Deathloop is Live Die Repeat with a swinging 60s aesthetic and music evocative of a James Bond caper (a bit of Connery, a bit of Craig). It’s setting up the perfect mass assassination with playgrounds that call the Hitman series to mind, except with seven targets over four districts and potentially dozens of soon-to-be-dead NPCs. It weaves Invasion-style PvP and rogue-lite mechanics into the sandbox-style gameplay that Arkane is known for, while presenting a story that’s several parts compelling and plodding. It’s fun but faces some issues in the technical and mission design department that can be hilarious at times and downright annoying at others.
As you’ve probably guessed by all of the trailers released till now, Deathloop is about Colt. He’s stuck on Blackreef Island which is host to the Loop, causing the same day to repeat again and again. Through a series of twists and turns, Colt learns that he needs to kill the Visionaries to collapse the Loop and break free. Unfortunately, the mysterious and sadistic Julianna Blake stalks him at every turn, waiting to pounce and send him back to the beginning until she gets bored (and spoilers: She doesn’t). There are also the Eternalists, NPCs serving under the Visionaries who are out to kill Colt when they’re not partying, meandering about or having existential crises.
"The more creative types of players will find plenty to lean into and thanks to the Reprise Slab, which provides “extra lives” within a District that are refreshed on leaving, there’s enough room for error."
A single Loop comprises four times of day – Morning, Noon, Afternoon and Evening – and you can visit one of the four Districts – The Complex, Fristad Rock, Karl’s Bay and Updaam – during these specific windows. The catch is that you can only visit one of these Districts at a specific time of day. Leaving the District causes time to move forward (though you can manually progress it from the planning screen as well). You’ll start by working through the list of Visionaries, taking them out one by one and obtaining their Slabs – along with higher tier weapons and Trinkets to augment your arsenal – and each has their own unique set-up and mechanics at play.
I won’t spoil anything but working out everything, and going from brute-forcing certain scenarios to assassinating and vanishing like a ghost as you learn more about each map is cool. One of the nicer things about Deathloop is that it accommodates both loud and stealthy play-styles well. The more creative types of players will find plenty to lean into and thanks to the Reprise Slab, which provides “extra lives” within a District that are refreshed on leaving, there’s enough room for error.
But taking out one Visionary per time of day isn’t going to help break the Loop. Making Discoveries, usually by eavesdropping on conversations, listening to audio recordings and reading documents, can provide different Leads. These Leads are your de facto quest chains and following them can allow for scenarios where more than one Visionary is present in a location at a given time. This ultimately culminates in eliminating all of the Visionaries in one single Loop (since it resets if there’s even one alive). Julianna isn’t going to sit back and let you though, so you have to contend with her as well. Discoveries can also lead to different side activities with Trinkets and unique weapons as rewards along with providing alternative ways to eliminate certain Visionaries without much hassle.
"Synergize this with something like Nexus, which links enemies together like Dishonored 2’s Domino, or casually snipe away at enemies in stealth with Aether without moving."
To stand a fighting chance, you’ll need to collect weapons, Slabs – which confer different abilities – and Trinkets for various passive bonuses. Both weapons and Trinkets have different rarities while each Slab has multiple upgrades. Aether is your standard cloaking ability and can be upgraded so that it doesn’t drain Power while moving. Havoc – which makes you invulnerable – can regenerate Power as you damage enemies.
Various unique weapons can also be earned by completing different trials and side activities or as drops from killing Julianna. Take the Rapier – it’s a single shot weapon for mid to long range combat. You can locate higher rarities that provide greater zoom distance or even explosive shots which do extensive damage. The Sepulchra Bretteira sniper rifle has a unique variant that deals damage over time with its shots. Body-shotting an enemy and watching them walk a short distance before suddenly dying is as fun as it sounds.
Synergize this with something like Nexus, which links enemies together like Dishonored 2’s Domino, or casually snipe away at enemies in stealth with Aether without moving. Trinkets also help in the build variety, offering benefits like melee damage granting health, increased Power, reduced damage depending on the number of surrounding enemies and much more. Weapons also have Trinkets for increased magazine size, increased range and so on which also provides some nice customization though you can’t swap up scopes, barrels and so on.
"As you experience each District again and again, even across different times of day, familiarity begins to settle in a little too quickly and the pacing suffers."
