Arkane Studios holds an astounding track record for a company now 22 years in the making. From the earliest days of Arx Fatalis to the recent space-station horror-thriller in Prey 2017, nearly every game has gone down in player’s hearts as some of the top experiences of their respective genres. While I’ve loved nearly every title from the team myself, their more recent adventures in Dishonored, its sequel, and Prey, have left me hungering for a game focused on their ability to make every kill uniquely powerful. Dishonored was a great example of this, though with the caveat of punishment in the story. With Arkane’s newest adventure Deathloop now out and about though, it’s time for high chaos to finally get the spotlight it deserves. But do its endless loops and kill after kill live up to everything a fan of immersive sims can hope for? Find out in my review of Arkane Studios’ Deathloop!
Breaking the Loop
Deathloop begins like any Arkane game does, with a million questions and an endearing absence of answers. Colt (the main character) wakes up on the desolate beaches of the mysterious Blackreef, after perishing to an unknown woman’s blade. As he traverses the beach and finds himself a tool of trade, he explores much of what Blackreef has to offer. Though, when he comes upon his first death, he reawakens on that same beach, at the start of that same day, only with the knowledge of what happened previously on his belt. His end goal though couldn’t be clearer: kill eight visionaries and put an end to this god-forsaken loop.
The island of Blackreef and its citizens make this world an unforgiving place though, sure to be full of surprises and secrets not even Colt can begin to comprehend. As you make your own route through the main island, tidbits of information show themselves in the form of paintings on walls, audio logs, or even basic documents littered with text. It’s this information that becomes a core part of developing not just the world, but Colt and his opponents themselves. While having to hunt around for documents may sound tedious at best, it’s not just easier thanks to objective markers, but rewarding as well. You don’t murder eight random people on an island, you’re murdering eight psychopaths with motivations, goals, and plenty of evil locked away in their dark hearts. This adds a surprising amount of evolving depth, making you understand each of your adversaries deeply. And yet, it’s still just as fun to put a bullet through their skulls.
Though while the way I portray Deathloop’s story may sound dark, it’s chock full of well-written humor. Some motivations are hilarious when you think about it, not to mention the path you take to get there. One particular moment later in the game stood out to me involving a certain doll. While I won’t go any further than that to avoid spoilers, you’ll know when you see it. It’s a title that isn’t afraid to throw a few great jokes in there, and to my surprise, nearly all of them stick. It’s something that would’ve felt out of place in both Dishonored and Prey (though the latter gave a taste of that) but feels used to its fullest effect in Deathloop.
Nothing stood out to me more though than the dynamic between Colt and the girl, who for the sake of simplicity we’ll just call Julie. Not only is Deathloop’s character writing great, as to be expected from Arkane, but the delivery truly sells the dynamic between the two. It’s one of those select times where I believe no one else could’ve taken on these roles, as Jason E. Kelley and Ozioma Akagha hold plenty of chemistry as Colt and Julie respectively. They had conversations that genuinely pulled laughs out of me, and they’ll easily go down as one of the most memorable parts of my Deathloop review. The passion from every aspect of this story is clearly defined, and it’s merely the backburner to what takes center stage.
Colt’s Adventures (and Misadventures) Across Blackreef
And that’s of course Deathloop’s gameplay, something I was desperately hoping for Arkane to get right. Like I mentioned above, I adore the fluidity of animations and movement, especially when it comes to scoring kills in some of their other titles (especially Dishonored). And what I hoped for was for Arkane to take that, enhance it with various weapons, and let players explore a sandbox to play how I want.
And did they ever deliver.
Deathloop is very much a game that can be played entirely in stealth if you choose. Hell, you can even choose to put an end to some of your opponents without firing a single shot. But where the game truly shines is when you go on a murderous rampage. Whether you prefer to pick characters off silently or go in guns blazing with a particular weapon of choice, each shot you fire feels powerful and hits targets with deadeye precision. Finally, an Arkane game that puts this sort of thing center stage, and it’s all the better for it. I’m not sugarcoating it when I say this, Deathloop is arguably the apex of Arkane’s expertise in immersive sim design, with many ways to go about your objective, and each of them feeling satisfying to a tee.
They went beyond my expectations with this Deathloop review and introduced unique weapons into the mixing pot as well, something Destiny fans are sure to find familiar. There may only be four “unique” weapons, but these require an extra level of effort and finesse to wield. And with each providing something truly unique to the sandbox, I wouldn’t blame you for holding a full arsenal of these toys. Each can adapt to your particular situation, and when you fire them, damn do they feel good. I won’t spoil what each one does because you should see them for yourself, but trust me when I say it’s worth it to collect every single one.
