Deathloop - Review
Stability is a sign of skill and the results of the work of the Arkane Studios team. From the dark dungeons of Arx to the narrow streets of Dunwall and the dark corridors of the Talos-1 station, Arkane games are consistently obsessed with a simple but attractive idea — to give more freedom.
Freedom in navigating through the mazes of locations, in solving basic gameplay situations, in the ability to set your own pace and style of passing.
The announcement of DEATHLOOP, which took place back in 2019, easily questioned the above postulates. The new shooter was presented as a project created with a great emphasis on the multiplayer element, and the overall structure and concept made it seem that the Arkane team had moved in some completely new, unfamiliar direction for it.
Looking ahead and partially dispelling the worries of the key audience of Arkane Studios, we can give a very transparent characteristic for DEATHLOOP: it is a direct and maximally organic continuation of the ideas laid down in the Dishonored franchise, diluted with a good share of magic from the Outer Wilds space puzzle. If the last one passed you by — it doesn't matter. The main thing is to know that both projects share a sincere sense of discovery and a gambling desire to outwit the developers in a virtual puzzle created by them.
The narrative in DEATHLOOP is conducted on behalf of Colt, a middle-aged man who comes to himself in unconsciousness on the cold shore of an island unfamiliar to him, bearing the telling name “Black Reef”. Trying to understand his past, present and the very near future, the hero makes a disappointing conclusion: almost every person he meets is a madman who seeks to take his life at any cost.
However, soon an even more frightening truth comes to the protagonist — his stay, hardships and unplanned suffering on the "Reef" is literally worth nothing, because even in death Colt finds no salvation. Dying, the hero wakes up again and again on the prickly sand, meeting the first rays of the inhospitable sun, actually endlessly experiencing the same day.
Introducing the player to the first details of the setting, the plot plot, the main characters and the overall global super goal, the first two hours of DEATHLOOP pass in a relatively linear progression. You consistently visit a number of locations, trying to piece together the history of Colt, simultaneously mastering gameplay mechanics and systems. At the same time, Julianna comes on the scene — a mysterious girl who diligently mocks Colt throughout his journey.
Through Julianna's caustic comments, Colt's unenviable position gradually becomes clearer. It turns out that the whole island is a huge platform for the AEON research program, whose members have deliberately become hostages of the “endless day”, using the time loop as a tool for eternal life, boundless fun and endless chaos. Each " Visionary” from the top of AEON is a separate bright personality. The leader of a religious cult, an eccentric scientist who has lost touch with reality, a game designer, or an artist deprived of moral guidelines.
In order for the ongoing holiday on the “Black Reef” to come to at least some kind of final, the Colt makes a difficult decision. All seven "Visionaries" must die. From his hand. In just one day. If you do this, the time loop loop will be broken, and the calendar will finally flip over. Or at least that's what Colt himself thinks, consistently cursing his brilliant plan every cycle.
As soon as all the formalities are over, the narrative focus of DEATHLOOP abruptly weakens and the game fully opens its doors, allowing you to get acquainted with yourself on conditions that are convenient for you.
Formally, the "Black Reef" is divided into four separate sections, between which the Colt travels through a maze of old military tunnels. Each location is a large, multi-layered level. With dozens of secret passages, optional moves, secrets, and with a vertical design. And each location is either a lair for one of the "Visionaries", or a big puzzle, a puzzle, solving which, you will get one step closer to your cherished goal.
In addition, all four locations exist in four separate states — you can get to them in the morning, afternoon, evening, or at night. The passage of time is linear for both Colt and other inhabitants of the “Black Reef”, so even within the framework of one endless day, events on the island have a clear sequence and cause-and-effect relationship.
So, a clear morning is replaced by a cloudy day, in the evening the island is drowned in heavy snowfall, and at night darkness comes and lights come on. In addition to visual changes, the times of day modify many other things — additional segments are opened at locations, new items, traps, enemies, tests, plot scenes and much more appear.
In addition, the actions of the Colt in one period are reflected by the butterfly effect in another. For example, if you save the life of one character at the beginning of the day, in the evening you can visit his workshop, finding useful equipment or information there. Fortunately, the game timer can be easily moved forward through a separate menu option — there will be no vacuums with “useless” time intervals on your way.
