From the jump, Deathloop has appeared to me like Dishonored meets Hitman — two blends of immersive sim swirling together nicely in supernatural, swanky 60s vibes. Watching the actual game be played (in a hands-off demo at least) confirmed most of that impression. It’s a bit of a “clockwork world,” with foes moving through four environments in four different time zones with roughly the same routes every cycle. That is until you blink in (literally) and send every cog spinning in different directions.
What I didn’t expect was how fun it all seemed. I don’t just mean that in terms of gameplay. Though it does look like a good, gun-filled time. Arkane Studios — the team behind the aforementioned Dishonored series, as well as Fanbyte EIC Danielle Riendeau’s game-of-forever, Prey — makes a good playground. I’d even say a great one. And the alt universe 1960s seem great to teleport, stealth, stab, and shoot your way through.
But more than that, I’m talking about the tone of the game. Protagonist Colt wakes up one morning with a roaring headache. Maybe the amnesia has something to do with it, because he can’t remember who or where he is. But Julianna just might. She’s a “Visionary” out to kill Colt — again and again and again. Maybe you guessed that’s where the “loop” comes into play as time resets whenever you die. Perhaps it’s thanks to that lack of lasting consequences that the two banter so well. Julianna and Colt have a very natural affinity for one another, displayed in seesaw jibes over the radio as you play.
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Said play mostly consists of hunting down the other Visionaries. These seven semi-immortal targets have unique personalities and quirks — even more akin the fun gimmicks seen on Elusive Targets in Hitman. One shown in the demo, for instance, wears a wolf mask. The problem? He’s not the only one. Many guests to his never-ending soiree don the same headwear. You need to find clues scattered around each major zone to reliably identify him loop to loop. Some of which aren’t even always available. The whole zone changes based on the time period: morning, afternoon, evening, and night. But you select when to attack and explore without a real time limit.
Sometimes these clues may lead to special opportunities, like dropping the party animal down a trapdoor full of… something bad, I guess. Such moments are scripted. The way you reach and interact with them is not. Colt is a Swiss Army Knife in the gears. He can sneak up, take out multiple targets at once with a sort of psychic murder-link, or go hog wild and shoot everyone.
At the start of the game, however, he’s also very fragile. The presentation I saw led to a very dead Colt more than once. Sometimes it was a forgotten turret spinning up to blast him. Other times, the hero was simply overwhelmed by numbers. Though the devs said you will become quite a lot more powerful over time.
“Residuum” seems to be the key. This resource will let you “hold onto weapons, trinkets and powers permanently across loops.” Trinkets are essentially weapon mods, so there is some room to customize your character builds even further. If the other two comparisons weren’t enough, I look forward to a dash of Hades in the run-based progression. Though choice in how you tackle each area has long been part of the immersive sim style Arkane is known for.
This is no solitary affair, though. At least it doesn’t need to be. Julianna is playable as a sort of invader. Her goal, naturally, is to kill Colt. But there apparently isn’t a real win condition for players controlling her. She gets an array of challenges to complete per mission instead. These might include dealing lots of damage without actually killing the central player. Arkane even explained that Julianna can help Colt in this mode. The challenges only unlock new abilities for Julianna and cosmetic skins for both characters (despite it being a first-person game). As such, it’s still unclear to me how incentivized players will feel to play the Visionary. Thankfully an A.I. Julianna will just take over if you don’t open yourself up to invasion.
The whole thing feels a bit like a holdover from before Arkane and its parent company, Bethesda, got bought out by Microsoft. As does Deathloop itself, in a way. It’s a PlayStation 5 console exclusive, despite coming from the Xbox folks. Prior to that purchase, Bethesda had been experimenting with multiplayer in traditionally single-player series, like Wolfenstein: Youngblood. Response to that game was mixed. But it feels more natural in a brand new title like Deathloop. Not to mention a game all about unforeseen consequences and reactions might benefit from extra player-driven chaos.
I’m very curious to see how wide-ranging that chaos can get. It seems more freewheeling than Dishonored or Prey. Both games’ narratives pushed against going too off the rails with magic and violence. Deathloop, by contrast, seems to lean into it. Julianna and Colt sniping at each other (verbally and otherwise) seals the deal. The whole thing just feels looser — smoother — than I anticipated. And that’s the most exciting challenge to my expectations about the game yet.