And this is merely scratching the surface. Those who appreciate the iconic abilities from both Arkane’s Dishonored and Prey will find they make a nice, enhanced home within Deathloop. The title has stripped down the total abilities, also referred to as Slabs, to just a handful. But as you collect each of these slabs off the corpses of visionaries, new upgrades become available, letting you mix and match to find what works best for you. Want a Slab that lets you swap places with others and reach farther to let you teleport? That’s a valid option. What about a Slab that makes your kills and combat prowess even more powerful? That’s an option too. Mixing and matching not just these, but various weapon perks, truly amplify the player agency. As the old saying goes, sometimes, less is more.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. That’s cool and all, but if this is a game about time loops, what’s the point of getting all this fancy gear if it’ll just disappear? Thankfully, Arkane has just the answer for that. Meet Residuum, a resource that can be taken from the world, the visionaries you put an end to, and from other pieces of gear you scrap. Using this, each loop you can spend this Residuum to have various perks and weapons persist between loops forever. This means your arsenal of fully kitted, powerful legendary weapons you’ve fallen in love with can never disappear if you’d like. And thanks to a fairly low health pool and challenging enemy AI, this mechanic doesn’t make later stages of the game feel too much like a steamroll. Rather, it merely gives you new tools to take on challenges you’ve learned full and well in numerous ways.
As experienced in my several loop attempts when reviewing Deathloop, this works in tandem with the world design. Levels and encounters are meticulously crafted in such a way that not only are there several routes to your objective but there are also routes only certain Slabs can unlock for you. Most Slabs do assist in killing more than traversal, but even that opens up its own option of kicking down the door and ensuring every hostile has a bullet lodged in their skull. While I’ll go into the level design a bit more once we cover the visuals, it’s one of Arkane’s primary selling points and thus is strongly felt here. It’s like a deceivingly important layer of polish on the magnificent experience that is Deathloop’s gameplay loop, no pun intended.
Beauty in a Supernatural Island Getaway
That brings us of course to the beauty of Deathloop’s Blackreef, something anyone could’ve expected from the team at Arkane. At first glance, its four levels may leave you feeling that variety in level design will be lacking. But the team behind this adventure put plenty of time, effort, and polish into ensuring each level has various time periods that feel indistinguishable from another. You could enter the town of Updaam in the morning, find it to be a fairly normal town filled with time-obsessed psychopaths, then return at night and find a town of the same psychopaths ready to enjoy the Devouring of the Lambs, a crazy party with a deadly twist. As such, contrary to its idea of looping the same day, Deathloop consistently remains fresh to return to, all the way to the finish line.
It’s the small, minute details in the environment that let Deathloop truly shine with immersion. On a broader scale, every inch of the environment feels beautiful from the decrepit bunkers to the endless shores, covered with relics of a bygone era. But even some of the minute details, such as the individual textures, are modeled with care and attention that many games these days would scoff at. As a great example, several burgers and sub sandwiches are left unattended, and they honestly look delectable even by real-life standards. The attention to detail in Deathloop is an unrivaled strength, one that truly surprised me during my review, even if the example is a rather hilarious one.
This carries over to animations as well, which already felt slick in previous games. Colt’s ability to twirl various guns and toy with them as though they’re his plaything makes for some incredibly sleek reload animations, alongside the already great melee executions. Some are recognizable, but fresh kills spice up the standard and add something new to the table that makes melee kills worth it. Even the barehanded neck snaps never get old, though they’re naturally not as powerful as a clean slice to the neck. Throughout my Deathloop review, let’s just say many heads rolled off cliffs (literally).
Everything wonderful I’ve mentioned about gameplay and animations would be meaningless if it weren’t for some incredible sound design to top things off. With Arkane’s first foray into focused gun sounds, I have to say that they did a stellar job. Snipers sound precise and deadly, silenced pistols offer a satisfying swish through the air, and shotguns, well, let’s just say you feel the boom. There’s even some fun late 20th century-inspired tracks to top things off, all enhancing this gameplay in one form or another. It isn’t anything I’d listen to daily (love you to death, DOOM soundtracks), but it serves the setting and tension in a way that feels great.
Deathloop is, in all honesty, Arkane’s crown jewel of immersive simulators. After believing the original Dishonored couldn’t be topped, the team that developed it has managed to top that high bar by a huge margin. While I love both games to death, this game’s full focus on the gunplay and movement that make their titles so fun finally lets their full potential flourish. Deathloop is a true masterpiece of an experience, one that will go down easily as not just my Game of the Year, but as one of the greatest games I’ve ever played (let alone reviewed). Bravo Arkane, bravo.