When reviews for Deathloop dropped yesterday, it soon became evident that Arkane Lyon's latest title was something special.
The verdict is almost unanimous; with a Metacritic score of 88 at the time of writing, Deathloop seems to have achieved its goal and instantly became one of the most critically revered games of the year.
The PC and PlayStation 5 timed exclusive also garnered a fair share of 10/10 scores from GameSpot, IGN, VG247, and more.
For many reviewers, Deathloop is the result of a decade of smart iterations from its developer, the culmination of a genre that Arkane has spent years perfecting with Dishonored and Prey.
"[Deathloop] is a stylish, bloodthirsty and considerate reworking of ideas from Arkane's other games, which clears away a little of Dishonored's haughty perfectionism and grants you ample leeway to run amok," wrote Edwin Evans-Thirlwell in his Eurogamer review, labelling the title as an essential. "This is captured by the art direction, which retains Dishonored's brooding, salt-soaked shorelines but covers them with neon signboards, boutique low-poly statues and jaunty Space Age cabins -- an upper cruster's carnival with heady overtones of Tarantino and Wolfenstein, perched atop the ruins of a much less forgiving game.
"I'm not sure it's Arkane's most adventurous or surprising work [but] it might be Arkane's most straightforwardly enjoyable game"
"I'm not sure it's Arkane's most adventurous or surprising work -- for all the louder presentation, it sometimes pulls its punches. But it might be Arkane's most straightforwardly enjoyable game."
In his 5/5 review for The Gamer, Kirk McKeand said Deathloop showcases "flashes of Arkane's backlog."
"I'll never tire of booting enemies from high places with a kick that's straight out of Dark Messiah," he wrote. "The Blink-style teleport from Dishonored ensures every level has vertical stealth and action opportunities. Hell, there's even a flash of Arkane's unreleased multiplayer project, The Crossing, in Julianna's invasions. Everything the studio has ever learned is here and polished to perfection."
In his 10/10 review for GameSpot, Tamoor Hussain described Deathloop as a "fascinating mashup of styles and vibes, both narratively and aesthetically."
"Underpinning the world is a kind of retro-future science that, as oxymoronic as it sounds, is incredibly effective at giving the world texture -- think time travel by way of 1960s computers that fill a room and look like they have less power than an original iPhone," he wrote. "Complementing that is an element of the supernatural that is essentially time science harnessed by a genius mind to give a chosen few the ability to do things like teleport, link the fates of people together, become almost invisible to the naked eye, or throw objects around an environment with a wave of the hand."
Evans-Thirlwell added that Deathloop is a game that both newcomers and veterans of Arkane's work will be able to enjoy, an "accessible introduction to Arkane's grittier immersive sims" as well as a "triumphant refinement of the Dishonored style."
"Where it feels most like a concluding act is in how it builds on a theme in Arkane's work about games as means of both coercion and liberation, trapping you in order to empower and motivate you to break out of them, forever challenging you to think of some possibility that has escaped the developer's calculations, to the point of sabotaging the illusion entirely," he continued.
In Deathloop, players take the role of protagonist Colt Vahn, trapped on the island of Blackreef, doomed to relive the same day over and over. His mission? Break the loop, which can only be achieved by murdering eight 'Visionaries', a group of people who want to live forever and protect the loop at all cost. The action is set across four zones that can be explored at four different times of the day (morning, noon, afternoon, and evening), each potentially impacted by your actions.
"Some of this feels a little like the best of BioShock -- but focused on a fun, pulpy, tongue-in-cheek universe more than any navel-gazing philosophy"
"[Deathloop] is a freeform, first-person mix of shooting, assassination, hacking and sorcery in which you wind and rewind a single day both to experiment with tools and manipulate targets such that you can massacre them all before darkness falls," Evans-Thirlwell described.
"Like Hitman -- whose influence is also traceable in the modular campaign structure and certain setpiece environment kills -- Deathloop's writing and characterisation take square aim at what The Great Gatsby called the 'vast carelessness' of the super-rich. The Visionaries range from elite scientists to ogreish rockstars and pampered artistes. They resemble classic Bond villains at first, but the dialogue channels that more contemporary blend of sociopathy that sees billionaires trying to reboot humanity on Mars while claiming that we all live in the Matrix."
