Arkane Studios' shooter is finally available on Xbox Series consoles with a large new update, but it's still very much the same middling experience.
Returning to it one year later on the Xbox Series X, it amazes me how Deathloop the game really makes you feel like you’re protagonist Colt, caught in the Deathloop. At first, you’re curious and somewhat baffled, taking in the sights and the debauchery-laden streets of Blackreef. The interesting mechanics and structure of the Loop, however, quickly give way to sheer repetition and trial-and-error. Even with its updates, including the recently released Goldenloop patch, I still find Deathloop to be Arkane Studios’ weakest title to date.
However, it’s not a terrible game. There are ideas here that draw you in. When it all comes together though, the sum is less than the whole of its parts, which ultimately feels more disappointing.
You probably know the routine by now, but for Colt, Blackreef is a mystery. After suffering another death at the hands of the mysterious Julianna, he wakes on the beach with few memories and proceeds to piece things together. Eight Visionaries, one Loop. If Colt wants to escape from this unending cycle of die, die again, he needs to slay all eight of them over a day.
“When playing offline, Julianna is controlled by the AI but online play allows another player to control her and invade your game. It’s a unique twist on Arkane’s usual single-player focus, but not by much.”
The tricky part is that they’re present across four different Districts at different times of the day. Aleksis can only really be killed in Updaam during the evening while Charlie is available in the same District during the noon. You can only visit a maximum of four Districts in a day, and inevitably, choices must be made between which ones to pursue first, whether it’s to earn specific Slabs or gather clues. As the game unravels, you’ll learn about how certain Visionaries are present in more than one District during the day, and how to go about killing two (or even three) birds with one grenade.
It can seem tough at first but you’ll quickly unlock the ability to gather Residuum, which can be used to infuse Slabs and their upgrades, weapons, and Trinkets (used for modifying weapons and your character). This lets carry over between loops, giving you more choices for the loadout when starting a new day and building a formidable arsenal.
Throughout all of this, Julianna will attempt to stop you by invading your game and sealing off the exits. Fighting alongside the Eternalists is only one of her tricks – she can also blend in with them using Masquerade to get the drop on Colt, and use any other Slab abilities that the Visionaries wield.
When playing offline, Julianna is controlled by the AI but online play allows another player to control her and invade your game. It’s a unique twist on Arkane’s usual single-player focus, but not by much. She may have her motivations and goals, but the amount of weight given to Julianna’s side of the narrative is sadly limited. The quips and back-and-forth between her and Colt are nice, if somewhat limited as the game goes on. Her loadout and abilities are also unlocked by completing Challenges, which usually center on killing Colt, instead of using Residuum.
“Each environment looks unique thanks to the gorgeous, swinging 60’s aesthetic, and yes, I enjoyed causing enemies to trip on gumballs from the vending machines.”
The Goldenloop update provides upgrades to Masquerade and cross-platform matchmaking. Julianna’s overall impact on the core gameplay and story is still the same, functioning as more of an interesting diversion than a substantial part of the experience. At least Ozioma Akagha’s performance is still great, capturing her snark and long-standing anger with ease. This meshes well with Jason Kelley, who flawlessly embodies the tired frustration and nonchalant nature of Colt. I would have far preferred for her perspective to be a standalone story, perhaps set before the events of the main game, instead of this unnecessary PvP gimmick, but alas.
While Deathloop fires on all cylinders in the first few hours, it peters out as you keep revisiting each District and killing the same Eternalists, again and again and again. Don’t get me wrong – there are some interesting things to discover. These include enemies that leave a “present” for Colt and invite him to gather it; a machine which teleports Eternalists from another timeline; and Condition Detachment’s AI 2-B.I.T. making things slightly more difficult as you keep killing Charlie.
It’s just that their entertainment value dulls over the long run when you’re simply following your notes, running to a waypoint, killing a target and discovering a clue, rinse and repeat. Each environment looks unique thanks to the gorgeous, swinging 60’s aesthetic, and yes, I enjoyed causing enemies to trip on gumballs from the vending machines. But they become repetitive after a point, especially since you’re not thinking outside of the box so much as following instructions on the side of it. It just feels less organic and spontaneous than other time loop-style games.
“One new enemy type, the Paint-Bomber, has been added which spices things up. They essentially run at you and explode when close.”
