Deathloop PS5 review. Emerging from the same endlessly talented hands and minds that gave us the Dishonored franchise and with the still lofty capabilities of the PlayStation 5 at their disposal, we should have expected just how good Deathloop was going to be. However, what perhaps came as something of a surprise was the fact that Deathloop isn’t just the best game that Arkane have ever created, but also a devastatingly clever and evocative masterwork that leverages the capabilities of Sony’s latest silicon in ways that cement its status as a defining offering for this console generation.
This is no mere hyperbole; Deathloop is absolutely f**king great and without a shadow of a doubt the single most essential title you can buy for PlayStation 5 right now.
Deathloop PS5 Review
An Endlessly Ingenious Shooter That Defines A Generation
Though the countless trailers and spot videos have repeatedly rammed home the blunt point that Deathloop is perhaps somewhat reductively, ‘Groundhog Day with assassins’ within an FPS template, it has now become clear that Arkane has held so much back from the public eye that it’s something of a surprise that much of what makes Deathloop tick has not been leaked.
Without giving away the entire setting of Deathloop’s narrative premise, the setup is this – players control Colt, a former head of security turned assassin who finds himself waking up on a beach each time he dies, doomed to repeat that same day each time. Certainly, Deathloop wastes no time in initiating players into such proceedings either, as the first few seconds of the game have Colt being murdered by Julianna, another assassin, which naturally kicks off the whole ‘Deathloop’, if you’ll excuse the lazy pun.
As it turns out, this time-looping phenomenon seems to be the exclusive domain of the island of Blackreef, an ultra-hedonistic retreat where decadence is eternal and the inhabitants can literally do whatever they like safe in the knowledge that the day will just restart itself again and all their sins will be erased. Julianna, the assassin whose sole purpose is to maintain the status quo of Blackreef, has taken it upon herself to kill Colt at every turn in order to prevent him from acquiring the knowledge needed to break the loop. As such, while Blackreef might seem like freedom for everyone else, for Colt it’s his prison and Julianna is his jailer.
The Developers Of Deathloop Are Smart And They Think You Are Too
As Colt, players begin every day the same – washed up and cussing fire on the Blackreef coast, looking for a way to make sense of everything while also trying to ascertain just how to break the loop and escape. The goal, chiefly, is to track down each of the eight ‘Visionaries’ that hold sway over the island, kill them, take their powers and then attempt to break the titular Deathloop. This being an Arkane game of course, the manner in which you go about doing this is not prescribed in the least and it’s up to you to find your own way to kill each mark. Make no mistake, the developers of Deathloop are clever folks and they think you are too.
Whether that’s going straight into an encounter all-guns blazing, creeping up on your target via a secret route or somehow convincing their own underlings to kill then, the pleasing array of methods at your disposal for offing each of the Visionaries is broad, creative and staunchly satisfying. However, if you die you’ll lose all the gear that you have on your person – until, well, you discover how not to.
Certainly fans of Dishonored will find much of Deathloop’s design to be functionally adjacent, in that Colt can traverse the Deathloop’s vertically expansive environments at great speed, leap off walls, sneak through tunnels, stealth-murder at leisure and generally turn the island of Blackreef into your own personal murder, death, kill playground as you see fit. Also like Dishonored and BioShock before it, Deathloop also provides players with the necessary tools and creative latitude to hack terminals, alarm systems and turn turrets against their masters with Colt’s super handy Hackamjig tool that does exactly what it says on the tin.
However, whereas other games that boast similar concepts such as Hitman and even Arkane’s own Dishonored games merely prescribe a set of alternative routes, in Deathloop the manipulation of time is brought to bear here, adding layers of sophistication and genuinely ingenious design that none of those games could ever hope to match. Rather than the Hitman and the Dishonored games, Deathloop allows access to different locations or districts as they’re called on the island of Blackreef – allowing players to go to and from each location as they please. The kicker here however, is that each time you travel from one location to the next, time moves on and so too does the weather and the events that are taking place throughout the island.
