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A blurry mind and a mouth full of sand. Even if nothing else is familiar, this bit sure is getting to be. Heaving yourself from that same spot on the beach, you throw yourself back into the chaos, ready to live that same day over. How many times has it been now? Welcome to Blackreef - again.
Deathloop puts you in the shoes of Colt Vahn, an amnesiac man trapped on a mysterious island stuck in time, fighting day after day to break the time loop. Colt isn’t there alone, however - Blackreef is inhabited by an organisation dedicated to maintaining the island’s loop, including eight Visionaries who he must take out before day’s end if he has any hope of breaking it. Simple, right? Well, not really, but let’s go with it.
It’s undeniable that there are a number of comparisons to be made to Arkane Studios’ arguably favourite child, Dishonored - in particular, a number of Deathloop’s supernatural powers (gained from Slabs) are basically directly carried over from the sister series. However, Deathloop has an edge that sets it apart - its complete nonlinearity, something we so rarely see when it comes to first-person shooters.
Blackreef is divided into four distinct zones, and the order in which you decide to explore them is entirely up to you. Since most things completely reset at the end of each loop (besides any information you’ve gathered, or any weapons infused with Residuum) it’s completely matterless where you decide to investigate first. You can also be as stealthy or as aggressive as you want - the game doesn’t punish your play preferences at all (which is much appreciated since there are so many fun options to try).
Now, let’s not get things twisted - despite the ‘play-die-repeat’ cycle that sits at the heart of Deathloop (I mean, come on, it’s even in the name), this is by no means a roguelike. Information is power, and each attempt you make at breaking the loop, the more familiar you become with the layout of the island, and the more leads you uncover, ultimately getting you closer to cracking the island’s mystery. It’s not about getting stronger, it’s about getting smarter.
We also have to talk about how great the writing is. Colt’s positive, yet sarcastic attitude is such a joy to experience via his constant quips and remarks, and the dynamic between him and the Visionary (and rival assassin), Julianna, is better still. She pulls absolutely no punches - both literally and figuratively - and despite being on the antagonistic team, you can’t help but secretly hope for her to show her face and cause some trouble. Even the notes and shreds of info dotted around the map can be really funny - the whole game has a very distinct voice that it isn’t afraid to let you hear.
Reaching the end of the story will, of course, take as many loops as it takes - each player’s experience can vary wildly here depending on which leads you decide to follow up first (and how good you are at surviving, of course). The brilliant thing about this is that no two players' experiences will ever be the same - it makes Colt’s seemingly endless quest to break the loop feel all the more organic.
Deathloop’s concept is so well executed from start to finish - from its gaudy ‘60s aesthetic, to the funky OST that keeps you driven loop after loop. There's a good reason why it’s been rated so highly (including by us) - it’s everything a good FPS should be and more, and we can’t get enough.
This piece is part of a series looking at outstanding games within a certain genre, exploring what makes them special compared to their peers. Read more: It Takes Two, Splatoon, Hades, Sable, Life is Strange: True Colors, Psychonauts 2. Follow the author on Twitter at @NerdyJourno.
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Featured Image Credit: Bethesda Softworks, Arkane Studios
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