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Deathloop is a sandbox of wicked opportunities for creative assassins

Deathloop
(Image credit: Arkane/Bethesda)

Deathloop feels like a game that only the team at Arkane Studios could create. It’s incredibly stylish, delightfully ambitious and overflowing with unique gameplay possibilities. But it isn’t immediately obvious what kind of game Deathloop actually is from the trailers alone. 

If your first impression of Deathloop is that it looks like Dishonored with guns, you’re not too far off the mark – Arkane Studios’ game director Dinga Bakaba even made that exact comparison himself during the video preview event we attended. 

But as we’ve come to expect from the Lyon-based developer’s previous games, it isn’t as straightforward as that. There are countless flourishes of clever innovation, a penchant for the supernatural, and an evolving narrative interwoven throughout Deathloop’s gameplay. What awaits players is a sandbox of opportunity, and I’m eager to dive into Deathloop’s twisted version of the 1960s to see what havoc I can cause when it releases on September 14, 2021.

So what kind of game is Deathloop, exactly? Well, it’s best described as a murder puzzle. You play as Colt, an assassin who wakes up on the island of Blackreef suffering from amnesia. Your goal, on the face of it, should be incredibly simple: find and assassinate eight targets known as ‘The Visionaries’ in the space of one day. 

The problem is, though, Blackreef is stuck in an endless time loop that makes that goal substantially more difficult. Oh, and there’s another assassin named Julianna who’s determined to stop you. (Interestingly, Julianna can be controlled by another human player in the game's multiplayer mode, but we didn't get to see this in action.) 

Every time you die (surprise: that’s going to happen quite a lot), time resets and you’ll have to try again. You ultimately need to find a way to break the loop, and as you progress through Blackreef’s four distinct areas you’ll find explosive weapons, trinkets to customize your loadouts, and powerful artifacts called Slabs that give you superhuman abilities. 

Slowly, you’ll evolve into a John Wick-esque super assassin – if Wick could teleport, turn invisible and throw enemies around like they were ragdolls, that is.

Deadly premonition

Deathloop evening

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Deathloop’s time loop mechanic might make it sound like a roguelike, something akin to Returnal, but Bakaba was quick to stress that the game doesn’t fall into that category. Yes, you’ll be repeating some actions, revisiting areas, and will obviously need to learn from your mistakes. But soon you’ll be powerful enough, and knowledgeable enough, to plot the perfect path to your target without things going awry. 

You don’t have to rush, either. There’s no timer counting down, and Deathloop isn’t about surviving insurmountable odds or finding the perfect pickup. The joy lies in learning how to effectively take out your chosen target, and finding new and inventive ways to dispose of the obstacles that stand in your way.

And that’s where Deathloop’s instant appeal lies. How will you tackle the scenario in front of you? Will you go in all guns blazing, take a stealthy approach, or combine a mixture of the two? Which supernatural powers will you employ to deal with that pack of goons blocking your path, and what’s the best way to override that security system? Sometimes it might just be as simple as kicking a guard off a cliff-edge. 

Again, you can tackle all of this at your own pace, in practically any way you like. And it’s this liberating amount of player freedom – plus your own ingenuity and inquisitive nature – that means Deathloop has the ability to create stories that are personal to each individual player. And that’s a powerful thing. 

Deathloop also just looks straight up fun to play. One of the abilities, known as Nexus, links enemies together so that they share the same fate. That means if you kill one, you kill them all. Pretty cool, right? The guns also look to have a satisfying sense of believability about them.

Loop de loop

Deathloop gunplay

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Structurally, though, there are some concerns. You can approach how you take out the Visionaries in a variety of ways, but you need to kill them all in the space of one day. That means you’ll need to do a lot of searching and experimenting, which could mean there’s an over reliance on trial and error. That could be frustrating, particularly as the consequence of failing to solve these “puzzles” is severe: death. 

It’s always a tricky balance when you give players so much room to experiment, so we’ll have to see how much guidance Arkane has implemented to stop people from feeling overwhelmed or needlessly frustrated. 

Deathloop also runs the risk of being too repetitious. Roguelikes (which, again, Deathloop isn’t) at least benefit from having procedurally generated areas to keep things fresh. Deathloop doesn’t have this luxury, and instead has four areas with four different time zones for players to visit (morning, noon, afternoon and evening). While that may sound like a lot, you will have to revisit these areas multiple times during the game to tackle specific targets or access new areas to glean more information. It’ll be interesting to see just how unique each of these areas are, then.

Deathloop Blackreef

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Another thing that separates Deathloop from roguelikes in a positive way, however, is that you won’t be forced to start from scratch every time. You will slowly piece together Colt’s scattered memories via visual text prompts that appear on screen and conversations with Julianna, and you also get to retain some powers, key information and weapons permanently across loops. Some abilities even grant you extra lives so to speak, so you can have a buffer to fall back on if things go south.

We’re certainly excited for Deathloop’s September 14 release date, then, and we’re also intrigued to see how the game takes advantage of the PS5’s DualSense controller – the adaptive triggers apparently jamming if your gun runs out of ammo. The PS5 may be at risk of missing out on future Bethesda titles thanks to Microsoft’s acquisition of the publisher, but at least Deathloop looks to be a superb send off, whatever the case may be.