Deathloop review

Deathloop Review – Another Day at the Beach (PS5)

What happens when you blend up Dishonored, BioShock, Dark Souls, and Bulletstorm, add more than a dash of roguelikes and time-loop mystery games like The Sexy Brutale, and top it all off with a thick layer of ’70s grindhouse vibes? You might end up with something like Deathloop, a wonderfully bizarre experience that defies explanation. For every trailer and explainer about Deathloop in the lead up to its release, I never really understood its intricacies until I got my hands on it.

To that end, Deathloop is a rather complex game full of interweaving parts and pieces, which at times dumps information on you, and at others unfolds slowly. The opening hours in particular can see some rather text heavy info dumps explaining just how Deathloop’s machinations work. Once it finally “clicks” and opens up for exploration however, it’s off to the races.

Deathloop review

You are Colt, and every day is the same day. You wake up on a beach in Blackreef, a place stuck in a time loop, and you only want desperately to break that loop. A voice on the other end of your radio, Julianna, wants to stop you from breaking the loop. And so your game of cat and mouse begins. As Colt, your objective is to take down all eight Visionaries in a single day in order to destabilize the loop and cause it to end. However, it’s not as straightforward as it may seem. And you’ll find yourself waking up on that beach again and again.

It’s like a whodunnit murder mystery, but rather a “howdunnit.” After all, you already know the who. It’s you, Colt, out to murder each of the eight Visionaries. And the how changes, each and every loop. At a glance, it seems simple. Just travel to each one and kill them, right? But what if you could somehow get two of them together in one place? What if one angle of approach is only available at the same time as another? Killing one or two Visionaries in a single day is easy enough, but three, four, or even more? Now it starts to get complicated.

Deathloop Review – All the Time in the World

Luckily, you have all the time in the world to figure it out. Literally. Whether you die or reach the end of the day, you’ll loop back to the morning, waking up on that beach again, but you’ll retain the information you learned along the way. Deathloop gives you four regions of Blackreef and four times of day to play in. You can only be in one region per time of day (morning, noon, afternoon, or evening), but as long as you don’t leave the area, you aren’t timed in how long you can be there. For example, morning won’t progress until you manually leave—either via the tunnels or death. Explore to your heart’s content.

Deathloop review

In fact, it’s that very exploration that will reveal emergent story and gameplay opportunities. Perhaps you learn that one Visionary won’t be attending a nighttime party hosted by another, but maybe you can find out why they aren’t going, and do what’s necessary to get them to attend. Kill a Visionary in their guarded fortress at noon? Maybe there’s an easier way somewhere else at another time of day. I’m being extremely vague here because this is what Deathloop is all about: discovering these details, unraveling the threads of the day, and creating an ideal kill-schedule to take out all Visionaries in a single loop.

Deathloop does have some guides in the form of leads, which give you a good idea about which threads you can pull on next. In between each exploration of a zone (or after a death), you’ll return to your hiding place in the tunnels to review leads and plan what to do next. Here you can push the time of day forward and choose which region of Blackreef to go to, either based on leads you have, or just for your own exploration. And sometimes, you might have to loop around to continue the investigation. One lead you gained in the evening might send you to another location at noon, weaving the leads throughout the loop.

Deathloop review

Exploration is also key. I often found myself exploring Blackreef even once I had finished a lead in an area, just to see if I could uncover anything else; any other threads that I could start pulling on. And the areas also change up based on the time of day, so it’s worth poking around again, even if you think you’ve found everything. You might even find some secret safes, powerful weapons, and other goodies that aren’t necessarily tracked as part of the main leads.

But again, at the end of the day, or once you die, you’ll wake up back on the beach, the day starting anew. Any Visionaries you killed in the last loop are alive again, and all of your collected gear is gone—that is, unless you infused it. Infusion allows you to carry gear over between loops, so if you find a gun you really like, you don’t have to go collect it again. Infusing does cost a currency called Residuum, which is more or less like “souls” from Dark Souls. If you die, you’ll lose them all. Well, kind of.

Deathloop Review – Die, Die, and Die Again

Death is a little bit odd in Deathloop. Colt has an ability called Reprisal, which allows him to “die” twice and be reborn a short distance back without restarting the loop. You can run back to where you died to collect the lost Residuum. Get killed that third time though, and you’ll find yourself waking up on that beach again, all of your Residuum and gear gone. Keeping your Residuum is key to carrying over good gear and abilities, so it’s in your best interest to try to escape death if possible.

Deathloop review

Unlike a roguelike, Deathloop’s deaths never feel too defeating, particularly early on. Information is power, and with the ability to infuse gear and trinkets, and carry over all information you learn, death is often just a chance at a new beginning; to chase down a new lead. Perhaps that’s why it’s in the name of the game. You never have to start fresh. But like roguelikes, you’ll come to learn strategies, enemy layouts, and other methods to more quickly navigate Blackreef each and every time you loop.

