Arkane Studios used to be one of my favorite video game developers. The 2000s saw the rise and fall of the immersive-sim genre, with companies like Eidos Interactive & Looking Glass Studios well renowned for their immersive-sim titles shutting down due to bankruptcy. Immersive-sims are really niche games to be honest, and trying to make one now is a risky move. It takes a lot of balls and bravery, but Arkane Studios stepped up to the task around the 2010s. They weren’t the only immersive-sim developers during this time, but they made some of the best the genre had to offer. In 2012 they released Dishonored, what felt like a modernized take on the Thief games. You could play sneakily or aggressively, experiment with all kinds of powers and tools, and the game’s world would change depending on how many people you killed. It was a small game full of depth of replayability, and it did so well for it to garnish a sequel. While not as successful as the first game, Dishonored 2 was an exemplary sequel. I’m one of the few people who likes Dishonored 2 equally and if not more than the first game, but that’s not my favorite game from Arkane Studios. Prey, a sci-fi horror adventure similar to that of System Shock. In fact, Prey is quoted as the true spiritual successor to System Shock more so than BioShock. With a multitude of ways to solve problems, rewarding experimentation, exploration, stellar level design, and an intriguing narrative about human nature, Prey is considered to be one of the best immersive-sims ever.
You can tell I love Dishonored and Prey. One of them is one of my favorite franchises alongside, and the other is one of my top ten games of all time. After the release of Prey: Mooncrash back in 2018, Arkane Studios began work on their next big project directed by Dinga Bakaba. He was the lead designer for Death of The Outsider, and seeing how Arkane had just succeeded with a game focused around repetition Bakaba wanted to offer his own take. He wanted to make a murder puzzler where players would have to kill a list of targets within a single day, and he would attempt to combine all of the best aspects of Arkane’s previous projects. From the first Dishonored all the way to Prey: Mooncrash. At E3 2019, they revealed their new game Deathloop. A game about a man trying to break a time loop, and during the time of announcement I was all in. I like timeloop games, because while there is a central goal to work towards, the player is rewarded for taking their time and figuring things out. Piecing together what will happen in the future and using that knowledge to change a course of an event or be more prepared. However, Deathloop also seemed familiar to Prey: Mooncrash. In that game you had to go through a simulation over and over until you helped five participants escape and fulfilled all your mission objections. I was hoping Deathloop would expand on what Arkane had learned before and that they would create their grandest experience yet. Marketing made it look like they would, because Bethesda poured a ton of money into it. Most knowingly not wanting the game to financially fail.
Deathloop finally came out in 2021 and critics across the board were calling it a masterpiece. It was nominated for several Game of The Year awards and hailed to be Arkane Studios’ crown achievement, or that’s what the media outlets said at least. When it came to the general reception of Deathloop, opinions were extremely mixed. There were a lot of technical issues with the PC version, but a majority of criticism was aimed towards the design of the game. How Deathloop was somewhat of a confusing mess and a stepback from what Arkane had made before. There was a huge divide and many players assumed the critics who gave Deathloop perfect scores were paid by Bethesda. As I said earlier, “Immersive-sims are really niche games,” and Bethesda most knowingly kept this in mind when they funded Arkane’s next game. Dishonored 2 and Prey were financial flops, and seeing how they made a flop themselves that being Fallout 76 they wanted to save face. So they poured a ton of money in the marketing department and hoped critics would help mask all the problems Deathloop had. That did not work and in a lot of ways this showed incompetency with both Bethesda and Arkane Studios. Which is sad, because guys were some of my favorite Triple A developers. On one side you have people arguing Deathloop is incredible, and on the other side you have people arguing Deathloop is overrated. I’ve been putting off the game for quite awhile now, but it wasn’t until recently that I got in. It took awhile, but which of these two arguments of Deathloop is right? The answer is neither of them. Deathloop is probably the weakest immersive-sim Arkane Studios has made, but I wouldn’t say it’s a bad game. In fact, I think Deathloop is a pretty good one and a lot of people will enjoy it once they understand how it works. However, there are still problems and I want to highlight some of these problems today. Let’s talk about Deathloop and it took one step forward and one step far back.
