Deathloop
Edge|December 2021
PC, PS5

Publisher Bethesda Softworks

Developer Arkane Studios

Format PC, PS5 (tested)

Release Out now

Colt wakes up on the beach again, his latest death fresh in the memory. But while he’s nursing an infinitely looping hangover and mourning his demise at the business end of a shotgun, you have a fresh batch of ideas to think on. Yesterday might have brought a glimpse of some unexplored path in a level you thought you knew backwards, an epiphany about one of Blackreef Island’s many mysteries, or just some new way of wreaking havoc you’re keen to try.

So you apply those ideas, test theory against practice, and – one way or another – end up back on that beach. Even if you do manage to survive through a full day, there’s nothing left to do but let night pass into morning, and begin this murderous Groundhog Day all over again. Although, as with every rule in Deathloop, there’s an exception. If Colt can manage to kill his seven targets – the band of scientists, creatives and billionaires responsible for Blackreef’s loop, collectively known as the Visionaries – within a single loop, you might finally get to see tomorrow.

As you’d expect, this is no easy feat. And not only because you’re hugely outnumbered, starting the day with just an SMG and a double-jump to your name – there’s also the matter of logistics to consider. Days are divided into four: morning, noon, afternoon, evening. Blackreef, too: Updaam, Karl’s Bay, Fristad Rock, The Complex. Each Visionary occupies their own spot, their own time, with schedules designed not to overlap (they know how the loop is broken, too, and they’re none too keen for it to happen). Harriet Morse gives her morning address in Karl’s Bay. Meanwhile, on the other side of the island, Ramblin’ Frank Spicer is holding court in his Fristad club. Come noon, they’ll both have disappeared, out of your reach.

Your job, then, is to find a way of breaking the rules, putting enough Visionaries in one place that it’s possible to see them all off in a day. This is the backbone of Deathloop’s much-touted ‘murder puzzle’, though in reality that might be the wrong phrase. The game guides you to the solution, and eventually hands it to you wholesale. A disappointment, perhaps, to anyone hoping for some homicidal cousin to Mobius Digital’s Outer Wilds, but it’s a necessary concession in a game that has so much to throw at you. Deathloop is conceptually dense in a way that few games with such mainstream ambitions ever are, and while that’s to be applauded, it has to be careful not to overwhelm the player too much. The game’s first few hours in particular are a thrilling assault of mechanics and plot points, as Colt and the player learn the rules and then their inevitable exceptions.

Colt wakes up on the beach again, having gained only knowledge. A real shame, given what he ended the day with: a small arsenal of weapons, perks and supernatural abilities that could be combined to transform him into a silent assassin or unstoppable juggernaut. You can’t take it with you, as they say – until you can. Early on, the game introduces Residuum, a currency that can be extracted from the world and spent in the menus that act as a divider between each portion of the day, in order to hold onto your favourites for good. Each Visionary is a rich vein of the stuff – tapping their glimmering corpse for Residuum is by far the easiest way to pay the bills. It’s an extra incentive to track down your targets, even when a dozen other threads are competing for your attention, and it’s not the only one Deathloop offers.

Most Visionaries come with their own distinct power, known as a Slab. This might be the power of invisibility, or teleportation, or a very particular kind of telekinesis that affects only human flesh. Kill its owner, and the power is yours. Kill them again, and you get an upgrade: causing those TK-lobbed bodies to hover in the air, or turning them into bombs. Slabs are Dishonored’s powers given performance-enhancing drugs, enough to even the odds in this battle of man versus island. They’re a prize you want to hold on to.

To do so, you need to escape the current map safely, back to the tunnels and the menus that let you bank them permanently. This cuts deliciously against the level design, as you’d expect from the studio that crafted Dunwall and Karnaca. Just a little while longer, we frequently tell ourselves. And almost every time, we end up back on that beach, full of regrets. The reason, all too often, is her.

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