Story-wise, as interesting and “car-razy” as each Visionary can seem, much of their characterization is done through notes, emails, and radio messages. You don’t really “interact” with them per se. Some people may appreciate piecing together Deathloop’s overall story through the lore, but the characterization feels shallow beyond the leads. One of the more interesting mysteries – the clones of Colt and Julianna that randomly appear at times – isn’t expanded upon any further either. A new extended ending has been added with the Goldenloop update and only further highlighted the lack of emotional investment I had for the Visionaries.
Combat is more or less the same in terms of feel. Weapons and abilities still feel suitably responsive, and movement, though somewhat awkward when suddenly going from walking into sprinting, feels good. One new enemy type, the Paint-Bomber, has been added which spices things up. They essentially run at you and explode when close. Simple, but it does lend to occasionally rethinking some situations.
A new Slab ability Fugue has been added to the mix (obtained by killing a new “boss” of sorts), which causes enemies to become intoxicated. When upgraded, it can cause them to become enraged and attack anyone close by, including other Eternalists. There’s also the HALPS Prototype, a laser-based weapon which can be fired at sensors and turrets to transmit the laser onto any hapless targets. It feels almost overpowered at times, but that sense of banking laser shots or “charging” a turret so that it kills unsuspecting foes nearby can be fun.
“New Golden Trinkets have also been added which fuse two passives into one, like Poised which reduces shot spread and recoil when dual-wielding or Gone Commando which increases magazine size and fire rate.”
Enemy AI has been improved compared to launch but it’s still uneven. For every occasion where an enemy would detect me from a realistic distance, there were plenty of others where responses were too slow. Upon being alerted, they’ll investigate up till a point and then casually go back to their duties instead of pursuing you at times (while rabidly hunting you down and endlessly respawning on other occasions, like Updaam in the morning). It was funny how killing an enemy and watching their body tumble in front of their friends would elicit no reaction but them’s the breaks when you’ve been endlessly killed for a near-eternity. Julianna’s AI fares slightly better, depending on the Slab and weapon she’s equipped with, but she’s still pretty easy to defeat for the most part.
New Golden Trinkets have also been added which fuse two passives into one, like Poised which reduces shot spread and recoil when dual-wielding or Gone Commando which increases magazine size and fire rate. This helps build diversity, which would have been great if there were more enemy types or more nuanced battles with the Visionaries. Even with the addition of the HALPS, the weapon variety still feels kind of underwhelming. Once you’ve picked out and infused a few noteworthy weapons and Slabs, you can stick to them for the remainder of the game without much consequence.
Having more randomized loot with different perks would have been ideal. Modifiers for each District to introduce more unique conditions would have also been nice. Heck, I would have settled for more scenarios where more than one Visionary could be present at a given location, leading to more opportunities for killing them all in one Loop. Even something like encountering another Colt running through the same District or fighting multiple Juliannas in the same District would have been cool.
“If you’re keen on a 20-hour-or-so action thriller with a unique style that provides a decent amount of freedom to play how you want, then it may be worth a look.”
Presentation-wise, Deathloop is still a pretty good-looking game with its highly stylized setting and character designs. The music also retains its charm, conveying the thrill and danger of a 60’s spy movie while still feeling upbeat and dramatic thanks to the use of saxophones, synths and horns. I encountered very few bugs this time around, which is a marked improvement over the game’s launch on PS5 last year, and performance was markedly better.
Despite all of this, Deathloop is still a very middling experience. If you’re keen on a 20-hour-or-so action thriller with a unique style that provides a decent amount of freedom to play how you want, then it may be worth a look. However, the issues with its core gameplay and story-telling, not to mention the repetition, iffy pacing and unnecessary PvP mechanics, still weigh it down.
This game was reviewed on Xbox Series X.
Visual presentation, from some animated cutscenes to environmental designs, still hold up and channel that retro-futuristic vibe. Combat can be fun, especially with the addition of a new weapon, ability, and Trinkets. Improved AI leads to more harrowing encounters. Excellent soundtrack and performances by the lead characters.
Gameplay loop still feels inherently repetitive past the opening two hours. Lackluster character development for the Visionaries (which becomes even more evident in the new underwhelming ending). Despite some improvements, AI still doesn’t feel very competent. PvP Invasion mechanic feels disposable while Julianna could have been utilized better.
One year later and Deathloop is still very much Deathloop. It’s intriguing, boasts strong production values, and offers an interesting mix of immersive sim and roguelite mechanics. Unfortunately, this is all bogged down by repetitive gameplay, a so-so PvP mechanic, pacing issues, and iffy AI. It’s worth a try, but your mileage may vary.