First Impressions: Deathloop
It’s finally here. The game I was most looking forward to in the back half of 2021, not named Metroid Dread, Deathloop, has finally come out. And to the surprise of absolutely no one, I love it. Bear in mind I’ve only played a good chunk of the early game (as in I’m only now really getting into the main gameplay loop), but what’s there is possibly some of the densest, system-driven gameplay I’ve seen in an immersive sim to date and some of the densest, system-driven gameplay I’ve played in a game this year that wasn’t a fighting game. But enough talk, Let’s get to talking.
The premise of Deahloop is quite simply Groundhog Day but with some 1960’s Sci-Fi mixed in. The game takes place on an undisclosed Island in International Waters called Blackreef where you play as Colt Vahn, a guy who wakes up on the island’s shore and is reliving the same day over and over again. He quickly discovers that the island is controlled by eight “Visionaries’’, the individuals who rule the island and want Colt dead, on top of their Eternalist army. From here, what plays out is a very interesting detective story that has just as much action as it does figuring out what exactly is happening on Blackreef and kill the eight Visionaries to break the time loop.
The most interesting thing about the time loop is that Colt retains his knowledge of his investigation in between loops whereas everyone else on the island is Reset to the beginning. This is Deathloop’s greatest narrative and mechanical strength: it rewards the player’s knowledge of both the mechanics and of the leads they investigate. And a good chunk of this is because of how the game handles its tutorial. For the first two or so hours of the game’s running time, it shows you the basics of how the game’s general structure works. This introduces Leads and Discoveries; which are the main ways the game’s story unfolds (alongside audio logs, notes, journals, and very clever environmental writing and details). On top of that, you also have your Reprisal ability, which both lets you cheat death Twice before the loop is rest and serves as an introduction of Slabs, the super empowering special items that you get off of the Visionaries that you kill, or more likely through Juliana.
Juliana is one of the visionaries you need to assassinate to break the time loop, but unlike the others, she’s opting to take a more direct approach in dealing with Colt. She will actively hunt you down if you are in an area with another visionary, either as an AI-controlled enemy or as a player-controlled character for some of that sweet PvP action. The only ways to deal with her are by unlocking the escape tunnels or killing her. Killing Juliana and the other visionaries weakens the loop’s integrity, which gives access to better weapons and trinkets (small buffs that can be mixed and matched). This also leads to Residuum and Infusion, which lets you keep the stuff you get in between loops because you normally lose everything but your Reprisal Slab when you start a loop over. From there you get into a groove of getting new information, building up an arsenal of weapons and slabs, and getting things set up to kill ’em all in one fell swoop.
There are four main areas of Blackreef and four different time periods of the day, which allow for upwards of at least sixteen permutations of the loop. It’s a blessing in disguise because it’s mechanically impossible to kill all of the Visionaries in a standard loop because they’re simply too spread out. As you investigate more and more about them and their daily routines (and learn about how unrepentantly horrible they all are), you get opportunities to corral them into meeting spaces and make the hunt easier. I have gone through entire loops just to make sure that I get a particular slab or piece of info and it never felt like I was wasting my time doing so. If anything it felt rewarding as hell.
If there’s one thing I can appreciate about Deathloop is that it doesn’t penalize you for going loud. What I mean by this is that while, yes, you can sneak past everything, Hack security measures and traps with your Hackamajig (it’s literally called that) and kill your targets like a Silent Assassin, it’s not the only way to do things. Because sometimes you need to test out your powers and go on an Archer style Rampage to make yourself feel better after botching a sneak attempt, and I love that the game doesn’t punish you for doing that.
Deathloop is looking like it’ll be added to the list for this year, no ifs, and’s, or buts. If the rest of the game is as strong as the early game, then it’s going to be a hell of a game.