GOTY 2021: #4 - Deathloop

Arkane Lyon's time-looping FPS displayed a masterclass in level design, fluid feeling gameplay, and in an engaging narrative.

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There aren't too many video games that shortly before launch you still don't really know how it works. But that was precisely the case with Arkane Lyon's FPS, Deathloop. Designed and known as a truly next-generation game, this narrative heavy experience delivered a bewildering world where a time looping system at the centre acted as the primary way of unravelling the confounding storyline that explained the mysteries and complexities surrounding the diverse 60s-inspired island of Blackreef.

Revolving around the intertwining protagonist and antagonist, Colt and Julianna, Deathloop tasked players with heading out into the many regions of Blackreef to discover clues that will help Colt piece together his lost memory and to solve the mystery of how to break the loop that sees the island reset to square one every 24 hours. It's a design that on the surface seemed complex and challenging to wrap your head around, but in practice, was simplistic and easy to understand thanks to a detailed and broad quest log and lore collecting system.

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While the narrative and storyline is one of the biggest strengths of Deathloop, this game once again served as an ample display of Arkane's excellence in level design and fresh and fluid feeling gameplay mechanics. Each region of Blackreef was packed with a huge degree of explorable opportunities, many of which served to accommodate the core narrative of achieving the seemingly impossible: lining up eight unique and well protected figures to dispatch them within a day, before the loop resets. But Blackreef, was also so much more than this, and featured a deep range of objectives to complete to help Colt build out his loadout and become a more versatile and capable combatant.

As for the gameplay itself, Deathloop once again featured that Arkane tang, and offered a combination of tight feeling FPS systems, mixed with a broad range of supernatural abilities to allow the player to approach gameplay in the way that suited them. Whether you choose to take the stealthier angle, eliminating targets methodically and with precision, or rather favoured a more head-on assault, using deadly firearms and impactful skills to chew through the cultists that call Blackreef home, Deathloop has the range to accommodate for all styles.

Despite offering one of the most unique and impressive stories we've ever seen, Arkane looked to elevate the Deathloop experience that little bit further, by sprinkling in a player vs. player element. Colt and Julianna's tense relationship was already a massive part of the narrative, but Arkane made it even more crucial by sending actual players into other players' campaigns as invaders. The attacker was tasked with stepping into the boots of Julianna to eliminate Colt at whatever cost, and the defender was expected to either evade the efforts of the invading Julianna, or rather take the fight to her to remove the challenging, real opponent from their game. It's a design that we've seen explored in Soulslike games beforehand, but Arkane's approach to the system offered up more of a cat and mouse angle than a typical 1v1 round of ritual combat.

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While we're firm believers that console exclusive games should be on the way out, the nature of Deathloop being a PlayStation 5 console exclusive once again showcased the strengths and benefits of developing a game for Sony's flagship console. This game served up a bountiful display of what makes the DualSense controller such a remarkable device, with haptic feedback, the inner speaker, and adaptive triggers making Deathloop feel that little bit more immersive. Add to this the strengths of the Tempest 3D audio system that brings even the minor sounds of Blackreef to life and you get a game that has depth and immersive qualities unlike anything we've seen on console prior to the launch of the PS5 last November.

Whichever way you look at it, Deathloop is an essential and one of the best displays of what a top-of-the-line video game can be. Regardless of whether you play on PC or PS5, Arkane Lyon has once again displayed a masterclass in level design, tight feeling gameplay mechanics, and in an enthralling and immersive narrative that may just go down as being the best game story that 2021 has served up. While we don't know what the future holds for Deathloop or Arkane Lyon, we can only hope the studio maintains the level of production quality we've seen from them over the past few years.


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