The principle described above is the central tool of progress for Colt. All the other characters, not counting Julianna, start every day without memory of the previous "cycle", repeating the same routine. Armed with knowledge about the events, traps and secrets of the “Black Reef", you gradually adjust the island and its inhabitants to yourself, navigating the ocean of opportunities and loopholes.
Based on this, DEATHLOOP, despite its external accessibility, remains a rather demanding game. Attentiveness and consistency are your main weapon. Having omitted unobtrusive hints and a log that stores all the data necessary for passing, the designers from Arkane refuse to lead the players by the handle. Almost from the very beginning of the passage, the "Black Reef" is completely available for study — you can visit any region at any time of the day, see the most secluded corners of the map and try to solve one of the non-obvious puzzles with a rush. No one will beat hands for this. On the contrary, ingenuity and interest lead to great rewards, but you will have to show motivation and imagination on your own.
The DEATHLOOP meta-progression also follows a similar philosophy. At the beginning of the game, Colt is deprived of the opportunity to save his equipment after each time turn and subsequent rebirth. But at some point, the hero finds a solution. Relying on the anomalous resource "residium", you have the ability to literally bind the found guns to yourself, giving unique modifications to key rings and special fragments that open access to the most powerful supernatural skills.
It is important to note that the system of random loot in the game applies only to certain types of items — special (and the most powerful) types of weapons are permanently assigned to specific sections of levels or characters. It is not necessary to be guided by the logic of the roguelite genre here.
So, having gained the optimal arsenal for you in several campaigns, you simply do not need to think about finding means of self — defense in the future-the Colt wakes up with everything ready, going to bring death and destruction to the already familiar Visionaries.
Fighting in DEATHLOOP is quite exciting. Unlike, for example, the Dishonored dilogy, the new Arkane game confidently keeps the guidelines for high dynamics and sharp action. Opponents easily notice the Colt even from a long distance, so any secret sortie risks turning into a hot shootout in a second. Even music contributes to such moods — a neat ambient dynamically changes to a cheerful combat theme, and then just as smoothly subsides.
The DualSense gamepad also gives additional pleasure from shooting and moving. The main features of the controller are successfully implemented in DEATHLOOP — the vibration is pleasantly synchronized with various actions, including a simple step or run, and adaptive triggers change the course depending on the selected weapon.
At the same time, artificial intelligence often exists in conditional “bubbles”. Enemies from one room may not be aware that three grenades exploded in the next room and automatic weapons rattled. Intuitively, it seems that this is done in order to give the player more rights to make mistakes — you can change the style of passing from” loud “to” secretive " several times without reloading the level.
With the exception of firearms, which are divided into four categories, it is appropriate to compare Colt's skills with the aforementioned Dishonored. Enemies can be quietly destroyed in close combat, break necks and chop with a machete, jump on them from the air and even kick them (just like in Dark Messiah of Might and Magic). And when you want something brighter, paranormal forces come to the rescue, like telekinesis, thanks to which opponents like rag dolls fly around the scenery, or the domino effect, where the state of your victim can be divided into several people at once.
All weapons and skills are also subject to separate improvements. For guns, you can reduce the recoil and increase the accuracy of shooting, record increased health or double running in the passive forces of the Colt, and dilute supernatural skills with powerful modifiers that increase your abilities.
Choosing a combination of the most effective skills and weapons in DEATHLOOP is a necessary step for survival. The game has no difficulty levels, as well as intermediate saves. In other words, when you come to one of the locations, you have the right to make exactly three mistakes. You will die several times, the loop will make another turn, and the Colt wakes up on the beach again. Accordingly, for about the first third of the game, you will often feel like a victim, gradually shifting the balance in your favor.
And to bring even more chaos to Colt's life, DEATHLOOP presents a much-advertised multiplayer mode. Leaving complex descriptions, it is easiest to draw parallels with the games of the Dark Souls line, where at any moment your world may be under attack by an intruder — another player who wants to take your life.
In DEATHLOOP, the role of the intruder is always performed by Julianna. The girl does not spare the Colt and burns with one motivation — to save the loop at all costs. Her actions and actions are subordinated to the plot logic, her presence is woven into the main thread of the narrative, and numerous dialogues move like a pendulum from playful skirmishes to important scenario details.
