Only a few weeks ago, we gave our final impressions on the latest Arkane game, Deathloop. Ahead of its launch we went hands-on with this impressive first-person shooter, an opportunity that eliminated pretty much all of the doubts we had about it's confusing storyline, and left us with a deep hungering to explore the rest of the narrative to see how this boggling story met its conclusion. With only a few days until you can get your hands on the game yourself, we can firmly tell you Deathloop will be worth your time, and stands as one of, if not the best showing we've seen from Arkane to date.
We were purposely vague about the storyline in our recent preview, but we can dive deeper into what's on offer now. Deathloop sees you play as Colt, a man who wakes up on a beach, unaware of who he is and where he came from, and it's not long until you realise that as Colt, you're enemy number one on this strange island that you soon figure out is called Blackreef. But why is this the case? Well, it turns out Colt has been trying to kill eight vital and well-regarded people known as Visionaries, who are found across Blackreef. Why is Colt doing this? The answer is simple.
Following a strange incident, the island of Blackreef has become trapped in a time loop, a loop that is anchored and held together by these eight figures. Colt is one of two people on Blackreef who remembers the events of every loop, the other being his rival, the assassin and visionary protector Julianna, which means the pair are trapped in a vicious purgatory cycle repeating the same day over and over until the end of time. Colt doesn't want this to be the case, and is working tirelessly to rip the loop apart at the seams, a plan that will require getting his hands dirty, killing a lot of people, and dying a lot himself, all so that he can acquire the necessary knowledge and know-how, to line all the targets up and eliminate them over the course of one day, or one loop - else Blackreef will reset and he'll wake up again on the beach.
To make a narrative like this one work, Arkane has created a system where there are four levels; Karl's Bay, Fristad Rock, The Complex, and Updaam, all of which can be visited at either morning, noon, afternoon, or evening. Essentially what this means is that there are 16 levels to explore, each of which will hold different pieces of information and gear depending on when you choose to visit them. The catch is that you have no control over the natural progression of a day. You can head to Updaam in the morning, and then to Karl's Bay at noon, back to Updaam in the afternoon and so forth, but you can never move back in time, as that is solely the duty of the loop that takes place after you die, or leave an evening level.
With such a prominent looping system, you're probably a little concerned about the progression in Deathloop. Arkane has solved that by allowing you to carry forward any information you learn from previous loops into future loops, meaning you might learn the passcode for unlocking a safe, which can then be used in the next loop to acquire whatever is hidden inside. But, this doesn't directly apply to weapons and other handy gear you'll find scattered around Blackreef. Instead, to be able to use items and other handy upgrades in future loops, you'll have to save them using an infusion system powered by a prismatic essence called Residium.
Residium can be found pretty much anywhere around Blackreef, including on random objects or instead on the corpses of Visionaries, and can be acquired by interacting with it. You'll want to grab as much as possible, as at the end of the day, or between levels, you can use it to infuse any gear you want to save permanently for future runs. And this does mean that once you infuse an item once, you can choose to take it into a future level whenever you want, at absolutely zero cost. You can even leave that item behind in favour of something else, and it will be available to use it again when you get back to your loadout.
This system gives Deathloop a really satisfying style of progression. It doesn't matter whether you head to Blackreef to learn something new about the Visionaries or just look to find some new gear, infusion makes it feel like you're always moving forward, despite the loop dragging you back to square one after each day.
Coincidentally, the infusion system is also a prime reason for why Deathloop's difficulty curves a little differently to a lot of games. Throughout the story, you'll find the early stages much more challenging as you lack gear and abilities to face the many enemies that stand in your way, which is why stealth is more important early on. Towards the latter stages, you feel much more capable, and the direct, action-packed route becomes far more plausible, as only really Julianna will cause you too much trouble if you use your abilities to your advantage.
Talking about combat, as you would hope from an Arkane game, Deathloop delivers on a truly fulfilling and well-designed FPS and movement system. It feels Arkane all-throughout, in the aspect that the controls are fluid, and the mechanics provide you with plenty of options as to how you tackle a scenario. From the multiple different types of weapons (fully-automatic rifles, hand cannons, shotguns, sniper rifles, marksman rifles, TMPs), to the Slabs, which are abilities that allow you to blink short distances, become invisible, tag enemies so that when one takes damage so do the tethered ones, just to name a few examples, Deathloop offers a really creative arsenal from very early on.
This combined with the level design that always seems to have something new to explore tucked behind every nook and cranny of the four levels, and you get a game that displays a masterclass in replayability. Even after you've beaten the main story, you'll feel inclined to dive back into Blackreef to explore something you didn't before. And, all of this is without even counting the mode where you get to play as Julianna.
This mode puts you in the shoes of Colt's nemesis and tasks you with invading random or friend's timelines to well... kill Colt. The catch is Colt's specific Reprise ability (that gives him three lives in each level) is not available on Julianna, meaning if you die once, it's game over. With this deficit in mind, Julianna does have her own specific ability, which allows her to disguise herself as any enemy in the level, making it easier to sneak up on and eliminate Colt. And as for the progression in this mode, Arkane has provided a range of challenges to dive into, to unlock new gear for Colt and Julianna, but it never really serves as a driving force to spend a considerable amount of time in this mode.
If we were treating Deathloop like a meal at a luxury restaurant, singleplayer would be the wagyu steak, and multiplayer would be the grilled asparagus served alongside - it's by no means disappointing, but neither is it the main focal point.
It is worth noting that one of the major driving points for Deathloop is actually quite linear. How you can manipulate the Visionaries to be where you need them to be to break the loop might seem like quite the fluid system, but in effect it seems like there is one solution, meaning you can't test multiple methods for breaking the loop. How you go about killing the Visionaries is a different beast with much more variety, but getting them in the right locations at the right time is quite linear beneath the surface.
With this being said, Deathloop is without a shadow of a doubt one of the best games of 2021. It's relentlessly fun, polished to an incredibly high-quality, and features one of the more ambitious, yet well thought-out narratives we've seen in a long time. Colt and Julianna are also set to be two of the more memorable Arkane characters, as the witty back-and-forth relationship they have is outright hilarious at times, and makes you desperate to hear more from them. If you measure this all up with the fantastic integration of the DualSense controller and the PS5-specific features that just add to the immersion that much more, you get a game that is hard not to thoroughly love.