries, who mirror the same egotistical upper class that infest our world today, with their vision of class being a grim future of endlessly living while the world around them continues to turn.
Lay this on with the mysteries surrounding Colt’s visions and Julianna’s pent up aggression and it is just this perfect blend of something new each time.
It’s a shame then, that this eventually begins to let up, because the interactions between both Colt and Julianna, as well as the bevvy of emails, instant messages and notes you’ll find around the island really make the enclosed space feel alive. It leaves the game vacant and at times, quite flavourless.
An island of morons
As Deathloop’s enemies are deliberately made to be a bit thick in terms of previous Arkane games – they’re rich losers, not the hunting aliens from Prey – they actually remind me of Metal Gear Solid 1’s soldiers. Forgetful, but incredibly deadly if you don’t dispatch them quickly.
This leads Deathloop to a fatal flaw in its idea. The best way I found to deal with each enemy in the game was to simply shoot them. Stab them. Maul them. Push them over the edge or boot them in the face. Even with the powers you’ll acquire, it just mostly lead to the same results.
However, Julianna is the only thing standing out amongst this throughout the game. She’ll invade your game (in either multiplayer or singleplayer) and you’ll need to fend them off in this wild battle of flinging abilities at each other. These moments are so nail-bitingly close each time that when you do get the upperhand – more so in multiplayer – it just reinforces the point that the game is otherwise lacking in anything remotely different.
Even the Visionaries become the same “shoot them till their dead” routine, even if they do have unique powers.
The game can lead to beautifully chaotic moments, but with each encounter feeling dreadfully similar, especially once I unlocked a massive sniper rifle that blew enemies away in one shot. Why do anything else when I’m trying to best the system?
Getting into a routine
Deathloop is probably the least cruel rogue-lite game I’ve played. Progression is secondary until the climax, with a general attitude of “just learn things until you can put everything together”. I rarely felt worried about dying until those last few loops, which is fine, but it still didn’t offer up much in the way of incentive to try anything new than what I already had settled on.
Between each segment (morning, noon, evening and night) it’ll reset your ‘lives’, the free rewinds you get when you fall foul to an enemy and allow you to bank the Residum (various points you collect in each run) to build your arsenal. Each loop, you’ll then start with a choice of weaponry that slowly grows the more you’re able to collect.
Deathloop also goes against the grain of the previous titles from Arkane and even the ‘immersive sim’ genre, which aids in its focus on action, but detracts from the complexity that these games can usually bring.
There’s no bodies to hide, no ammo scarcity and very rarely will you actually have to navigate anything via stealth. This is probably the most straightforward game that Arkane have made, wrapped in the rogue-lite system that masks the simplicity with an intricate string of events to either seek or make happen.
But Deathloop’s fascinating start and emotional end are glued together by one of the biggest lulls in gaming I’ve experienced in a while. With no real way to force progression other than to do as indicated on the leads board, Deathloop falls into a hole of becoming a bit tiresome.
I think because Deathloop lacks in the creativity department, the game almost begins to demand that you make your own fun. You can, but why would you? Like I said, I’m trying to beat the system, so why try to deviate from the end goal? I could shoot the bubble gum machines to trip everyone up, but why bother?
The game rarely sets itself up to be that kind of tactical game. The tip of the gun shoots a bullet that kills things faster and without the hassle of waiting for someone else to pop round the corner and blast me with a shotgun.
I think it also doesn’t help that each enemy is pretty much the same in Deathloop. No enemies in vehicles, doing anything unique or even challenging. Simply bodies to gun down as fast as you can.
But those few hours at the start. Each interaction and revelation with the visionaries and the anti-rich sentiment that floods the game is so good that I just want a version of Deathloop where I can just interact with that without the faff.
Arkane has built a brilliant game that is filled with personality, but the further in it gets and the more the video game surfaces to the top, the more it seems to lose what makes it great.