Speaking of abilities, those come by way of Slabs, mysterious anomalous pieces of tech that grant powers to the bearer. Colt’s Reprisal ability comes from one, and killing off Visionaries can net you their unique Slabs as well, including the power to go invisible, toss enemies around like ragdolls, and to blink from one place to another. Killing those Visionaries again will get you upgrades for those Slabs, allowing them to do even more cool things. But don’t forget to infuse them! Even Slabs and their upgrades will vanish when the loop resets if you haven’t.

Deathloop review

Deathloop’s freedom to do things your way means you can go in loud or take the stealthy approach, using a little subterfuge and backstabbing to win the day. While I haven’t often been a huge fan of first-person stealth games, Deathloop feels like it balances things rather well. Stealth is never too unforgiving, and failing at stealth is rarely overly punishing, except where it makes sense to be. Other games usually leave me frustrated at stealth mechanics, while Deathloop kept me thoroughly engaged with them. But on the chance I’d get seen? The gunplay is a blast too. Literally.

Deathloop Review – The Julianna Element

As if all of that wasn’t complex enough, Deathloop throws one more twist at you. Julianna can invade anytime, presenting a new challenge to any lead you might be following. Are you stealthily tracking down Aleksi at his party? Julianna could force a change of plans. This creates a new choice: go hunt Julianna down, or keep chasing your current lead? Julianna can drop a random Slab when she dies, which is a big win if you can take her down, but is it worth the risk? You’ll also need to unlock an antenna by hacking it before you can get back into the safety of your tunnels.

Deathloop review

But the Julianna mechanic is more than just a random in-game event. It’s Deathloop’s multiplayer. Players can choose to take on the role of Julianna, infiltrating other people’s games live. It’s not just a tacked on mechanic either. She has her own entire Hunter rank, loadouts, and feats that can be completed to rank up and get more powerful. This is also how you unlock additional outfits for her and Colt.

During the review period, it felt like things were heavily weighted in favor of Colt. Every time I was invaded (save for one stupid and entirely preventable mistake I made, resulting in my death), I killed Julianna easily. And I never managed to successfully loop Colt in an invasion myself. Colt’s Reprisal ability is part of this. Julianna may need to kill Colt up to three times before she “wins” and loops him, whereas if Colt manages to take her down once, she’s done for. But even without Reprisal, it often felt like Colt had some kind of advantage. Maybe Arkane doesn’t want the invasion to be too punishing for players, but it’s no fun to matchmake in as an invader just to be quickly killed. And don’t think you can escape invasion if you turn the online off. Deathloop will still give you AI Julianna to contend with.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the incredible voice acting for Colt and Julianna. Each are fantastic characters in their own right, and their dynamic when conversing together is absolute magic. Both are witty, sharp as a tack, and brilliantly written. In fact, all of Deathloop’s writing, down to the random banter between the fodder, is wonderfully sharp. Arkane has created “a day in the life of Blackreef,” and no inhabitant goes unremembered. This isn’t your average “video game bad guy” banter. And listening in may even uncover some hidden secrets.

Deathloop review

It’s not just the voice acting, either. All of Deathloop’s audio design is fantastic, encapsulating the gritty ’70s grindhouse vibe with myriad sound effects that are rooted in crunchy guitar tones and speaker static. The music also captures the era, moving from funky spy tunes to epic riffs in an instant, feeding the flow from stealth to action and back again. Coupled with the dazzling ’70s inspired environments, it’s a complete package of audio visual wonder.

Being a PS5 console exclusive, expectations are high for how it runs on the new-gen platform. It makes good use of the DualSense controller capabilities, including haptic feedback, adaptive triggers, and using the speaker when Julianna is on the radio with Colt. It’s visually incredible for the most part, but I did have a few instances of frame slowdown, odd graphics issues with flickering lighting and shadows, and screen tearing. It was never enough to be detrimental, but noticeable enough to mention.

There isn’t anything else quite like Deathloop. It’s a riveting detective mystery, plays with time loops in unique ways, and never feels like it slows down, even in those stealthier moments. It’s a game that’s thought out top-to-bottom, with two perfect leads heralding the charge and a unique multiplayer component that feels central to everything that Deathloop is, without ever getting in the way. Whether you’re looking to break the loop or preserve it, Blackreef is certainly worth the visit. You may find yourself as stuck there too.

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  • Engaging mystery with numerous threads to tug on
  • Superb casting for Colt and Julianna
  • Brilliant use of a time loop
  • Fun multiplayer that ties into the single-player game
  • Some text-heavy introductions to the mechanics
  • Occasional graphical hiccups