Made by Arkane Studios…
(the good people behind the Dishonored games and, uh, Prey), Deathloop opens with you waking up on the beach of a mysterious island with no memory of who you are, how you got there, or why there are words floating in mid-air. And who the hell is Julianna? But you quickly realize that floating words ain’t the weirdest thing about this place, especially after you die and end up back on the beach. Which is why you’re going to spend the next couple hours shooting people from the first-person perspective while trying to put an end to this Groundhog Day-esque torment.
I know what you’re thinking. And no, you’re not in a time loop yourself. While Deathloop has a similar live/die/repeat mechanic as Returnal, that’s where the similarities end. And not just because this is first-person and that was third.
For one thing, Deathloop gives you three lives to play with before you get reset. Die when you still have one and you’ll find yourself rewound back to a previous spot. Once you use them all, though, you’ll be back on the beach, and with none of the guns or other fun stuff you grabbed in your previous go-round.
Deathloop is also, unlike Returnal, as much about being sneaky as it is shooty. Hence why there’s not only tons of empty bottles lying around (always good for distracting people), but also why you have a device called a Hackamajig that can not only hack turrets and security cameras, but also things that make loud (and thus distracting) noises.
This is not to say you can’t shoot people in Deathloop. You can and you will. Especially since you get some rather interesting guns as you cut a bloody swath across the island. Not only are the pistols rather effective (never a given, sadly), but the shotguns and assault rifles are fun in an old school, World War II first-person shooter kind of way. Or, to be more accurate, an old school BioShock-y way.
Deathloop also has devices, called Trinkets, which can be used to augment both your weapons and yourself. Hence why, if you find the right ones, you can double jump while using a gun that has an improved reduction in recoil.
But what really makes Deathloop fun…
is the way the island is laid out. Or rather, the way the structures on the islands are constructed. A series of small but open world areas — think Wolfenstein: Youngblood — this has multiple and rather intricate pathways that are as vertical as they are horizontal. They also reward exploration, which is an interesting juxtaposition to how the live/die/repeat makes you want to get in and get out fast before you get killed a bunch and have to start over.
All of which works well together to make for some rather engaging moments when you use stealth to thin out the heard before going all guns-a-blazin’ on some bad guys. Which, of course, is hardly unique to Deathloop — again, think Wolfenstein: Youngblood — but since it’s not something that’s become tiresome yet…
It’s just too bad it doesn’t always work as well as it should. Thanks to a lot of little problems, and a couple big ones, Deathloop is less engaging than it should be.
For starters, Deathloop makes some of the same stupid mistakes as other games. Like Destiny 2, The Division 2, and other games that insist on being always online for no good reason, Deathloop doesn’t let you pause. Which makes even less sense than it usually does given that Deathloop isn’t an online game; you can play it if your Internet is out.
(That said, there is an online mode, one where one person plays the game, and another person gets to sneak into their game and mess things up, but since this just sounds like sanctioned griefing, and I can’t abide such dickishness, I fail to see the appeal of this mode…even if it could possibly add some unpredictability and replay value.)
Moving on with mistakes the developers should’ve learned to avoid by playing other games, Deathloop also has the same irritating menu navigation controls as Outriders, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, and Spider-Man: Miles Morales; one that awkwardly makes you use the right thumbstick like a mouse.
It also doesn’t help that your guns sometimes jam, which has never been fun in any other game, so I don’t know why they thought it would here. Though even when they do work, their recoil is really bad, even if you have the aforementioned Trinket installed.
Deathloop also has a problem…
that’s present in so many games (far too many to mention), that I just copy and paste this paragraph into every relevant review: the type is too small. If you sit at a reasonable distance from your TV — y’know, like your mama told you to — you’ll have a lot of trouble reading the menus. Which is even more irritating here than normal because Deathloop has an option to make the subtitle text larger.
As for problems that are less common, the enemies you face in Deathloop have poor situational awareness. Which is really not a good thing in a game where you’re encouraged to try and sneak past people. But if I had a dollar for every time I stealth killed someone while they were standing next to someone else, only to have the second someone not notice that I had just impaled their BFF with a machete, I could fund production of Deathloop II: Death Loopier (and thus fix all of the mistakes mentioned above and below).
This brings up another bit of weirdness: When you kill someone, they instantly dissolve and leave no trace that they were ever there. Which, of course, fits the whole time loop death thing, but it also means that enemies never notice dead bodies lying around, and thus never go on high alert.
But the biggest issue with Deathloop is that how the combat has a bunch of its own little issues. Take the way your health works. Rather than let you let you take some damage but only give you specific opportunities to repair said damage, enemy gunfire really takes it out of you. Nearly every encounter ends with you hanging on by a thread. Now, to compensate, the soda you drink to heal yourself can be found everywhere. There are piles of it every, as well as giant dispensers that will inject the stuff straight into your veins.
On its own, this would not be so much an issue as it would be a choice I wish the developers hadn’t made. But when you consider how many of the gunfights involve multiple adversaries coming at you from as many directions, which makes for an ever-present threat of a quick and easy death, you end up with a game that’s ultimately more stressful than it is challenging.
The irony of this being that there’s no options when it comes to difficulty, which is annoying for those looking for either more or less of a challenge.
The thing is,
while all of these issues are irritating, both individually and collectively, many are the kind you’ll get used to after an hour or so. But they’re not nothing. Which is why Deathloop is ultimately just okay. It didn’t grab my attention or capture my imagination as much as I hoped it would, but it did both enough to keep me from giving up on it completely (or, to put this into context with Arkane’s oeuvre, it’s less engaging than Dishonored but less annoying than Prey). Sure, the next time I die and am resurrected on the beach of a mysterious island, again, I won’t play Deathloop a second time…but I wouldn’t shoot and dissolve anyone who does.