Just like its main character, Colt, Deathloop is in limbo.
Colt is an assassin, trapped in a ‘murder puzzle’ where he’s forced to relive the same day over-and-over unless he can defeat all of Blackreef Island’s eight major targets in a single cycle, but Deathloop’s difficulties are a little more subtle.
When you’re trying to tell a complex, mind-bending story with a twist around every corner, marketing your game without blowing the mystery becomes a massive gamble.
Play your cards too close to the chest and you might just come off as uninteresting and get lost in the noise of the fall release season. But if you lay everything on the table, you risk running out of hooks and surprises and leave players disappointed.
From what I’ve played, Deathloop is awesome - just like Arkane Studios’ previous work on Dishonored and Prey - and it’s tempting just to leave it at that.
One question I’ve seen a lot is: “what kind of game is Deathloop,” and that’s a tough one too.
Obviously you can go down the straight genre definitions and call it an immersive sim. But I feel like that undersells its emphasis on a smart and unravelling narrative, and lends itself to leaning on buzzwords and phrases like: “you can approach things however you want to!”
In a lot of games, that choice boils down to: “do you want to walk through the front door, or the one air vent we’ve decided you can go through as well.” However, it feels like Deathloop not only encourages you to go your own way, but actually gives you the tools and space to do so.
One example I can think of is how a lot of games encourage you to be stealthy, but outside of being able to crouch, give you pretty much no interactive tools to help you out.
Then when you’re inevitably spotted from a golf course away by the first enemy you set your sights on (unless they’ve been tuned to have the awareness of a college clubber 10 sambucas deep to compensate), the stealth approach is irretrievably kiboshed. You get a big red cross through a box in the corner of the screen and your only option is to sigh loudly or reload a save.
In my time with Deathloop, I’ve enjoyed the flexibility of being able to merge guns-blazing and stealthier approaches within the same map, where it feels like the tranches of enemies are almost set up like different encounters.
Rather than your only option being stealth until something goes wrong, you can take the more explosive path from the start without closing off your options later.
You can meticulously slink your way all across an area, taking everyone out quietly, or pop out to deal with threats loudly and efficiently, before slipping back into the shadows to make the same choice again when you run into another batch of baddies. You’re not punished for making full use of Colt’s capabilities.
That said, if you let someone scarper and set off the alarm things get hairier on a bigger scale, but I love how this enables some really organic-feeling roleplaying - where you’re more focused on practically feeling your way through a level rather than plotting the perfect path in the full knowledge that you’re trying to ‘play the game right’.
And this works in a narrative sense as well, as you’re learning the environment and your place in it as Colt does. One of the mantras of Deathloop is ‘knowledge is power’, and it practises what it preaches.
Touches like having (as far as I’ve seen) no traditional map menu, force you to learn your way around, and fits nicely into that idea of feeling more at home as each loop progresses.
You’ll definitely need to learn your way around too, as complex puzzles (as you might have seen in the Deathloop explainer trailer already) take place across multiple times of day in different parts of the island - it can feel like there are more cogs and moving parts than Dishonored 2’s Clockwork Mansion.
You can solve the mystery and break the loop for yourself when Deathloop drops on PS5 and PC on September 14.