Where other developers find comfort in the conventional game narrative, the A-to-B race to the credits, Arkane Studios looks upon this structure as a thing to fight against. Its past games, such as the Dishonored series, have enabled us to play with a sense of freedom but in small specific ways. Deathloop explodes its narrative into tiny pieces and expects you to pick up all the bits.
“The structure is a little bit more crazy,” understates game director Dinga Bakaba. He refers to Deathloop as an “experimentation,” a game that builds on Dishonored’s approach to player agency but in new ways. Deathloop represents the crossroads of the old and new for this French studio. Like the art direction, which blends retro-kitsch decor and fashion with sciencefiction technology, Deathloo represents an appealing mix of the old and new.
“The main thing we are experimenting with is the playerdriven campaign,” says Bakaba, who explains how the structure is unexpected. “And because we want to focus on time loop gameplay and the invasion of Julianna, we have a small cast of characters, we have one place so you can build some familiarity, there is one big event and one goal. In a way it’s something more focussed than an epic tale of empires and countries.”
Such a cosy setup belies a complex web of cause and effect, of choices that evolve this small world and affect its cast in many unexpected ways. You play as Colt, an assassin trapped on the island of Blackreef, who realises his only way offthis rock is to break the time loop that has kept its residents alive for decades (maybe centuries). To do this he must kill the eight Visionaries responsible for maintaining the loop. And he only has a day to do it, because every 24 hours time resets and everything begins again.
“You have this small, short campaign of one day, but you have to explore it in various ways in order to find the solution to this puzzle. There’s one solution. But there are various ways to come to that solution,” says Bakaba.
‘Puzzle’ is the key word here. The world may be small on the surface, consisting of four districts spread across the island, but you’re thinking too literally. Deathloop exists in a state where every action has an outcome, and where everything from the time of day to the weather can affect the consequences of the actions you take. This is a dense world of many outcomes. You need to explore, play, and replay through its complex web of cause-and-affect events to manipulate your targets to where you need them to be for their deaths to make a difference.
Bakaba explains how it all works: “The moment-to-moment experience is very freeform, like an arcade game, but although there is only one way to break the time loop, how you learn this solution is completely up to you. Even when you know how to do it, it won’t be an easy feat to accomplish. You have to use your knowledge of the environment and your skills to accomplish this task.”
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