Deathloop is a fascinating game. It’s incredibly stylish and confident in itself. Perhaps it’s a bit too confident in itself. The premise and set-up are interesting enough to pull you in and the gameplay is solid but much like being stuck in a time loop, the longer it goes on, the more you just want it to end.
The game takes place on an island called Blackreef which exists in a time anomaly. Blackreef doesn’t follow the rules of time and each time a day ends, it resets. This allows the residents of Blackreef to party all the time, and do whatever they want without consequence since the day will reset. Even if they die, they’ll wake back up at the beginning of the day. Enter Colt Vahn. Colt wants to break the loop and he won’t stop until he does, no matter how many people he has to kill or how many times it does. Colt’s main obstacle is Julianna Blake, a rival assassin who continually tries to kill him in order to prevent him from breaking the loop.
There’s two game modes, each letting you play as Colt or Julianna. The story mode, dubbed Break the Loop, is where you’ll spend most of your time. Here you play as Colt as you work your way through uncovering how to break the loop by killing all the Visionaries scattered across the island. Blackreef has 4 districts for you to explore at 4 different times of day. Morning, Noon, Afternoon and Evening. Each district is slightly different depending on what time you go. For example there might be more guards around at night then there is in the afternoon or something might have happened to a building that makes it inaccessible after a certain time. Time only progresses once you leave an area so you can explore as long as you want but once the Evening ends, the day restarts and so does the loop.
The gameplay loop (pun intended) consists of going to an area to explore and look for clues on how to kill the Visionaries and end the loop. Any clue you find will be remembered across loops and added to your leads. The leads basically function as objectives. So once you learn something new about a Visionary, you’ll be pointed to where to go next. All the Visionaries are at different parts of the island at different times of day so Colt must gather enough intel to figure out how to kill them all within a single day.
How you want to go about exploring is up to you. You can play stealthy and sneak around Blackreef, avoiding enemies or picking them off undetected or you can go guns blazing. Either method works just as well. Importantly, with stealth, if you’re caught, you can take everyone out in a gun fight and then go back to stealth or if you go guns blazing and get overwhelmed, you can hide and transition to stealth. That flexibility means that you’re never overly punished for messing up and you can always salvage a run. Both methods are also mechanically solid. The gunplay is smooth and the weapons feel distinct. Colt can run, jump and slide to maneuver which all feel fluid and make you feel suitably badass. Stealth also feels good. Sneaking up behind an enemy and snapping their neck or slicing them with a machete is satisfying. You can peak over and around cover to keep an eye on your surroundings and plan your path. It all works and it works well.
Deathloop isn’t a roguelite but it has some of the blueprints of one. Each loop, as you explore, you’ll find new equipment to use. There’s guns, there’s trinkets that give you or your guns perks and there’s Slabs you get for Killing Visionaries that kill you special abilities like teleporting or invisibility. Guns and trinkets have different rarity levels with higher rarity giving better perks and stats. To keep equipment between loops you must infuse it with Residium which you acquire by finding it, killing Visionaries or by dismantling equipment you don’t want. However if you die before you can leave an area to infuse gear, you lose everything and the loop starts again.
This is where Deathloop starts to falter. Once you get one or two higher end guns, and trinkets you like, you don’t really need anything else. And you’ll get them fairly early. There’s four rarity levels, Grey, Blue, Purple and Gold. I got a Purple weapon a few hours into my run and I continued to use it for the rest of my playthrough. It wrecked pretty much everyone, from standard guards to Visionaries to Julianna. Deathloop doesn’t have difficulty settings. It’s meant to become easier as you become more powerful and learn the layout more. But it becomes too easy way too early. There’s no slow progression to becoming powerful. You simply aren’t powerful and then you’re OP. As soon as you have the Spiker, which is the only stealth gun in the game, and one purple, you’re good to go as an unstoppable killing machine.
Being overpowered isn’t necessarily a bad thing but the problem is that in Deathloop it happens so early that everything becomes trite. Once you’re overpowered, there’s no danger, there’s little risk of a run going wrong and ending in death. So what you’re left with is going through the motions. The time loop nature means that you do a lot of the same things over and over again and when it’s so easy, they become a chore. If there was a slow progression to being overpowered then there would be a feeling of finally overcoming the enemies but because of how early it happens they simply become a nuisance. I don’t even want to say they become a speedbump on your path to an objective because that would give them too much credit. The other side effect of being overpowered so early is that it exposes of dumb the A.I. can be at times. They have no strategies other than to run at you and shoot.
An interesting story would do a lot to alleviate this but for as great as the set up and premise of Deathloop is, there’s no story to speak of. It’s all plot. Colt does things and things happen but there isn’t a story. It’s not about anything and once you get to the point of the game where you realize that, there’s no reason to care. There’s lots of backstory but that’s it. Some of the backstory is interesting but a lot of it is completely missable so you might not even get all of it. While Colt and Julianna are entertaining thanks to their performers, they don’t actually have any characteristics beyond the surface. Colt is a wise cracking guy who is fed up with the loop and Julianna is angry and enjoys messing with Colt. That’s it. The performers do their absolute best and should be applauded for keeping their characters entertaining but they are barely characters. The Visionaries on the other hand are uninteresting caricatures at best and just plain uninteresting at worst. There’s just not much to get invested in the longer the game goes on.
The other mode, Protect the Loop, sees you play as Julianna. Here you can invade other players games to try and kill them and ruin their run. Julianna has the same arsenal as Colt as well as some extra abilities. Kill Colt three times and you succeed but if he kills you once then it’s game over. This mode is fine but you’re mileage may vary on how much you enjoy messing up other players campaigns. If you’re playing as Colt you can tune the invade mechanic so anyone can invade you, only friends, or no one at all, in which case you face a A.I. Julianna.
Deathloop has an incredible set-up and a great setting. Blackreef is a retro-futuristic 1960 island filled with vibrant colours and psychedelic designs. The soundtrack is also very good. Filled with a mix of cool 60s spy movie inspired tracks when you’re sneaking around and some high octane ones that sound straight out of a 70s blaxploitation when the action picks up. It all fits the tone and sets the mood perfectly. But despite all of what it does right, it doesn’t come together well.
In many ways, playing Deathloop is like actually getting stuck in a time loop. It starts with a sense of intrigue and fun as you realize all you can do but the more you stay in it, the more you just want to leave. The gunplay and stealth are both fluid and fun, even once you become overpowered, the actual combat mechanics are fun. The problem is that at a certain point, you just want to skip past it and get to the next objective. Deathloop starts out so great but it becomes less fun as it goes on. It gets too easy which makes fun combat a chore, and once you take away combat, it’s just a repetitive series of tasks that you have to keep doing without a story to motivate you to keep going. I loved Deathloop for the first few hours, but as it kept going it became grating and eventually I just wanted it to end. It’s by no means a bad game, with solid combat, great lead performances and beautiful art direction but all that doesn’t matter once you’ve had enough and unfortunately Deathloop makes it easy to have enough.
Rating: Was with Paddington but Quickly Got Transported Away and Stuck in Loop
This review used our old rating system, The Paddington Scale. To learn more please read this post
2 thoughts on “Deathloop Review: Doing the Time Warp Again”
Haven’t played it, yet, but I really enjoyed reading your review. After having read many pieces only complimenting absolutely everything in this game, it’s refreshing to read some valid criticism about the elements you didn’t enjoy. I’ll definitely have to give it a try in the near future. Thanks for the write-up.
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It’s definitely worth playing when you can get it for a good price. It’s a good game that unfortunately crumbles under the weight of its ambition but there’s a lot to like