Colt wakes up on a strange beach in a strange land. Everyone on the island is living the same day, over and over again. Colt (and one mysterious stranger) seem to be the only human inhabitants of the island capable of acting in a way that isn’t bound by this temporal loop.
Players in Deathloop control Colt and direct his attempts to break the loop on the island and experience something—anything—that isn’t predestined. Colt quickly learns that the island is ruled by eight powerful people called The Visionaries, and they’re located across the island’s four Districts.
While Colt is exploring within a single district, the game doesn’t cause time to progress, allowing players to luxuriate in developer Arkane’s stellar worldbuilding. Fans of the studio’s previous outings, the Dishonored franchise, will feel right at home with Deathloop.
When Colt progresses from one district to another, however, time progresses, bringing the action closer to looping around again. Should Colt fail to assassinate all eight Visionaries before the day ends, time loops on itself.
Try again, hero.
Julianna and Colt
Julianna, the mysterious young woman who seems to be the only other person who perceives the presence of the time loop, knows everything about Colt. She continues to battle him, incessantly. Oftentimes, she is controlled by other actual players. This means that anyone playing the game is also capable of stepping into Julianna’s shoes to pester, harass, and stymie others.
It’s an engaging mechanic that can be jarring in a game that otherwise feels like it’s meant to be a streamlined single-player experience. However, the link between the two characters proves pivotal to the game’s heart and story, and the performances from voice actors Jason E. Kelley and Ozioma Akagha are some of the best heard in a big-budget video game in years.
The game’s island rewards close inspection. Details shift as the “day” progress. A ship sitting alone in the water becomes accessible once time passes and ice forms. The Visionaries have patterns that they are obliged to follow: they’re stuck in a time loop, but you aren’t. You can use this to your advantage by plotting out where your targets will be and orchestrating the “perfect” day, taking down all eight of the Visionaries in a single loop.
This is more easily said than done. It’s your singular goal, but planning, reconnaissance, and creativity all go together in making it happen. The game’s brilliant aesthetic and snappy moment-to-moment gameplay make this far from an exercise in frustration, however. The player isn’t punished for taking their time and thinking carefully. Quite the opposite: this is a game that wants to reward you for engaging with it on a deeper level.
Deathloop also makes excellent use of the PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller. Colt’s supernatural abilities each have unique haptic kicks that give them all a particular feel. The game is like Returnal in that regard, rewarding exploration with a feast for the senses: visually, auditorily, and tactilely.
Deathloop is yet another example of how developers can use the PS5’s hardware to craft a wholly unique experience.