Let’s get this out of the way right from the off: Deathloop isn’t a roguelike. It has similarities with the genre, sure. But this is very much its own beast. A wonderful, creative, fantastic beast.
Deathloop is so unique, in fact, that it makes reviewing it rather difficult. You are Colt Vahn, one of the founders of the island of Blackreef. But this isn’t any normal island; it’s stuck in a timeloop, where its residents live the same day over and over again. Colt has had enough of the timeloop, however, so he’s on a mission to break it. Except… it’s no easy task.
You see, protecting Blackreef and its timeloop are eight ‘Visionaries’. Spread all over the island, they’re heavily guarded. But if Colt can manage to take all eight of them down in one day, he’ll break the loop. Simple, right?
Of course, you can’t jump into Deathloop and kill all eight of them instantly. This isn’t like Breath of the Wild where you can skip all the fun stuff and run straight into Ganon’s arms if you want to. Colt needs to gather information, make preparations, and learn as much as he can about Blackreef and its important residents before he has any chance of breaking free.
The time loop aspect instantly makes Deathloop feel like a roguelike, but that would be a very poor description of the game. Yes, if Colt dies, he starts the day over – but any information he’s gathered will be retained. And information is key here. Maybe you need to gain access to a power station, but to do that you first need to retrieve a code. Once you’ve got that code, it’s yours forever, even if you die immediately after picking it up. Colt may be stuck in the same loop, but unlike the other residents of Blackreef, he can retain his memories from the previous day.
Deathloop‘s gameplay is split into four times of the day: morning, noon, afternoon and evening. For each time period, you can visit one location and – ideally – achieve one particular mission. Maybe you’ll aim to take down one of the Visionaries to collect their valuable equipment, or maybe you’ll go on a fact-finding mission. A lot of what you can do in Deathloop can only be done at a certain time of the day, so you’ll need to think about your plan of attack.
You can tackle missions – or ‘leads’, as Deathloop calls them – in any order you want, but there are some obvious ones to face early on. One mission allows you to unlock ‘Residuum Infusion’ – a resource required to permanently keep weapons and equipment, and the ability to do so. Starting each day with a powerful arsenal is, as you’d expect, a very useful boon to have on Blackreef. Particularly if part of that arsenal includes ‘Slabs’ which you’ve recovered from Visionaries.
Most Visionaries carry one personal ‘Slab’ – a mod of sorts that grants them a special ability. One allows you to throw enemies through the air, Jedi style. Another allows you to go invisible for a time. A third allows you to teleport short distances. In a game where stealth and action are equally important, they’re all useful in their own ways – but you’ll undoubtedly find your favourites.
As you’d expect from a game developed by Arkane Studios, Deathloop provides you with a great amount of freedom. You can tackle missions however you want; perhaps you’ll go in all-guns-blazing, or you can take it steady, stealthily taking out enemies. Or maybe you’ll find a less obvious route through an environment to avoid combat altogether. With rooftops to clamber onto, backstreets to sneak down and building interiors to cut through, there’s always multiple ways you can reach an objective. You have the opportunity to try out any approach you like, and it’s often worth experimenting to find what works best. A very useful piece of equipment means Colt can essentially ‘die’ twice before his loop is reset, and with plenty of health pick-ups dotted around every environment, Deathloop is never unfair. That said, if you rush into a group of enemies without taking care, you will find yourself waking up on a new day very quickly.
There are some truly excellent opportunities to get creative around Blackreef. Colt has the ability to hack certain pieces of technology, like reprogramming a turret to instead target the enemy. You can pick turrets up and move them around too; reprogramming one and throwing it into a room full of enemies quickly became one of my favourite things to do. Various upgrades also allow for more creativity; you can hack enemies’ radios to make them explode, for example. And if you upgrade it enough, one of your Slabs allows you to switch places with an enemy. How about doing so just as you’re jumping off a ledge?
Yes, Deathloop is brutal at times; headshots often result in your foes’ heads coming clean off. And melee attacks see Colt send limbs and appendages flying through the air. But it’s oh-so-satisfying, and that’s partly because of just how wonderfully Deathloop performs. There are three modes available on PS5: Performance, Visual Quality, and Raytracing. Performance provides a steady 60fps with dynamic 4K resolution, while the other modes prioritise graphical fidelity. I stuck with Performance, because this is a game that demands the smoothness of 60fps. Slicing through enemies, running, sliding and jumping over rooftops feels flawless, just as it should.
That’s not to say that Deathloop looks bad on Performance mode. Far from it; this is still a gorgeous-looking game, and Blackreef is a place that simply begs to be explored and admired. From incredible vistas looking out from a clifftop over the ocean, to retro-modern interiors packed with minute detail, this island feels like a real living, breathing place. You’ll be compelled to explore every nook and cranny – but of course that comes with the risk of getting into combat with more enemies. Most of the time, it’s absolutely worth it.
But wait, there’s more: playing as Colt is only part of the experience that Deathloop offers. There’s a multiplayer mode, too, allowing players to take control of Julianna, a Visionary out to stop Colt from breaking the loop. You’ll meet her in your single-player game; she’ll show up from time to time to try and kill you. She might be controlled by AI but, if you have the option turned on, she can also be controlled by other players. As Julianna, you can jump into a friend’s game or into a random player’s to spoil their fun – or raise the stakes.
Playing as Julianna certainly isn’t as fulfilling as Colt, but it’s a welcome addition, especially if you crave some multiplayer action. I can see people spending hours upon hours stalking players as Julianna; sneaking up on them when they least expect. It’s fun – but if you’re on the receiving end of one of her unannounced attacks, it can get frustrating. Especially if you’re on a high stakes mission and trying to tackle it stealthily. For me at least, all stealth goes out of the window once Julianna makes herself known. Still, managing to kill her nets you some nice rewards in the form of slab upgrades and trinkets.
There’s a hell of a lot to love about Deathloop. It’s seriously slick; taking control of Colt as he runs, slides, sneaks or climbs through an environment feels incredible. It’s a game that entrusts players to engage with its systems in their own way, and while you’ll never be at a loss on what to do, you won’t have your hand held, either. It’s fast, it’s smooth, it’s incredibly good fun. Chances are, you really won’t want the loop to end.
Deathloop Review – GameSpew’s Score