We follow Colt Vahn, an ordinary man having one of the most bizarre dreams known to man. He’s about to be stabbed to death by a mysterious woman, and just before he can ask her how he got in this crazy situation she puts him out of his misery. Colt then awakens alongside a beach shore surrounded by nothing but beer bottles. He can’t remember how he got there or what the place is, but he eventually makes way to a nearby tunnel. Navigating through the tunnel he then finds an ominous house and there he finds a code to access the rest of the tunnelway. Just then he is attacked by the woman who he’s seen in his dreams, an assassin named Julianna Blake. She wants to stop Colt from breaking “the loop,” but before he can make him fall to his death Colt is caught by an alternate version of himself. Saying the only way Colt can break “the loop” is by killing the eight visionaries scattered across the island including Juliana. The alternate Colt is shot through the head and our Colt falls to his death. Colt then reawakens on the same beach from earlier and discovers everything he interacted with earlier, from items to crazy cultists who tried to attack him, are back to their original spots. He realizes “the loop” is a time loop and he’s trapped in it until he manages to kill the eight visionaries. However, Juliana also remembers what happens each loop and uses her mistakes to get better at killing you. Colt uses the code learned earlier to access the rest of the isle, Black Reef, and learn more about his targets. He’ll fight mad scientists thirsty for knowledge, party animals, literal party animals, their followers, and much more. All the while dying countless times, trying to formulate a perfect plan to kill the visionaries in one go, and learning more about himself and Black Reef. Why he’s here, what he has to deal with the loop, and more about his mysterious past.
Everyday in Deathloop is divided into four time periods; morning, afternoon, evening, and night. You have four areas to choose from, and once you select an area to explore you spend one of the four time periods. During exploration you want to discover more about the visionaries and do whatever objectives you have available. Doing so will help you form the perfect plan to kill them and what type of powers they wield for battle. You see, killing every visionary is not as easy as you think. Each visionary is only available at certain locations at certain times, so if you try to play the most straightforward way you might be only able to kill four to five of them in one loop. By discovering info you may be able to send those visionaries elsewhere or figure out when they meet up with each other. For example, Aleksis hosts a huge event during the night and he tries inviting two of the visionaris there to celebrate with him. The two visionaries he invited didn’t show up because they were busy with their experiments, but by foiling their plans you can get them to show up to the party at night. Allowing you to kill all three of them in one location. I enjoy this aspect about timeloop games. Time doesn’t play out naturally in Deathloop, but each step to forming the perfect plan feels satisfying to accomplish. Along the way you may obtain new guns, trinkets, and powers to use during future loops and this is where we step into combat.
There are a variety of guns to wield in Deathloop and they are all fun to wield. You have basics like an assault rifle, SMGs, pump action shotgun, and pistol, but then you have the crazy ones. You can pick up a sniper rifle where when you hold down the trigger you power up the shot. A nail gun that’s really good for stealth and just nails enemies through their heads. A shotgun with two big ammo cartridges that can blast away at foes. You can dual wield one handed guns, but you have these special sets of pistols that can be clicked together to form a rifle. You can even pick up rare variants of certain guns that have their own unique quirks. You will also pick up weapon trinkets throughout the game, and these can be equipped to your guns to improve their efficiency. Increased reload time, less recoil, a bigger barrel, higher accuracy, and much more. There are the character trinkets you can find which offer perks like faster health regeneration, quieter footsteps, and even a double jump. Finally there are slabs, which are basically the crazy powers Dishonored offered you. You have Shift which is basically Blink from Dishonored, the Nexus slab which is basically Domino Link from Dishonored 2, Aether which is basically the ability to go invisible which was also in Dishonored, and you have two unique ones being Havoc to power your defense up for a short amount of time and Karnesis to throw enemies about. Not the most original stuff, but they are fun to use and experiment with at your leisure. There is a catch to all the crazy junk you can collect. At the end of every loop you will lose all of your stuff, but it can be kept by spending a special resource known as Residium. You can collect Residium by sucking it from distorted objects found throughout the world or by killing the visionaries who hold a jack ton of it. Residium can then be infused into collected gear so that it may be available at the beginning of every loop. You can even sacrifice items to get more.
Every time you venture into one of the four areas you start off with three lives. Whenever you are defeated you rewind to wherever you were a few seconds ago. Enemies you killed will stay dead, but the place you last died will hold the Residium you have collected. It’s basically the corpse running from Dark Souls where you have to use this opportunity to improve or else you lose all of what you’ve been carrying. Speaking of which, there’s also an invasion system! Every so often you will get attacked by Juliana. She brings weapons and powers similar to your own, and will prevent access to the tunnel ways until you hack a radar in the area. Juliana will play as unfair as she can, and you have to do your best to take her down first. Do that and she’ll drop a rare gun, rare trinkets, a ton of residuum, one of the five slabs you could have gotten from the visionaries, and refill whatever lives you may have lost. You can even play as Juliana herself through an alternate game mode. Try to mess up other player’s attempts in breaking the loop, but that is if you have good internet and if the servers are working. Besides that there’s nothing else to say. Hopefully you can break this loop.
