Game review: Deathloop (PS5/PC)
Arkane Studios and Bethesda’s Deathloop is a bold first-person stealth/shooter that has players experiencing the same day, over and over, on a strange island. Futurefive’s Darren Price has been busy trying to break the loop.
Deathloop features similar stealth-action, fantastical abilities, and detailed environments as Arkane’s previous titles. These are complemented by a twisting plot and a deep, multi-faceted mission structure, which is another hallmark of Arkane Studios.
Players take on the role of Colt Vahn, former head of security employed by the AEON Program on the peculiar island of Blackreef. Every morning Colt wakes on the beach with one task on his mind: to break the loop. Only Colt and his former colleague, Julianna Blake seem to realise that the island and its inhabitants are caught up in a repeating time loop.
The game starts with Colt waking on the beach with no memory of who he is or what or what he is doing there. It’s only via strange text cues that he starts to remember what’s going on and retaining that knowledge after every loop. Throughout the game text also forewarns players of hidden dangers that Colt has likely discovered previously during earlier loops.
Each loop consists of morning, noon, afternoon, and evening, after which the day is reset with Colt waking on the beach. The time of day is advanced by Colt returning to the tunnels under the island. It’s a very intriguing and clever premise.
The island of Backreef is very much a character in the game and one that players will get very familiar with. Originally a fishing outpost, the island was previously used by the military in researching temporal anomalies. Dotted around the island are the remains of what are actually acoustic mirrors, similar to the ones found abandoned along the coast of England. Backreef also features a huge circular active structure that dominates the island. It’s an impressive location for a game and one that’s packed with secrets.
The game chops the island up into several districts. They range from the old fishing town to the AEON Program’s research centres. The districts are all interconnected via a tunnel system that only Colt has access to.
Colt’s singular objective is to kill the eight Visionaries, the VIPs that run the island, as this will break the time loop. All eight must be killed in the same loop. Each Visionary has a schedule that Colt must work out from clues found in each district. Using these clues players can manipulate events and uncover secrets to gain the upper hand.
As well as the Visionaries, Colt must also deal with Eternalists, the armed followers of the AEON Program that will attack him on sight. Where they are and what they are doing very much depends on the time of day. In the morning many of them are hungover from the night before and in the evening, they are out partying. The rest of the time these masked henchmen and women are rather nonchalantly getting on with things.
The Eternalists are not your usual stern guards. They can be found passing time throwing stones in the sea, drunk, urinating, gossiping, and even playing the guitar loudly from rooftops. When provoked, they are dangerous in numbers, but rather easy to dispatch if careful. They are not the smartest adversaries but can appear out of nowhere.
Alarms trigger an armed response. Fortunately, Colt has a hacking tool that can not only disable alarms but also control enemy turrets and open some locked doors.
Each loop resets Colt’s weapons and equipment unless they are infused to him, in which case they are present in his inventory after he wakes on the beach. To infuse items Colt uses residuum, stuff that is harvested from items found around the island as well as salvaged from equipment.
The game gives players quite the arsenal of weapons. There are also trinkets, that can be collected around the island and from the remains of Eternalist, used to enhance both Colt and his weapons. These are things like double-jumps and faster reloads.
As well as trinkets, the game also features special items called slabs. These offer Colt special abilities to help him in his quest. They are found with the remains of Visionaries when Colt kills them. Killing a Visionary multiple times allows for the slab to be upgraded. Slabs add abilities like teleportation and invisibility. The first shard gives Colt two chances to die without resetting the loop.
Another way to obtain slabs is from the body of Julianna Blake. Colt’s replacement in the role of island head of security not only loves a bit of banter on the radio but also making an appearance, herself. When Julianna starts hunting Colt, his escape tunnels are blocked until players hack a transmitter.
Deathloop’s multiplayer aspect allows players to enter another’s game as Julianna and hunt Colt. These incursions are an interesting idea, but not really my cup of tea. A few times I was assailed by a player with a high-level Julianna that completely interrupted the flow of the game. I switched the game over to single-player pretty early on due to this happening regularly. In single-player Julianna does still appear every now and again, but is controlled by AI.
I struggled a bit at the beginning, as the game is repetitive out of necessity. A few times I sent Colt out on an absolute rampage, out of frustration more than anything. It was in doing this that I found myself having the most fun. Whilst there are set targets and objectives, there is nothing stopping players from just heading out and exploring and causing havoc on the way.
Once I’d worked out that I could just go out and cause a bit of mayhem, discover the odd clue and harvest some residuum before returning to the tunnels, I started enjoying the game. I’ll admit, it’s not a game that I can play for a particularly long session without getting a bit bored, but in short sessions, I found Deathloop a lot of fun.
The visuals are superb and the 60s aesthetic really suits the game. Some early issues with the PC version meant that I needed to switch to the PlayStation 5, so I got a look at both versions of the game. On PS5 the game runs fast and without fault. It looks amazing and the environments are packed with details. I also ran the game on a high-spec PC with an RTX 3090 in 4K. Again, the game looked beautiful and ran really well (once I turn a few of the settings down from ultra to stop some random crashing).
Deathloop is a stealth-shooter sandbox of a game that you can spend hours on just experimenting and trying new things. The game is polished and looks amazing. The exploration and information gathering make every session worthwhile even if you just feel like causing mischief. Overall, it’s an excellent premise and a very good game.