Deathloop is one of the most innovative games from a major publisher that I’ve ever played, using the time loop mechanic to fantastic effect. With lots of clever puzzles and engaging combat, as well as a genius multiplayer element, this is one of the best games of 2021 yet.
- Uses the time loop concept to great effect
- Supernatural abilities are a joy to use
- Plenty to discover in each hub world
- Multiplayer element adds some thrilling chaos
- Can get repetitive towards the end
- A small number of technical issues
- UKRRP: £59.99
- Release date:Available on 14 September
- Platforms:PS5 and PC
Most AAA single-player games play it safe by sticking to a tried-and-tested blueprint, whether that’s an enormous open-world to explore or a linear story that could rival Hollywood. But Arkane Studios has ripped up the rulebook for Deathloop, creating one of the most innovative big-budget games I’ve ever played.
By using a time loop mechanic plucked straight out of Groundhog Day, Deathloop sees leading character Colt trapped in a perpetual cycle. Whether he outlasts the 24 hours or is bludgeoned to death by the various hostile inhabitants on the island, Colt always wakes up on the same beach, on the same morning, with time reversing everything but his memory.
Such a concept will inevitably invite comparisons to games from the roguelike genre such as Hades and Returnal, with death seeing you return right to the start. But in truth, Deathloop is more akin to the likes of Hitman, with its four small hub worlds feeling like creative playgrounds of mass destruction that demand repeated visits to uncover every secret.
Each hub world can also be visited at various times of day – morning, noon, afternoon and evening – giving the player the opportunity to meddle with the timeline for some ‘butterfly effect’ shenanigans. Add some Dishonored-flavoured stealth, slick first-person shooter action and an optional multiplayer element that allows players to invade your game and thwart your progress, and you’ve got yourself one of the most unique AAA games ever made and among the best experiences that 2021 has to offer.
- The time loop mechanic allows for some domino-effect creativity
- The Dishonored special abilities are a joy to use
- Death never feels unfair, despite returning you to the start
The main objective of Deathloop is to end the time loop by assassinating eight targets before the end of the day. Fail to eliminate even one of those characters before the clock strikes twelve, then time will be reset and resurrect everyone you previously slaughtered.
This is made even more complex by the fact you can only visit one of the four locations at each time interval, making it impossible to assassinate two different characters during the evening if they’re not in the same hub world. This means you’ll need to alter your targets’ behaviour patterns, coercing them to converge in one area for a more time-efficient assisnation. It’s a smart way of utilizing the time loop mechanic, turning Deathloop into a rubix cube-style puzzle rather than just a straight-up shooter.
In order to influence your targets, you must first gather intel about them by snooping on emails, documents and voice messages. And since your memory is the one thing that isn’t reversed at the end of the day, you can carry on your detective work at the start of the next time loop, ensuring your progression is never really lost after death.
I personally find the permadeath of roguelikes disheartening and frustrating, seeing all my hard work disappear after one fatal mistake, but Deathloop avoids this issue entirely. There’s still a consequence to death – as you’ll lose all of your in-game currency that enables you to retain weapons and upgrades once a new time loop begins – but such a punishment never felt unfair. Plus, once you’ve found a safe combination or a particularly useful piece of information about a target, that knowledge will stay with you until the very end and take you one step closer to the end goal.
Some of the most enjoyable puzzles had me jotting down notes and taking photos of my TV screen, providing an incredibly satisfying feeling once I finally claimed my prize, whether it was a hyper-powerful weapon or some tantalizing gossip about one of my assasination targets.
But while the time mechanic does allow for some clever puzzles, I was initially concerned that repeated visits of the same four locations would get repetitive quickly. Arkane Studios does a decent job of alleviating those concerns, with the time of day switching up enemy patrol patterns and opening up new areas. For example, Alexis will host a party at his mansion in the evening, making the majority of the guards all crowded together into one spot. This mechanic ensures that there are still plenty of secrets for me to uncover in Deathloop, even after hitting the credits after a 13-hour playthrough.
There are also a large number of weapons and upgrades that you can unlock and add to your loadout, allowing you to choose your own playstyle. You can go storming in with a shotgun, silently sneak inside, or hack into the security system to take control of enemy turrets. I loved this freedom, with Deathloop guiding you to your next objective, but leaving it up to the player to decide how to execute their plan.
There are also multiple supernatural abilities you can unlock too, ranging from the Aether invisibility cloak to Karnesis that allows you to hurl enemies into the sky. These abilities really can be a game-changer, with the teleporting Shift ability in particular allowing me to reach previously inaccessible shortcuts that are invaluable for a stealthy approach. Some of these abilities have admittedly been copy and pasted from the Dishonored series, but they work seamlessly here and are a lot of fun to use.
Despite Arkane Studio’s best efforts, the second half of my playthrough did start to feel a little repetitive, as I started to memorise all of the map’s shortcuts and enemy locations for the various time zones after repeat visits. Fortunately, the introduction of Julianna helps to keep things entertainingly chaotic in an otherwise predictable world, as online players can use her avatar to invade your game and hunt you down.
