Fact is, I should have played Deathloop when I first picked up the game last year. It was right around the Christmas holiday, when I had a nice chunk of time off. And had I known, or rather, paid attention to what the game offered, I might have more strongly opted to play it then. But, I had been avoiding spoilers and all that, so I didn’t quite know much about the game save for the names of its main characters (Colt and Julianna). Then the holidays arrived in earnest, life took over, and gaming didn’t quite go as I thought it might. Deathloop was relegated to the ever-present backburner until…well, whenever o felt as though I could rightfully tackle it. I didn’t quite think it’d take me the better part of a new year to get to it, but after going off on many a tangent and not having anything “stick” like it should, I thought that maybe Deathloop was just the antidote I needed to counteract my flightiness. Turned out I was right…but not at first.
(UNMARKED SPOILERS AHEAD!)
So, this the part where I should write a summary of Deathloop’s story. But. I don’t get it. Deathloop’s story. I just don’t quite get it. The game is extremely dense with information (initially and ongoing), and this choice on the part of developer Arkane makes me very grumpy, a la Dragon Age: Inquisition’s terrible walls o’ text, and not want to pay attention. But, thanks to the work of Colt’s and Julianna’s absolutely incredible voice actors, I’ve gather this much: both Colt and Julianna reside together in a time loop; Julianna wants to preserve it, Colt wants to escape from it, and the two exchange both physical and verbal jabs over this conflict of interests. The primary game takes place from Colt’s point of view (players can choose to play at Julianna later, but my goodness, one thing at a time please!), and so the job is to break the loop. In order to do that, Colt has to take out eight “visionaries,” leaders within the loop, within the span of a single day. This day repeats over and over again with players piecing together how to reach Colt’s goal each time they play through a respective day. A day is broken down into four timeframe — morning, noon, afternoon, and evening — and there are four maps that can be visited during each timeframe (with some restrictions).
Logically, and as far as I can tell, Colt’s main objective is to learn how to get the visionaries to convene two at a time in one map during one timeframe. That way he can remove two in the morning, two at noon, and so on. I’ve gotten to that point with four visionaries, two of which I know where and when they’ll be together, and two others for which I’m still working out the timeframe. I presume I’ll have to work things out for the remaining four, but my goodness if the paths to figuring all this out aren’t the most convoluted I’ve ever encountered in a game. Granted, the game keeps track of all the information Colt has gathered, but system of having to sift through it is pretty terrible. Just keeping track of Colt’s leads on the eight visionaries is confusing and inelegantly presented. I spent a lot of my initial time with the game being angry at how much material the game was throwing at me. All I wanted to do was shoot things with cool guns, but no. I won’t even go into just how frustrating the act of finding all this information is at times. Not being able to progress until I look at each and every single scrap of paper in a vicinity before locating the correct one (which I swear I looked at before) is just maddening.
Near the end of my last session with Deathloop, I forced myself to stop worrying so much about all its minutiae and focused on just playing, and the thing of it is, Deathloop is incredibly fun to play. I don’t have many first-person-shooters under my belt, but short of Borderlands 2, it’s among the best I’ve ever played. I have a few of the game’s accessibility options on, like aim assist, which go a long way in making combat tolerable, but I love how visceral Colt’s weapons feel in battles. There are a few different armaments in the game, including a machete for “stealth” takedowns, and they each feel especially amazing and individually responsive in action with the PS5’s controller responding in kind. As well, upon killing a visionary, Colt can utilize their “slabs,” each of which instills a different power, such as invisibility or increases attacks. Colt can also hack devices, turrets, and camera, which sometime help with thinning out the enemy herds. The game invites stealth but doesn’t make it a primary combat component (this is no Dishonored); gun battles will obviously bring out more enemies, but it there’s no moral compass in play. Both Colt and his weapons can be upgraded with different “trinkets” that can be found strewn or dropped from enemies. He carries a decent-sized arsenal, and his loadouts can be changed in between daily timeframe or when the day resets.
Though I still don’t fully understand Deathloop’s elaborate story or accept its often perplexing systems (I didn’t even get into deaths and “reprises,” Colt loosing items with the start of new days, the mechanic for saving items so that doesn’t happen), I’m beginning to see why Deathloop received so many accolades. So far, it’s proving to be a solid, well-acted, and compelling adventure with a unique spin on the standard FPS formula. I feel like I’m playing less to see the credits roll and more to just engage with its unusual world and interesting environments. The game also rewards learning and trying. Setbacks don’t feel insurmountable and successes feel immensely satisfying. I have a ways to go before Colt escapes the loop, but I’m enjoying the journey I’m taking to get him there.
All images, include lede, and video were captured by author during PS5 gameplay of Deathloop (© Arkane Studios).
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