Thanks to some generous aim assist and various customizable settings, gunplay feels pretty good. Of course, both the response from the PS5’s DualSense controller (whose haptic feedback is especially great when traversing different kinds of terrain) and the general shooting mechanics help as well. Melee combat can be a bit finicky, especially if your opponents are dodging, but at least the assassinations feel visceral and responsive enough.
It’s worth mentioning that anything picked up is lost when a Loop ends. Counteracting this requires the infusion of Residuum – infusing an item with it will make that available in future playthroughs. You’ll eventually settle on some fun weapons for each situation but if you make efficient use of each time period, you could harvest enough Residuum for carrying over a multitude of Slab upgrades, Trinkets and more.
The game is fairly quick to dole out high rarity items – especially if you’re killing multiple Visionaries in a Loop and racking up Loop Stress, which increases the drop chance of items but makes enemies tougher – and it doesn’t take long before Residuum starts feeling a bit redundant for some things. It’s nice to have, don’t get me wrong, but it would have been even nicer to have other stuff to spend Residuum on. You’ll happen upon a device that doles out Trinkets but it uses a tool for suctioning up nearby Residuum (instead of what you’re currently carrying) and requires a hefty amount for anything of note.
For all that’s good with Deathloop, there are a fair number of things that drag the experience down. The story starts pretty strong and you’re excited to see what Blackreef has to offer. However, as you experience each District again and again, even across different times of day, familiarity begins to settle in a little too quickly and the pacing suffers. While the Leads help in pointing you towards new objectives and places to explore, it’s very easy to devolve into simply going from Point A to Point B and then leaving, then moving forward to the next time of day, and repeating the process.
"Seeing enemies become absolutely befuddled when I go invisible, uncloak and then go invisible again to their befuddlement while standing right in front of them is just terrible."
Better objective variety could have helped in this regard. As such, it toes the line of acceptable padding and sheer fetch-questing when asking you to power a different door in each district and then visiting those doors over subsequent times of the day to receive different passwords for opening one big door. It outright obliterates it upon asking you to find four different pictograms littered in a compound, as you run from corner to corner finding false paintings, combing over every wall and slowly losing your mind.
Enemy variety could have also livened things up – having high Loop Stress, making it that much riskier and dangerous to go loud is fine. But facing the same types of Eternalists, again and again, or having to disable the same turrets again and again started to wear on me. It also doesn’t help that enemies can be pretty dumb at times. I can handle Eternalists knowing exactly where I am despite eliminating their friends with a silenced pistol from the rafters while cloaked in Aether. It’s stupid, yes, but fair enough.
Watching them stand around with no reaction even as their friend dies simply because their back was turned stretches my suspension of disbelief. Seeing enemies become absolutely befuddled when I go invisible, uncloak and then go invisible again to their befuddlement while standing right in front of them is just terrible. Ditto for when an enemy spots Colt and a few seconds later, asks whether it’s Colt that’s hunting them.
"Kelley’s range as Colt is great, seamlessly transitioning from unenthused and frustrated to cracking a bad joke. As Julianna, Akagha does a great job balancing wry wit and humor with blood-lust and careless joy."
Presentation-wise, there is a lot to like about Deathloop. Cutscenes consist of stylish animations, evoking the panache of a spy film. The music, by Sencit, is inspired by the classic Bond films but isn’t beholden to them, with a contemporary touch in its jazz arrangements that works in both downbeat and action-heavy situations. Visually, the aesthetic is more stylistic than photo-realistic but you’ll still notice some great lighting work and effects, not to mention the stellar environments (though some shimmering could sometimes be seen in places with lots of water).
Each of the four districts is laden with strong attention-to-detail, from The Complex’s shadowy corners and imposing machinery (which turns into a mind-laden field in the evening when dealing with Egor) to the happening streets of Updaam where the graffiti and unkempt area around the Library clashes with Aleksis’s imposing manor. You’ll mostly get to know the Visionaries and their backstories through Minicom messages, documents and audio recordings (there’s only so much conversation that happens when you’re trying to murder them). The voice acting is well done overall but it’s Jason Kelley as Colt and Ozioma Akagha as Julianna who steal the show.
Kelley’s range as Colt is great, seamlessly transitioning from unenthused and frustrated to cracking a bad joke. As Julianna, Akagha does a great job balancing wry wit and humor with blood-lust and careless joy. The dynamic between the two mostly plays out over radio conversations and offers the best exchanges in the game, though there were some repeats after a point.