Deathloop's cycle means that Visionaries are only available at certain times of the day, which is why players need to replay through the loop multiple times, carefully crafting a plan across time and space. Between each loop, players retain some gear and information, allowing them to do better the next time.
"For the swiftest path to success, you'll need to know these Visionaries inside out (occasionally literally) and the streets of Blackreef like the back of your hand," wrote Imogen Donovan in her 8/10 review for Gaming Bible.
"That means a lot of digging through drawers, waiting and watching for a crucial conversation to play out, eyeballing every scrap of paper, and pressing big red buttons to see what snaps. And there are floating glowing words that tempt you into action, advise you to stalk your prey quietly, or let loose with a bunch of insults and expletives against the inhabitants of the island. The sheer volume of writing that has gone into Deathloop is incredible, and it's so very appreciated that the game sorts these scraps by Visionary, location, and time of day."
The game appears like a giant puzzle and it's up to the player to fit the pieces back together in the way that it deems most appropriate to achieve the perfect series of murders.
"Those classic immersive sim touches -- audio files, notes, computer terminal chat logs -- they're no longer just world building, but often vital pieces of information that can be used in the next loop," Alex Donaldson said in his 5/5 review for VG247. "Even idle overheard chatter between the grunt enemies peppered across the island can hold important clues -- and it's a genius way to ensnare the interest of even those players who wouldn't naturally fully engage with Deathloop's excellently written narrative."
However, important pieces of information can get lost amid the wealth of clues available, Donovan noted.
"A couple of times I had stumbled upon something important, but hadn't twigged that this was my new objective and not a wee bit of world-building, because the game didn't signal this to me. Was I not paying enough attention? No, ask anyone -- I'm always absorbed by an Arkane game. Deathloop would have benefitted from some sort of colour-coding or a response or comment from Colt to tell the player, 'Hey, good going, that's something important you found there'."
But when things do work out and the pieces of the puzzle all fit it in perfectly, the satisfaction is immense, reviewers agreed.
"I'd argue getting three Visionaries to turn up at a party together trumps whatever rush the first person who killed two birds with one stone felt"
"I'd argue getting three Visionaries to turn up at a party together trumps whatever rush the first person who killed two birds with one stone felt," Donovan said.
Hussain added that you very quickly develop a "level of mastery" over Blackreef, essentially making each loop more fulfilling than the previous one.
"A Visionary kill that initially took 20 minutes can be reduced to just a couple as you dart around environments, stealthing through one group of enemies, while laying siege to another, and ultimately cutting through your target before they've even realized what's happening. The repetition-based design of Deathloop eases you into creating a flow state that you can enter into and exit from at will.
"With the character development systems, it gamifies trial and error so effectively that failures almost always still feel like small triumphs. This might sound typical, given the prominence of recent roguelite games such as Hades, but Deathloop's gameplay feels entirely of its own brand, and that is because it's built on the foundation of Arkane's domino-effect design."
The satisfying gameplay is supported by an enticing world, Hussain continued, as well as "weighty and satisfying" gunplay and a "brilliant, funky soundtrack."
"It should come as no surprise that Blackreef is absolutely stunning to behold, given the strong sense of art direction the studio's previous games have had," he wrote. "Each of the four areas of the game has a distinct style, which changes depending on the time of day thanks to lighting and even weather effects. There's a wonderful retro pop-art motif that runs throughout, with eye-catching posters and signs that not only furnish each environment to be visually pleasing, but also serve as a kind of pathway for the player to explore."
Deathloop's world is not only beautiful and well crafted, but also populated with an engaging cast of characters who bring the story to life.
"Arkane is known for being pretty damn good at story stuff, and Deathloop is no exception," Donaldson said. "I think what's most impressive about it is that there's a well-developed cast of characters here -- not just Colt and Julianna, the duelling assassins featured prominently in marketing, but also the other core characters that make up the architects and targets of Blackreef. These are the sorts of characters that are probably going to launch an avalanche of fan cosplay, art, and fiction. [...] To a degree, some of this feels a little like the best of BioShock -- but focused on a fun, pulpy, tongue-in-cheek universe more than any navel-gazing philosophy."