I’m gonna say this right now before we dive into my criticisms. I actually really liked Deathloop. Despite all of the problems, I think this is a really fun game and most of what makes it good is what prevents it from falling apart completely. Deathloop is probably the most combat focused game Arkane has made thus far, but it is a fairly good combat loop. Your guns have weight, all have unique advantages, and you’ll always want to be one the move once a gunfight breaks out. I will say that the enemy AI isn’t the best even after all the patches. Sometimes they have trouble trying to get to you, figuring out where you went, or they all flood through the same doorway for you to gun them down relentlessly. They do balance this out though by placing them in huge groups and making sure they deal a ton of damage, so that gets you to choose fights carefully. You’ll want to vary your approach, use your tools wisely, and cut them down one by one. Despite all of the guns being fun to use I can’t say all of the powers are useful. Not saying they are bad, but once I got a hold of Shift and Nexus there wasn’t much encouraging me to try out the other ones. Why would I sacrifice the ability to teleport, and make escaping combat encounters and stealth much easier for the ability to go invisible for a short period of time or telekinetic powers that are hard to use? The game starts off hard, but becomes much easier as you grow familiar with the level design. Knowing where enemies will be, where to find resources, and where the traps will be. However, this does pop up a few more problems. You’ll eventually learn that you don’t have to vary your approach especially once you form the perfect plan, and it means you’ll be doing the same stuff over and over. Deathloop is a game focused around repetition, but Prey: Mooncrash managed to avoid this problem. You go through the same levels over and over, but the simulation would randomize what enemies or hazards you face. Allowing each replay to feel fresh and exciting as you change tactics.
I also think the game becomes really unbalanced once you acquire a ton of Residium and save up the best guns in the game. Why bother swapping to anything else when the three guns I’ve gotten used to will stay by my side no matter what. The game has all these unique tools and mechanics for me to experiment with, but it’s not pushing me to use them. It’s not Prey or Dishonored where the most straightforward method isn’t always the answer and you have to find workarounds. In Deathloop every problem can be solved by just shooting it, and I’m notsure if they are trying to get the player to have the most fun or they don’t respect their intelligence to do anything else. I think working your way towards the perfect solution is fun and finding new information is exciting, but honestly the payoff for finally acquiring it is sorta underwhelming. A game that started with multiple paths first soon became really linear, and I was able to execute the final plan in one go. Hopping on back to good old Prey: Mooncrash, the game has five characters and five escape routes. Once you use one as one character it becomes unavailable for the rest of them. This gets you to consider what combo of characters and routes to use, and what makes it more challenging is one route requires two characters to use and the other one’s location is randomly generated each run. You may also face tougher enemies as the simulation gets more dangerous, or realize the tram stations used to get to areas much easier are cut down. This is more engaging!
The invasion system with Juliana sounds amazing on paper, but when put into practice you soon realize it’s really flawed. Just bring your best gun and blast away, because her AI when playing offline isn’t the best as she slowly moves towards you. It’s much better when an online player comes in to mess up your day, but a lot of people have reported the servers don’t always work. Biggest gripe has to deal with UI in between selecting what level to go into, and dear lord is it really bad. My first two hours of Deathloop were overwhelming because of the interface I had to navigate through. The many missions I could select and the chart showing them all. The screen that shows all the info I learned and what areas they are connected to. The loadout screen which shows all my weapons and abilities, and another button that leads to everything I can infuse with Residium. It’s simple once you know how it works, but the fact is unloads all of this onto you. Those are my complaints. The rest of what I have to say are compliments.
As with all of Arkane’s games, the art direction for Deathloop is stunning. Love the 1960s aesthetic, the accents everyone has, the way they dress, the neon colors and lights that flood every area, how every piece of equipment feels modern and dated, and the music. Not gonna lie, this game has a great soundtrack. From the intense music that plays when gun fights break out to some of the licensed tracks they put together. Graphically the game looks great and plays smoothly on consoles. I heard PC performance is rough, but I played it on PS5 and the only problem I faced was the occasional crash. This only occurs though from prolonged play sessions which is pretty understandable. In my opinion, I thought the story was pretty good. Colt is a really entertaining character and his banters with Juliana create this gamer like mindset. Where they are competing to see who can topple the other first. Learning more about Colt allows us to sympathize with him more and learn of the life he wishes to return to. I thought each of the visionaries were really cool and they all packed a unique personality. My only complaint with the plot is that the ending could have been better. A lot of people have complained the ending in the original version was abrupt, and in the Golden Loop update they try to fix it by adding an extended scene. It’s more satisfying, but it still feels lacking in certain areas. Deathloop is a troubled game. On the one hand you have something that could be amazing, but on the other hand you have all these weird problems that are hard to explain. I don’t know if I fully recommend it, so instead I’ll tell you all to make your own opinion. Watch some gameplay footage and tell me if this is a game you’ll enjoy. Is this worth the sixty dollar price tag or not. In the end I am going to give Deathloop an 8/10 for being pretty good.
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