Not many game studios that I hold close to my heart as much as Arkane Studios. A couple of reasons for that; they make good games, the level design in those games is astounding, and their games have a habit to hook you in from a get-go. In short, if you see Arkane Studios anywhere on the cover, you can’t go wrong. I’ll admit, I was a bit cautious when I heard about DEATHLOOP. The info was scarce and what I gathered at that time didn’t exactly reel me in. Some rogue-lite stealth shooter where you have to kill the same 7 targets over and over again until you get it right? I’ll pass. In any case, it sounded too shallow to be true and that’s not something I expect from these devs, so I knew that I had to be wrong. But all those assumptions and doubts are over since the game finally found its way to my PC, so let’s see what it’s all about.
As you start the singleplayer mode and try to follow the game mechanics, the same goes for the story. You know very little (if anything at all) and there are far too many questions than answers. You wake up on some isolated island, populated with masked enemies, certain important targets (more on them later), and a female assassin intent on bringing you down. Every time you finish a loop aka a whole day of murdering and dying, you learn a bit about yourself, enemies, or that female assassin called Julianna. Your name is Colt and your main objective is to break the loop. No matter what you do and no matter how many times you kill the targets (called Visionaries), you always wake up the next day as nothing happened. Your memories and abilities don’t go away but everything else is respawned.
So if breaking the loop (or at least trying to) is our main objective, how do we make the game….not boring? Well, by adding something new in every run. Whenever you kill one of the Visionaries, you can steal their powers and weapons, so you could be stronger and more efficient in the next run. There are also way more ways to dispose of those targets rather than just stabbing them or blasting them in the face, just like in the HITMAN series. Each new power opens up a new strategy and a way to kill someone. The Shift power (which is a carbon copy of a Blink power from Dishonored) enables one to travel long distances in a second. Aether makes you invisible, Karnesis makes enemies go up in the air and helplessly hover in place for a bit, and Nexus strings enemies together for shared damage – so when you kill one, you kill all. There are also clever ways to manipulate enemies into dying from “accidents” or get more than one of them to be at the same place. The more documents you read scattered in the world, the more you learn. Knowledge is power, as they say. Power to kill with style. If you’re not the scheming type, you can always to the old Rambo approach. The gunplay is superb and while some guns perform better than others, a clever mix of using powers and guns in combat is a sure way to come out of most fights alive. There are also various trinkets that you can find either through exploring or yanking them off the dead enemies. They usually provide minor boosts such as a faster reload, bigger health bar, double jump, faster hacking of turrets, and so on.
Here we are at a stage where I expect only the very best from Arkane Studios. And they didn’t disappoint. DEATHLOOP comes with a distinct art style, a masterclass in level design, and some dense yet unique architecture. The environment on the island reminds me of those images of industrial London from the 19th century – minus the child labor, of course. The night and day cycle in the game perfectly complements the visuals and level design in DEATHLOOP. There are certain locations that you might sprint through them during the day, but at night they might be critical for your main objective. It is a subtle yet clever way to inject some diversity into a level design. There are not many things that are so visually enchanting like lighting up a nearby firework and blasting it into an enemy face. The beauty is in such little detail.
The characters. Let’s talk about the characters. Since the basic premise of the gameplay is to murder the targets over and over again until you get it right, I only assumed that there would be considerable effort put into their personalities and voice acting. And I assumed right. Eventually, you’ll get to know certain characters by voices alone and be an unintentional voyeur to their own schemes and dealings. While all the bad guys in DEATHLOOP work together, they also have their own motives for doing so. No one is evil just for the sake of it. Notable mention goes to the audio work when it comes to guns. While some may be more efficient than others, I found myself using a shotgun for 90% of the game, just because of the satisfying sounds of emptying the clip.
Let’s get one thing straight, DEATHLOOP is not love at first sight. It’s not a game that grabs hold of you instantly, but it’s one that gets under your skin. Once everything clicks, that’s when the real fun begins. The feeling of speedrunning through the level, killing everyone, and exiting the level before they even figure out what happened is unmatched. DEATHLOOP is a perfect mix of badassery, platforming smoothness, and fluid gunplay. One thing is for sure, whether you break the loop in the end or not, you’ll definitely have fun trying to.
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