"With the character development systems, it gamifies trial and error so effectively that failures almost always still feel like small triumphs"
In addition to a rewarding single-player experience, many reviewers agreed that it's when playing online that Deathloop shines the brightest.
At any given time, a player's session can be invaded by antagonist Julianna, a Visionary who is trying to stop Colt from breaking the loop and can take the appearance of anyone. For players remaining offline, she'll be controlled by AI. But for those playing online, Julianna will be portrayed by another player.
"Some of Deathloop's earlier marketing might've given the impression that this competitive online element was the core of the game, that it's a title with a multiplayer focus," Donaldson said. "It isn't; it's a single-player adventure first. But the ability to play as Julianna and invade others is a super satisfying way to see this world from another perspective, giving you a reason to keep playing. Ruining another person's day is pretty fun, too."
In his review, McKeand particularly praised Julianna and Deathloop's multiplayer aspect.
"Julianna is one of the game's central mysteries -- who is she, what does she want, and why does she seem to enjoy repeatedly killing Colt? She's brilliant, and so is Colt. Their chemistry is electric, their casting choices are perfect, and the dialogue is sharper than a Dorito through the roof of your mouth."
He continued, saying that Deathloop really comes into its own when you let other players invade your game as Julianna.
"Picture the scene -- you've killed almost all of your targets and you just have one section to go. I'll keep it vague, but imagine you have your final kill lined up, you've crept past dozens of enemies to get here -- a perfect infiltration -- and an angelic choir rings out, signaling that Julianna has arrived. She could be anywhere. She could be anyone. Julianna completely alters how you approach levels."
He added: "The evil thrill of it all never gets old. You can't play multiplayer like this anywhere else. It works so well because you feel like you know the rules when it comes to dealing with AI. You know they won't look up at certain angles, and you know their range of vision is limited. They also won't spin around as you approach them from behind. When any NPC could actually be another player, it's terrifying. None of the usual stealth game rules apply."
"Their chemistry is electric, their casting choices are perfect, and the dialogue is sharper than a Dorito through the roof of your mouth"
The experience can only be dampened by playing against someone with a slow internet connection, McKeand said. And while Donovan noted a few glitches throughout the game, she added that they will likely "be ironed out with a patch."
Niggles like this aside, the vast majority of the Deathloop reviews that have been appearing since yesterday have almost nothing but praise for Arkane's latest.
"In a sea of shotgun-spread triple-A games that are all too familiar, Deathloop is a precision 50. cal bullet of originality right through your eye socket," McKeand said. "It's as if Arkane made a Dishonored game where a guns-blazing approach is as viable as being a ghost -- oh, and it's endlessly replayable. Even when the credits roll, it feels like you've barely seen what Deathloop has to offer. Whether you're playing as Colt and fighting off player invasions or invading other players' games as Julianna, each confrontation is unique. I can't wait to see the players inevitably build their own etiquette, their own rules of engagement for what constitutes an honourable duel between Colt and Julianna."
On the topic of replayability, Donaldson added that there's another, simpler reason for players to want to keep playing Arkane's newest game.
"Deathloop feels bloody fabulous," he wrote. "It's a tight-yet-slick game, with the options at your disposal at any given time all feeling equally viable -- and crucially, equally fun. There's none of that mismatch often in games like this where going guns blazing doesn't feel quite right due to how the weapons handle, or where stealth is clunky and frustrating. Everything feels smooth and satisfying, from hacking doors and turrets to all-out gunfights, rapid parkour traversal to crouch-walking your way through a building while racking up stealth takedowns. When things go wrong, it's easy to quickly switch approaches and pull out a big, loud gun."
Concluding his own review, Hussain wrote: "Perhaps the most laudable part of Deathloop is how it takes so many seemingly disparate things and creates harmony between them. Gameplay systems that feel isolated become pieces of a bigger puzzle, and when you see how they seamlessly connect together, you realize how special an achievement it really is. Similarly, on paper, the different aesthetics should be like oil and water, but they come together effortlessly to be part of a greater whole, and, for me, that's what Deathloop is really about."