From a mechanical point of view, everything is somewhat simpler. When you start DEATHLOOP, two options open up before you: a story passage for Colt, in which Julianna can invade you, and the invasions themselves for Julianna, where the role of the assassin girl goes to you.
During the game for Colt, the invasion is perceived as an additional difficulty modifier. Imagine that you are invisibly penetrating to one of the "Visionaries", deftly moving around the level without raising an alarm. At some point, the game reports that Julianna has come to the location, and in order to successfully leave the mission, you need to either hack the remote terminal or kill the huntress herself. Then the situation can develop in the most unpredictable way, where no one, for example, will prevent you from hiding in a lonely corridor, surrounded by mines, and maliciously waiting for an intruder in your lair.
In the case of the game for Julianna, you set one of the filters (global search or invasion of friends), press the button and wait for the match to start. Once you get to the location, you should do only one thing — kill Colt, after which the game returns to the menu. The progression system and equipment of Julianna exists completely apart from the main story campaign — you get new items and skills simply for successful invasions. Here, cosmetic items are also opened for both characters — each has a set of different costumes that do not affect the characteristics in any way.
Of course, if you are not interested in the multiplayer element at all and you just want to calmly enjoy the passage for Colt, then you can activate the offline mode in the settings. In this scenario, no stranger will invade you — the game turns into a completely single-player adventure. However, this does not mean that you will get rid of the existence of Julianna — the girl will remain an integral part of the game and will still periodically haunt you, although under the control of artificial intelligence.
The reason why Julianna remains such an important link in DEATHLOOP, even leaving out the multiplayer, lies in the plot context. Throughout the game, their relationship with Colt gradually changes, more and more necessary narrative nuances are revealed to you, while the story is gradually being assembled into a complete form.
The narrative as a whole is one of the biggest surprises of DEATHLOOP. A ton of bright details are hidden behind the seemingly hackneyed tie. The past of the "Black Reef", the stories of each "Visionary", the origin of the AEON program, the fate of Colt and Juliana and the mystery of the time anomaly-all this is collected in a giant science fiction canvas, where various artistic inspirations have found their reflection.
That's just the depth of the setting and narrative of DEATHLOOP is distributed in a thin layer through the entire game. There are no lengthy cutscenes or detailed exposition, and critical details necessary for understanding many ideas and motivations can be hidden in the most unexpected places. In an unremarkable document hidden on one of the library shelves, in random computer correspondence, in a phrase thrown by the enemy and in the fragmented memories of Colt himself, which stably project themselves onto the elements of the environment right during the gameplay.
As with the gameplay, the DEATHLOOP story gives you the opportunity to decrypt it yourself. Through the work of artists and designers who, for a reason, deftly pushed elements from different eras into one environment. Through expressive characters, including all the "Visionaries", Colt, and Julianna. And also through their own imagination and fiction — many things in the local narrative leave room for personal interpretations and interpretations.
A comprehensive approach to freedom in DEATHLOOP, on which both the gameplay and the narrative are tied, risks turning into the biggest drawback of the project for some users. If the idea of methodically studying every inch of one of the four giant levels seems unattractive to you, and the narrative foundation will not be able to win the necessary attention, then the whole game will turn into a leisurely routine.
In DEATHLOOP, you will not find explosive linear sections, memorable staged episodes and scenes. Having handed you the keys to the "Black Reef", the designers from Arkane Studios honestly hope that the proposed sandbox and a set of toys will be enough — have fun yourself.
For the same reason, DEATHLOOP is deadly sensitive to spoilers — having learned in advance the location of all points of interest, weapons, objects and secrets, any feeling from fascinating research and discoveries disappears into thin air. The magic is ending.
From similar considerations, the issue of replayability also develops. After spending a conditional 20-30 hours for DEATHLOOP, you will see most of what the game has to offer. The "deadly puzzle" has only one solution, so most players will return to it again for the sake of not the most boring set of achievements and the opportunity to take on the image of Julianna, in every possible way interfering with other Colts.
Stability is a sign of skill. And DEATHLOOP is another merit of the Arkane Studios team. For beginners, this game will be a good way to touch something unfamiliar. And fans of the studio will find exactly what they are looking for, even despite the desire of designers to experiment with the format and structure. On the other hand, there is no better environment for experiments than an infinite time loop. After all, tomorrow will start again with a clean slate.