There’s been a problem with games and their inability to really do something memorable over the past few years. Every shooter feels samey, every story tells the same generic apocalyptic tale, and everything constantly feels like it just simply steals the ideas of anything that’s come before it without changing the formula or even pretending like there’s a semblance of an original idea. So far, other than The Ascent, there hasn’t been a game in 2021 that has grabbed my attention and held it quite like Deathloop has.
You could argue that Deathloop isn’t all that different from every other title above, but the difference is how well Deathloop weaves these elements together into one of the most stylish and captivating experiences we’ve seen from a Triple-A publisher in years. Simply put, Deathloop doesn’t have any shame in being what it is – Arkane Studios simply fucking went for it, and boy does it show. Find out more in our Deathloop review!
Developer: Arkane Lyon
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (Reviewed), PlayStation 5
Release Date: September 13, 2021
Price: $59.99 USD
Right off the bat, you’ll notice that Deathloop has a style that hasn’t been tried for quite some time. The last game I remember doing this was the DLC for the similarly fantastic Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, where they attempted to make a Tarantino type of experience.
Deathloop pays tribute to the grindhouse cinema by coating this game with dripping helping of blaxploitation — and if you’ve ever seen movies like Dolemite or I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, you’ll absolutely love the way they’ve masterfully pulled this element off.
Colt and Julianna go back and forth with each other in ways that would have made George and Wheezy beam with pride. The writing is hysterical and honestly I was more interested in seeing what they’d say to each other as the game progressed than I was simply advancing the story. I think this is very important to mention in today’s culture war and stands as a testament to how much fun you can have when you stop worrying about political stances and just enjoy something that’s truly well crafted.
Enemies are all done up in a faceless cast of characters vibe, where people of all races and sexes wear anonymous masks and are just as easily mowed down thoughtlessly as a horde of nameless warriors can be blown down in a Dynasty Warriors skirmish. This is one of the very few cases where I’d argue that dehumanizing people lends strength to the setting (and thus creates a little bit of safety from backlash).
There are also some really trippy visual elements where Colt has a sense of synesthesia and can see notes he and (presumably others) previously left for him in prior loops. Add that to the notes written on his jacket and other places, and you’ve got a nod to the movie Memento, where continually experiencing things add more context to everything as it unfolds. There’s really nothing else out there that explores this design choice as well as Deathloop does, and it single-handedly makes this game go from simply compelling to truly memorable.
Sure, Deathloop is a fun experience, but is it fun to play? That all depends on what you like as a player. If you’ve played the Hitman games, you’ll know that there’s many ways to skin a cat, and Deathloop is no different.
Rather than simply giving you a list of ways you can accomplish a goal, Deathloop guides you by leaving clues scattered around the levels that lead you to places based on the time of day. One example is that a guy plans to set off a fireworks display for a party that occurs at night, so you chase a lead to find out where the fireworks are being stored, only to find that something happened and caused the building to burn down sometime in the afternoon but it was totally fine in the morning.
These investigations keep you eager to explore the areas instead of just simply getting bored racking your brain trying to memorize every square inch of each of the four areas. What game in 2021 would be complete without adding some roguelike elements?
Death is your foe and your ally, as you are given three chances to clear each section – at the slight annoyance of having to return to your fallen body to pick up your essence which is of course used to phase collected items and slabs into existence so you keep them each time the day restarts.
However, with that said, repetition does start to set in. You’ve explored each area fully one time, so naturally when you return it’s a bit like deja vu — and that’s when the game injects Julianna to show up and make your life a living hell.
When playing in Single-Player, Julianna will randomly show up at some point in each section as long as your target (typically one of the Visionaries) is still alive. This isn’t terrible, but she’s no slouch and is an extremely difficult opponent to out wit.
Playing online means you’re up against a player-controlled Julianna which typically increases the difficulty by a lot (ya know, unless they suck.) Julianna only has one life, but can choose from a plethora of strong weapons, slabs (powers), and trinkets meaning while she might have to kill Colt three times to win, Colt’s gonna have a hell of a time dealing with her.
My only complaint with this mechanic is the unfortunate act of trying to keep it balanced. Since it’s random, you could spawn in versus a Colt who barely has anything or you could pop in versus a Colt who’s run 65 loops and has top-tier everything which makes you a considerably lesser threat.
Julianna’s arsenal increases with every successful hunt as you’re rewarded with new gear/abilities as your hunter rank increases, but it feels awkwardly tacked on as opposed to feeling truly intertwined. I would have preferred Julianna’s invasions to feel more like Dark Souls where you could either invade to harm or invade to help.
Giving her the ability to help Colt survive areas with heavy enemy density could have really been the last bit of shine the game needed to be as close to perfect as it possibly could have been, but unfortunately it’s a slight oversight that leaves you longing for what could possibly come further down the road.
Overall, I’d say that Arkane Studios may have possibly dropped the best game in the middle of this quality game drought we’re currently in (but I haven’t played Tales of Arise yet.) Deathloop isn’t nearly as original as it is refreshing and inventive.
In fact, you could argue that Deathloop borrows the very best elements of everything that it rips off pays homage to and manages to stitch it together with a quality that’s not quite designer level, but considerably more convincing than a Wal-Mart brand knockoff.
Deathloop was reviewed on Windows PC using a review code provided by Bethesda Softworks. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.