I was a little intimidated going into Deathloop, Arkane and Bethesda’s new FPS action game. Its premise of surviving the loop whilst hitting all the targets was a daunting challenge; one I was up for. With the available gaming time I have at this point in my life I had no idea how well it was going to fit with me though. Luckily, extremely well.
Deathloop has a looping day: if you die or get to the end of the day without killing all the targets, the Visionaries, you start again. However, its structure breaks up that day. Protagonist Cole isn’t thrown into a map to take down all the targets like Agent 47 in Hitman to progress. The day is broken up into four sections: morning, noon, afternoon and evening. Time doesn’t pass when playing but progresses to the next phase once you exit the level. There are four levels too so players can experience every stage during one full day (or loop). What has really helped me is the fact that I can put the game down between each of these phases. Deathloop saves my progress when I’ve exited the map. I can leave the noon phase and come back whenever I want to play the afternoon phase, or even skip the afternoon to get to the evening phase depending on my goals.
This design of breaking up the day has allowed me to fit in smaller gameplay sessions all over the place. Just before work, during a lunch break, in the evening. These sessions can flow with my day and the available time I have. Since Cole’s quest isn’t as urgent as I had first assumed this pacing also extends to the phases and maps themselves. Like Twelve Minutes, Deathloop feels like a big puzzle; each map and loop providing just a piece at a time to understand.
Deathloop provides the player with a few light cues on where to go first. The experience of each map can be short: go in, hit a target and leave. Or, if you’ve got the time, it can be long, and allows exploration. This exploration is key to Deathloop. After these early cues Deathloop almost lets the player explore unaided. Gaining as much information on the Visionaries, their activities, which maps they appear in and when all combine to allow that perfect run, killing all eight Visionaries in one loop. Some parts of each map are closed off at certain times of the day limiting this exploration a little but they still feel pretty beefy. Deathloop encourages the player to visit each map during different times of day to uncover information and understand the machinations of the world. If I’ve got twenty minutes to play I may choose a target, go to that map and begin to understand the layout and enemy patterns at that time of day. If I hit my twenty minutes and haven’t exited the level I can just quit and it will restart me at the beginning of that level. I’ve gained some knowledge in that first twenty-minute session to be back where I was within five. Deathloop doesn’t penalise me for playing in this way but rewards me because of the knowledge I’ve gained. This has been the case on multiple play sessions. I play five minutes before either ‘daddy’ or ‘babe’ is shouted from down the stairs. I’ll hide Cole and do whatever it is I’m being summoned to do. That’s usually ten minutes of my twenty-minute session gone already. It doesn’t matter though; I’ll have still gained some knowledge to come back to later.
After a few runs Cole was directed to a specific Visionary. Visionaries are the named antagonists of Deathloop: the characters you need to kill in order to break the loop. And within this specific Visionary’s lab is an ability. This ability allows Cole to save items between loops. These are weapons, slabs, trinkets and upgrades. In some of my early runs I would target a Visionary and head to the map they inhabit, work my way through it and kill them for their slab or rarer weapon. This can then be carried over into every run. A simple mechanic but one that doesn’t have me rushing through the game.
One of my biggest worries was having to assassinate all eight targets across one day. Deathloop’s structure of maps and phases without seemingly having a limit to the amount of loops that can be run doesn’t push this. It wants the player to make those smaller moves such as gaining knowledge or procuring a new weapon for another run. I might spend a few weeks getting through the game but I’ll do so at my own pace and thank Arkane for allowing me to do just that.
We were provided with a PC review code for Deathloop from Bethesda.