I would always dread a Julianna invasion when things were going too smoothly, since online players can be far tricker to kill compared to AI-controlled foes. But on the plus side, taking her down will often reward you with a new weapon or supernatural skill, which can prove very useful for the rest of your playthrough. I do however appreciate the option of turning off online mode – Julianna will still randomly appear, but will instead be controlled by the AI, making her decidedly easier to defeat.
However, when Julianna entered my game it would also increase the likelihood of encountering technical issues. My game crashed twice when fighting with Julianna, erasing the progress I had made in that hub world. The random nature of her appearances can be problematic too. She appeared four times in a row for one particular objective, which caused me a great deal of trouble. But when it came to the final time loop, I assassinated all of my targets on the first attempt with no sign of any Julianna invasions, which was a relief but also an anti-climax.
- Multiplayer adds chaos to the predictable worlds
- You can invade either your friends, or random players online
- Killing Colt will unlock more weapons and abilities for multiplayer
Of course, it’s also possible for you to take on the role of Julianna and invade the game of other players. You’ll start off with pretty basic weapons and skills, but kill Colt enough times and you’ll gain enough experience points to unlock a more powerful loadout.
But while this multiplayer feature can hype up the tension for those playing as Colt, I personally found playing as Julianna pretty boring. All of the henchmen and security systems are friendly to you, so your only threat is Colt. But if your rival player is skilled at stealth, tracking him down can be a tedious process of wandering from one corner of the map to the other, or just standing still and guarding a satellite dish until your opponent makes an appearance.
I definitely recommend giving this multiplayer mode a go, but I can see people growing bored of it pretty quickly – it’s far more fun to play as Colt.
There’s also some technical issues to be aware of, as the multiplayer mode was prone to crash or suffer server issues despite high internet speed. It also took a long time to find a player to invade, but that will likely change once the game officially launches.
- The story is told through intel you obtain during missions
- Julianna is a superb antagonist, but dialogue is brief
- There are no cutscenes, so don’t expect a cinematic story
Deathloop doesn’t feature any cinematic cutscenes, with the majority of the story being drip-fed to the player through environmental clues and the various emails and voice memos exchanged between the ‘visionary’ characters.
It was very interesting to discover the various relationships between these characters, while also discovering Colt’s own backstory and the mysteries of the island.
The highlights in terms of story are undoubtedly the exchanges Colt has with Julianna through a walkie talkie. At the start of every hub world they’ll bicker and occasionally reveal some intriguing story exposition surrounding the time loop. But these interactions are far too brief, making it near-impossible to establish any substantial character development.
If you’re looking for a top-notch detective story, Deathloop isn’t it. I was underwhelmed by the conclusion, as the answers to my burning questions never really materialised – there just aren’t as many twists here as I had hoped. That said, there are seemingly two different endings, so perhaps you’ll find more satisfying information if you take another path.
I still enjoyed uncovering the story, with Arkane Studio doing a great job of giving you a breadcrumb trail to follow in any order you fancy. But I’d still argue that the story takes a backseat to the genius ‘time loop’ mechanic that makes the game feel so unique.
Graphics and sound
- The cartoony artworks looks fantastic
- The soundtrack gives me great James Bond vibes
I loved the cartoony art style of Deathloop, with the bright, vibrant colours making it a far upbeat world to explore than the grim, dark world of Dishonored.
The presentation of the UI was also slick, making it very easy to sort my loadout, set my targets and read through all of my obtained intel.
But despite playing on a PS5, Deathloop doesn’t really feel like the next-gen leap that many are craving. That said, I did mainly stick to the ‘Performance Mode’ as activating ray tracing would push the frame rate down from 60fps to 30fps, which was difficult to adjust to with such fast-paced action.
I did however love the DualSense features, providing extra feedback when squeezing the trigger for each gun. Any speech from a voice memo or walkie talkie would also be blasted out of the controller’s own speaker, which was a cool little feature.
It’s the soundtracks that really impressed me though, with James Bond-esque music intensifying once a shooting match begins. It also made me feel like my very own secret agent, as I infiltrated various buildings and used my silenced pistol to pop enemy heads like water balloons filled with ketchup.
Should you buy it?
If you enjoyed Dishonored or Hitman:
Deathloop borrows many of the great stealth and combat gameplay from the Dishonored series, while giving you free reign of hub worlds that feel similar like the deadly playgrounds of the Hitman series.
You’re looking for a cinematic story:
Deathloop tells its story through environmental clues and the various pieces of intel you obtain during your missions. If you’re looking for cinematic cutscenes, you won’t find much joy here.
Deathloop is one of the most unique AAA games I’ve ever played, using the time loop mechanic to great effect. You’ll need to plan out your assassinations rather than just charging all guns blazing right away, but that only makes the end result feel more rewarding.
It does suffer from some slight repetition towards the end, despite Arkane Studio’s best efforts with the genius idea of the multiplayer invasions. But the thrill of uncovering a secret or setting a fatal domino effect in action is so satisfying that it’s still easy to call this one of the best games of 2021 yet.
How we test
We play every game we review through to the end, outside of certain exceptions where getting 100% completion, like Skyrim, is close to impossible to do. When we don’t fully finish a game before reviewing it we will always alert the reader.
Played through the entirety of the single-player campaign
Played on PS5
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It took me 13 hours to complete the main story.
Players can invade your game online, but this function can be turned off if you wish.