On the technical side, the game runs well enough. I played on Performance Mode which offers dynamic 4K scaling without ray tracing and the frame rate was fairly solid at 60 FPS (though some drops could be noticed every now and then). Oddly enough, the opening cutscene at the start of each new Loop runs in 30 FPS and, along with the animated cutscenes, suffers from copious amounts of screen tearing. There are also some other bugs and glitches that pop up on occasion like enemies clipping into objects or falling through the floor into oblivion. At one point, the game froze, forcing a closure but that thankfully wasn’t a recurring issue.
"Playing online against a player-controlled Julianna feels more exhilarating. You’re suddenly checking corners carefully, traversing rooftops to get a better viewpoint and thinking of places you could be ambushed from."
Julianna’s implementation in the game is unique, in both interesting and confusing ways. When solo and in a District with a target, she’ll invade your game, sealing off the exits and actively hunting you. Taking her down nets a hefty amount of Residuum, a higher tier weapon and some Trinkets. If you manage to avoid her and hack the respective antenna, then it’s possible to escape.
Then again, given how it’s more practical to kill Julianna and resume hunting a target, the option feels somewhat redundant. The enemy AI also leaves much to be desired here – most times, Julianna would simply rush to wherever I was instead of, say, camping the antenna or the target. While there is some challenge to be had in fighting her, especially when she uses Havoc and becomes invulnerable, her threat feels more like a mild inconvenience at times.
Playing online against a player-controlled Julianna feels more exhilarating. You’re suddenly checking corners carefully, traversing rooftops to get a better viewpoint and thinking of places you could be ambushed from. Controlling Julianna can also be nice since you’re leveraging surrounding enemies to spot Colt and either get the drop on him or prevent his escape. The Masquerade ability is nifty in that sense since it allows for exchanging her appearance with a random NPC (though I didn’t find it super practical in most cases).
As you complete different challenges with Julianna, you rank up and unlock more Slabs and weapons, but aside from one interesting bit at the start, there isn’t much by way of story content. In effect, she serves as a nice way to test out a range of different weapons that are unlocked naturally (like a unique SMG that transforms into dual pistols) instead of worrying about Residuum and infusion, and probably engage in some light PvP on the side.
"Deathloop is fun overall and has a good level of polish but the narrative focus is more uneven compared to Arkane’s previous works and it just isn’t as well-rounded in certain areas."
But her progression does create an issue in terms of balance, at least initially. Anyone who’s spent a couple of hours playing with Colt will have more than enough means to fend off a Julianna player, who needs to complete specific tasks (which aren’t too tough but still) to rank up and gain more options, and she doesn’t have outright freedom in choosing what to unlock. Weirdly enough, despite Julianna’s model holding a Sepulchra Bretteira sniper in the load-out screen, she doesn’t get one from the start.
Maybe it would have made things too easy for more skilled Invaders but given the lack of extra lives, she needs a bit more of an edge early on. Of course, the real question is whether adding PvP was necessary at all, given how much of the story focuses on Colt. With how well Akagha portrays her, I would have preferred seeing more unique, shorter story missions featuring Julianna.
Deathloop is many things, combining multiple systems and mechanics into one experience with a stylish aesthetic and intriguing narrative. It’s fun overall and has a good level of polish but the narrative focus is more uneven compared to Arkane’s previous works and it just isn’t as well-rounded in certain areas. If you’re seeking a unique title with different play-styles that all feel satisfying, find the presentation and characters appealing, or like the sound of a time-looping approach to planning a grand assassination, then Deathloop is at least worth checking out at some point.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Compelling opening and intriguing mysteries. Rocking presentation that channels the '60s in its aesthetic and music. Fun, responsive gunplay and healthy customization - numerous play-styles are accommodated well, and different opportunities allow for experimenting in each level. Excellent voice acting especially by the VAs for Colt and Julianna. DualSense feedback is nuanced and adds to the immersion. Each Visionary feels unique and has their own interesting set-up.
After a strong opening, the pacing becomes more plodded, which isn't helped by some lackluster objective variety. Environments start to feel repetitive after a point. Some glitches and bugs along with idiotic AI and screen-tearing undermine the experience. Enemy types feel limited throughout much of the game. Invasion PvP feels nifty but lacks any real incentive.