The time loop genre is one that's perfect for a video game. The idea that your memories can help you improve or progress hits at the heart of what has kept gamers memorising moves and learning boss fights for decades, and it's even more pronounced in a game like Deathloop.
Deathloop isn’t a time loop game in the roguelike sense, instead it uses the time loop structure in a far more unique way. Each loop is simply a time period in which you can try to complete tasks.
There isn't a defined path, a beginning point or an end point, the loop is just a means of giving structure to your missions.
Colt is trying to breaking the loop, and to do so he needs to kill the eight Visionaries that set it up. Kill them, destabilise the loop, escape from Blackreef. That's the objective.
However, it’s not as simple as grabbing a shotgun, heading out into town, and shooting everything that moves.
A Fascinating Structure
The eight Visionaries are always moving, changing location across each of Deathloop’s four times of the day (morning, noon, afternoon, and evening) - making them harder or easier to get in touching distance of. There are eight Visionaries to kill and only one loop to do it in.
The puzzle is, then, figuring out how to kill them all in that one loop, without being killed in the meantime.
And Deathloop really is a puzzle. After a linear introduction, it throws you in the deep end and lets you figure it all out for yourself.
You need to work out how to kill the eight targets, scouring the four locations and chunks of time for their weaknesses and any opportunities there might be to get close to them.
It has a real modern Hitman vibe, placing you in open areas and letting you figure out and execute opportunities at your own pace.
There are strings of missions made available by the clues you find, letting you add a little structure to some of your loops.
Soon, you’re hightailing it from Updaam to The Complex and back again to figure out what the next step is.
It’s a fascinating structure that gets better and better as your understanding of it develops.
At first, it’s pretty overwhelming. With so much to figure out - from trinkets to slabs to what’s happening in each place at each time - you often don’t feel like you’re making any progress as you stumble into clues or struggle against large groups of enemies.
It feels like there’s little purpose to what you’re doing, since it’s the clues that paint a picture of the world you’re in (and for Colt himself who is still piecing together his memory).
Deathloop keeps a lot to itself at the start.
As you fill out the mission log, get a clear picture of your overall aim, and expand your arsenal of weapons and abilities (the Slabs taken from Visionaries), Deathloop really comes into its own.
Once you begin to grasp every way to progress, the pace picks up too and you start using your time in smarter ways.
If one mission can only be done in the evening, you can get another ticked off early on, making each subsequent loop feel meaningful and like you’re actually making progress.
You’ll start by sneaking around in the dark; but you’ll soon be sprinting to objectives (utilising every shortcut you’ve learned) and blasting enemies away with cool weapons and ability combinations.
Areas change completely at different times of the day and it doesn't take long to learn enemy placements and take advantage of paths that open up in each of them.
Yes, the structure does make Deathloop feel like a slog early on - it nearly lost me with its vagueness - but stick with it and you’ll be rewarded with a mystery that’s really engaging to piece together.
You’ll soon find yourself invested in the story, too. Through tons of audio logs and diary entries, you start to get a good idea of who these Visionaries are and what their relationships with each other are like.
The puzzle of taking them out allows you to play them off against each other, luring them into traps using their personalities and manufacturing opportunities to take them out.
It’s a little disappointing that you don’t exactly get near unlimited freedom in how you kill them (as least not when it comes to taking them all out in one loop). There's no Hitman-style long list of kills to pick from.
The story leads you down specific paths to set up the finale, but you can approach the branching paths in any order you like, progressing at a rate that’s determined by the clues you find.
The world is what you’re playing with, rather than the targets.
Deathloop also becomes more enjoyable as upgrades and discoveries flesh out the gameplay.
Very 'Bethesda' Gameplay
For the most part, it features Bethesda’s signature mix of tight shooting, floaty traversal, and god-awful melee mechanics, but you can start to feel pretty unstoppable after a few hours.
The way auto-aim snaps onto enemy heads with the rarer one-shot pistols and the agility of the shotguns make the action move along at breakneck speed.
The slabs also let you play around with kills. Karnesis allows you to fling enemies into the air, while Nexus (my personal favourite) allows you to tether enemies' fates together, so shooting one affects all that are connected. Silently taking out a crowd of masked enemies with one pistol shot to the head of just one of them is immensely satisfying.
Deathloop also balances stealth and all guns blazing combat well. Blackreef is full of motion sensors, automated turrets, and mines, all of which you can shoot or hack, so taking it slowly is a necessity sometimes. Get spotted by one sensor and all hell can break loose.
Therefore, crouching in the shadows and taking your time with stealth kills can be vital sometimes. You can use rooftops to your advantage to slip by unnoticed, or use one of many routes through each location. I wish jumping and climbing wasn't awkward and imprecise, however, because I was spotted more than once after Colt just wouldn't jump as far as I know he can or in quite the right direction.
There are some times when the stealth can be a bit frustrating, too, with you only having three lives in a loop before it starts over once more. Failing in the few missions that require stealth is a lot more punishing than feels fair.
You'll need to use some trial and error to figure out which approach is best for each situation, but each one is always at least viable, providing a great sense of freedom to every mission objective.
Leave Me Alone, Julianna!
The other factor that can mess with your progress is Julianna, Deathloop's other main character.
She's always watching you, talking to you over your radio as you try to figure out the mystery and end the loop.
The interactions between her and Colt at the beginning of every loop are fantastically written, making their relationship more engaging than any other.
However, she does more than watch over you, and that's where Deathloop's asynchronous multiplayer comes into the equation.
In any loop, at any time, Julianna can start hunting you. You won't know where she's coming from or when she's close by - at least not until she's shooting you in the head.
Kill her and you get some great rewards, such as slab upgrades and Residuum to allow you to carry over items between loops, but she's a pain to deal with.
If you can get her in the right position, she's easy enough to kill, but the randomness to her appearances means you're often caught off guard.
Right when you're about to complete a tricky objective or slink into a base unnoticed, in comes Julianna with her glowing rifle and comedy quips. I shouted "Go Away!" at her more than once, I'm not ashamed to say.
It would be fine if she was just interrupting your exploration, but disrupting actual missions at critical times is just annoying, and the rewards aren't special enough to make the encounters worthwhile.
She can even be controlled by another player online. By choosing 'Protect the Loop' from the main menu, you can jump into other players' games to try and kill them as Julianna.
It's a fun addition for whoever is playing as Julianna, using what you've learned to stop Colt rather than help him, but it's quite the opposite for whoever is trying to break the loop.
You can turn off the online functionality to make dealing with Julianna a little easier, but that won't make her go away entirely. You just always have to be prepared.
At the start, Deathloop is a mess of vague instructions and clunky mechanics but it soon comes into its own as an intriguing puzzle you're slowly piecing together with your own discoveries and decisions.
As you learn more and more about Blackreef and the loop Colt is stuck in, getting more powerful as you go, Deathloop improves drastically, developing into a great action adventure with a fascinating structure and story.
I just wish that it didn't take so long to get there and that Julianna would leave me the hell alone!
RealSport Rating: 4 out of 5
We played Deathloop on PlayStation 5 and Review Code was provided to us by Bethesda.