After spending a year as a timed Playstation exclusive, while being owned by Microsoft, Deathloop has finally arrived on the Xbox, giving a whole new group of people the chance to discover the genius of Arkane.
Let me kick off with a statement that’s likely to be a little controversial: I think Deathloop is Arkane’s best game to date. Now, let me clarify this a bit – it isn’t their most complex or their most creative title and my own personal choice would be Dishonored 2. However, I do think it’s somewhat fair to say that Arkane has struggled to find success with a wider audience. Relatively poor sales for both Dishonored 2 and Prey have shown this. Deathloop takes their creativity, their passion and their love of making games that encourage players to replay levels, and channels it into something more refined and approachable. Deathloop could be the gateway drug that leads people into Arkane’s glorious portfolio.
Basically, Deathloop is groundhog day with guns. A reductive description, yes, but still fairly accurate. You awake back on the beach of a mysterious island at the end of every day with the goal of finding a way to kill the Visionaries who created this land trapped in an endless loop. To do that, you need to visit the four different locations, all of which change based on the time of day, and gradually discover how you can get your victims gathered together so they can be eliminated in one 24-hour period. They won’t conveniently group up around a handy bomb, but their own personal quirks, relationships and politics can all be used against them.
What transpires is a really fun shooter/stealth ’em up where you become intimately familiar with the locations and gradually build up a small armoury of powers and weapons. Every time you kill a target you get their special power and can improve it further by murdering the same target over and over. The more you play, the quicker and more effectively you can blitz through the levels, making you feel like a predator. Just four locations sounds like it shouldn’t be enough, yet Arkane’s talents at level design are more than a match for that issue. In many ways, it reminds me of playing through Hitman 3, where learning every nook and cranny is a fundamental part of the game. I also love the thematic idea of it all: at first, I was all sneaky, but as time went on stealth went out the window because I knew the game, locations and enemies so well, and so just like someone stuck in a time loop for eternity, caution was thrown to the wind.
While Deathloop doesn’t allow for the same level of gameplay flair as Dishonored 2, there’s still a lot of room to have fun by teleporting around, linking foes together, blowing stuff up, unloading your guns and….getting shot in the head by a sniper!? Yeah, one of the most interesting parts of Deathloop is that other players can invade your game as Juliana(or you can turn that option off, in which case an AI will do it) and hunt you down. It’s a really cool twist and learning that someone has entered your game is an incredibly tense moment. Where are they? Do they know where you are already? It’s equally fun to play as Juliana and mess with other people. It’s fun to stand behind a wall and watch the other player becoming more and more paranoid, or to execute a last-second ambush as they make a run for the safety of the tunnels.
Arkane continues to prove themselves masters of their craft, and may very well be the black horse of Microsoft’s takeover of Bethesda.