Deathloop is frickin' incredible.
Sorry. Is that not a fancy enough intro? A little blunt? It's just that the longer we're sat here writing a review about Deathloop, the less time we're spending actually playing it, and all we want to do right now is play it. Forever. Ad infinitum. You know… like the very premise of Deathloop itself.
Anyone who's spent time creeping across Dunwall's roof tiles in Dishonored will likely already know that Arkane Studios – the same team behind Deathloop – are not your typical game designers. In fact, both Dishonored games are so bloody good, it was difficult to imagine how Deathloop could have improved on the team's delicious formula of meaty combat, ingenious puzzles, and weightless exploration.
Turns out Deathloop exceeds it in almost every single way, offering up a wondrously accessible adventure that's easy to pick up but almost impossible to stop playing. It's not just one of the best games of the year thus far, it's very possibly one of the best games ever made - full-stop. Yes, really.
Deathloop takes you to Blackreef, a secret isle shivering in the North Atlantic somewhere. Its inhabitants loll about the island's four distinct areas – The Complex, Karl's Bay, Fristad Rock, and the urban sprawl of Updaam – safe in the knowledge that no matter what happens to them, the usual rules don't apply. Yes, they may die – there's poisonous gas and icy waters and ballistic turrents and an eye-watering assortment of weapons strewn around – but even if they're headshotted by a stray bullet, Reefers will wake up the following morning, refreshed and with no memory of their unfortunate demise… hence the "loop" bit of the name.
As you might well expect, living without deadly consequences impacts how the islanders choose to live. Tempers will flare and gunfire rings out regularly. Some stagger about the place, pissed and occasionally pissed off, knowing that tomorrow morning's hangover will never come. Like a hedonistic groundhog day, these people – they called themselves The Eternalists – are never held to account for their actions. Life is one long, consequence-free party, and don't they know it.
Enter Colt Vahn. Though a former leader or "Visionary" of Blackreef, something – and we have no idea what – has happened to make Colt hellbent on breaking the loop. The islanders turn on him, which means Blackreef is less now an overindulgent paradise and more a day-glo killing field where everyone – and we do mean everyone – has no purpose other than to kill you… over and over and over again.
As you might well expect, then, Deathloop is primarily a stealth shooter, wherein you creep around the island's four different locales, silently taking down the patrolling Eternalists. Traversal – that is, getting around the place – is delightful; you can either scream through the place all guns blazin', or skulk from shadow to shadow, rooftop to rooftop. There's no right or wrong way, either; your way is the right way.
You see, while Dishonored introduced Arkane's Play Your Way premise, we always felt that our manic High Chaos runs – each of which resulted in the less favourable ending, of course – were kind of… well, wrong. Your mission score – the handy little summary that pops up at the end of each chapter – seemed biased towards a clandestine approach, valuing non-lethal takedowns and stealth above our murderous rampages.
Deathloop, however, truly values both. There is no one singular, correct approach. Fancy shooting one of the Visionaries in the head before they begin their tedious speech? Go right ahead. Reckon you can snipe every Eternalist in the pace from this convenient rooftop? Please do. Your game, your rules, kid.
And taking a Visionary down is not to be sniffed at, either. Each one of them contains the magical resource Residuum – we'll get to that in a sec – as well as a Slab, a mystical artifact that gives its owner special abilities, such as teleportation or invisibility powers. Several will feel familiar to those who've spent time with Dishonored – Shift is Corvo's Blink, and so on – but there's some truly fabulous abilities up for grabs, and experimenting with the more destructive of them never fails to delight. And the best thing is, if you mess things up, you can just try again tomorrow.
RESET AND REWIND
While resetting your progress at the end of every day might sound tedious, the good news is, Colt never forgets the information he learns in each loop. It's not quite as straightforward when it comes to retaining your cool weapons, trinkets – individual character and weapon perks that help your tailor your loadout for each mission – and powers, but thanks to that aforementioned Residuum, you'll be able to "infuse" and retain your favourite items every time you loop, too. It means every single run – even the ones that end in plummeting to your doom – will be useful. It's just up to you to decide what weapons and perks you're prepared to invest in.
Killing all seven Visionaries in a single loop will take a bit of doing, mind. Not only will you have to thoroughly explore Blackreef to ensure you pick up all the notes, voice memos, and hints that will slowly reveal the best times of day to strike, but you also have to know when and where to tackle a Visionary.
Sure, you can pursue Egor in The Complex in the morning, shoot him down and steal his awesome Aether ability. You can even return the next day to kill him again and secure a Slab upgrade, too. But all you have is a single day to kill all seven leaders, and you can only make four visits to Blackreef – once in the morning, once at noon, once in the afternoon, and once in the evening. That means you need to manipulate events to get the right Visionary in the right place at the right time to pull it off.
Does that sound a little overwhelming? It can be, particularly to begin with. Stick with it, though. With every zone changing according to the time of day, there's endless places to explore and research, and with plenty of puzzles – literally, should you visit Karl's Bay – you won't ever feel bored. Knowledge is power, and the more visits you make, the better you'll know all Deathloop's secrets.
EVERY DEATH YOU TAKE, SHE'LL BE WATCHING YOU
The one unknown quantity will be Julianna, your arch-nemesis and certified pain in the arse who wants you dead so much she'll keep doing the (dis)honours over and over again. Not only will she continually bug you over the radio but she'll also periodically invade your game, too, masquerading as an everyday Eternalist before furiously engaging. Though you're (sadly) not able to absorb her Masquerade Slab, she may be carrying a cool weapon, Slabs from other Visionaries, and usually a butt-ton of Residuum, so taking her down before she finishes you off never goes unrewarded.
We didn't find her particularly challenging when under AI control, but in a surprise twist, Deathloop offers a multiplayer mode that enables other players to invade your game as Julianna. It results in some incredibly tense battles, many of which will be a challenge to survive. You can turn it off if you'd prefer to explore unchallenged by human combatants of course, but it doesn't half add a delicious edge to your adventure.
Deathloop is slick, stylish, sophisticated, and immensely good fun. There's no end to the imaginative ways you can finish off enemies, and thanks to the very premise of the time loop, you can endlessly experiment with your powers and weapons – every run can be entirely different – without ever thinking the way you play is "wrong".
It's a triumph, flawless in pretty much every way from its style to its soundtrack, throat-punching its way into the annals of video game history where, like Deathloop's Eternalists, it'll likely live on forever.