I’m ashamed to admit it but Arkane games have never really clicked with me. I’m no fool, I see the appeal of games like Dishonored and Prey, and absolutely recognise how well deserved the praise is for each. It’s just that if you present me with a door, and then tell me there are a thousand ways to step through it, I tend to lose interest, immobilised by the sheer volume of different options at my disposal. Deathloop still allows for a huge level of freedom when approaching a target, but thanks to a laser-focused objective system that rewards small bursts of exploration the whole thing just feels more manageable. By keeping the clever mechanics and world-class game design running mostly in the background, it’s able to concentrate on being a fun and unique experience. In short, Deathloop is easily the leanest, most nimble of all Arkane games. It also just might be the best one yet.
Read More: Deathloop - Tips For Killing Julianna
Deathloop, like many great games before it, holds a time loop at its core. There are four stages to the day, with things looping back to the start as soon as the sun sets. Whether you venture out in the morning, afternoon or evening, time will mostly stand still until you travel to another of the four main districts. These intricately detailed areas feature different opportunities and new targets depending on what time of day it is. Deathloop quickly becomes a sort of Hitman game with every target connected, their behaviours linked and determined by the passage of time.
By scouring each level for documents, audio files and clues, you slowly start to line up your targets, setting up one final loop where you hop between them, killing all eight Visionaries in a single day. In some ways, this is all classic Arkane. Colt is equipped with a selection of abilities ripped straight from Dishonored. Environments are littered with clues to read and piece together. The difference here is that with each clue comes an explanation as to why it is useful to you. They’re even sorted in your menu into which time period and area they relate to. A hell of a lot of the fat is cut when compared to something like Prey, which operated on a ‘you figure it out’ mentality to intel collecting. As you explore, you build up a hefty pile of dirt to use against the Visionaries, edging closer and closer to that final loop.
The Visionaries are your primary targets in Deathloop, and boy are they fun to kill. Made up of rich socialites, dodgy self-help cultists and over-zealous scientists, the Visionaries are the sort to show up in tabloid newspapers having been caught drunk driving in pricey hyper cars. There are hundreds of ways to dispatch each of them, from drowning, to a kill involving a meat grinder that would make Agent 47 proud. You can go in quietly, using invisibility and teleportation to get the drop, or load up with shotguns and grenades and use telekinesis to toss enemies around like ragdolls. There’s genuine pleasure in murdering your way across Blackreef, but you can’t ever get too comfortable, as Julianna could burst in to ruin your fun at any moment.
Julianna is another Visionary, but isn’t confined to specific areas or time periods. She is either controlled by the game’s AI in offline mode, or by another player when playing online. The latter is where things get interesting, as Deathloop’s PvP aspects slot seamlessly into the main story. Juliann has one life, but is able to stalk from afar, with the knowledge of area-specific objectives at her disposal. She’s also able to swap her appearance with any NPC, switching gears and setting up a social stealth element that harkens back to Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood’s excellent multiplayer mode. Colt has three lives, but needs to hack an antennae to be able to leave the area. It’s an exciting game of cat and mouse, where success is directly tied to each player’s knowledge of the world around them. There’s an argument to be made that Deathloop largely doesn’t need a multiplayer mode, and in some ways that’s true. It definitely adds variety to each loop however, and gives you something to come back to after beating the single player story.
Deathloop is surprisingly short, wasting no time on extra targets or lengthy cutscenes. Every little bit of what’s included shines bright, with room to explore and experiment baked into the main runtime. Once I’d completed the final loop I found myself desperately wanting more, and jumped back in to clean up trophies and try out new weapons.
Just being in Deathloop’s world is thrilling, every punch and shot is felt through the DualSense controller. The gunplay is good enough, but I did find it lacking once PvP was introduced, especially using the sniper rifle which fell short of being precise enough for the job. For the vast majority of time in Blackreef however, the wide selection of guns are a joy to use. You’re even able to customise them with Trinkets, small buffs that can be slotted into weapons and onto Colt between loops. There’s a currency that introduces a slight roguelite mechanic as well, forcing you to spend wisely before the loop resets and you lose the majority of what you’ve picked up that day. Much of the game’s early sections are spent explaining this aspect, and while I understand that Deathloop is a fairly complicated game to grasp, I do think they drag. It takes a couple of hours for the game to step out of your way, at which point you’re given the freedom to go off on your own. Considering how refined the rest of the game is though, spending so long on what amounts to a glorified tutorial is an odd choice.
Once Deathloop steps back and lets you explore Blackreef in your own way, you’re presented with an expertly crafted world that changes as you poke and prod away at it. By doubling down on a handful of mechanics, Deathloop is a much sleeker, much more immediate experience than other Arkane games. I’d struggle to pick out a sub-par moment, or a target that was anything less than iconic. I feel that with Deathloop, one of the world’s best studios has put its best foot forward, offering up a painstakingly curated selection of reasons why it simply does it better than most. Deathloop is the most compelling reason to buy a PS5 yet, and a game that is destined to be referenced by future titles for years to come.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5
Code provided by the Publisher.