Arkane makes tremendously clever use of this concept as you might expect. You see, each time you die – either by misadventure or when the day ends, and reawaken on that cursed beach, you do so with all of the knowledge that you have accumulated to that point. This means that if in a previous loop you discovered that someone was going to steal an item that you needed in the afternoon, you could travel to that place in the morning and nab it first.
Likewise, you might come across two denizens of Blackreef (or ‘Eternalists’, as they’re called), chipping away at a wall in search of treasure. Rather than just hopping from one location to the next in order to drive time forward, you have the option to just wait and advance time that way, meaning that when you return to that same location later and it turns out they’ve succeeded in their task, you can take the loot for yourself. Wielding time in a manner that is both entertaining and coherent has long proven to be an almost insurmountable task for films (hey, Terminator movies) and games alike, but in Deathloop developer Arkane does so effortlessly and with complete confidence, as the ability to use time in this way adds layers to an already deep explorative shooter experience.
The fluctuating weather also directly impacts the geography and traversal possibilities of each location too. From the towering walls of the Complex, to the hustle and bustle of town centre Updaam, new paths become available and old ones are closed off in turn, proffering yet another reason why Deathloop succeeds as well as it does when wielding time manipulation in a way that’s both easy to grasp and is immensely compelling. Likewise, returning to some districts at night results in far more capable enemies joining the fray, providing yet another variable for you to plan for.
A Russian Doll Style Epic That Only Gets More Enticing The Longer You Play
Where Deathloop excels even further, is that there are no shortage of incentives to travel to the various districts on Blackreef at different times of the day beyond what the main story prescribes. When each Visionary is killed they drop a Slab, a special item that imbues the owner with a special power such as teleportation, invisibility or chain kill that allows you to link a number of enemies together and then when you kill one, that same fate is endured by each connected foe. Even better still, the same slab can be upgraded multiple times by resetting the loop and killing its original owner over and over. It’s clever stuff, for sure.
Though Colt begins with the handy Reprise Slab which allows him to die twice before the loop restarts, there is always an incentive to seek out new and exciting powers and in that respect Deathloop never fails to keep the player amply incentivised. Crammed into the numerous safes, puzzle boxes, deposit boxes, crates and secret locations that are generously stuffed throughout the domain of Blackreef, Colt can scoop up all manner of upgrades and special items that can boost his abilities. Again, it’s a similar design bedrock to that seen in games such as Dishonored, Deus Ex and BioShock, so fans of those classics will find much to love here.
Speaking of power, a range of Trinkets provide amplification to wide array of skills and abilities; including everything from double jumps to reducing recoil and much more besides, with a subset of these trinkets able to be slotted into your weapons. Elsewhere, the weapons in Deathloop are graded by colour in a manner similar to the Borderlands games with the higher quality weapons being capable of dishing out more damage and using extra trinket slots. It’s not a ground-breaking feature by any means, but it makes sense to have a grading system such as this to reward players with better quality weapons as they progress to later loops.
As Colt travels from one district to another, players are given respite by Deathloop’s loadout screen. Here, players aren’t just able to ponder over the leads that they want to chase, but they can also equip the various firearms, trinkets and upgrades that they want to take with them on their next sojourn into Blackreef. The flipside of this loadout mechanism however, is that there is no way to equip any of these new trinkets and items during your time on Blackreef, meaning that, as with so many other aspects of Deathloop, you need to give a great deal of thought as to the gear that you’ll be taking with you into the districts.
Going back once more to a point comparison with the Dishonored games, Deathloop also does a sublime job of encouraging you to fully explore the world and unearth the veritable smorgasbord of secrets that lay within. Safe codes are written on notes, key combinations are hidden in visual puzzles and other brain testing conundrums will reward fancy items and upgrades when resolved. Basically, if you’ve a nose for sniffing out secrets and loot in the Dishonored games, it’ll serve you more than well in Deathloop.
Then there’s Julianna, Deathloop’s seemingly omnipresent assassin. An always threatening presence, Julianna can invade your game as she attempts to put an end to your life and thus reset the loop. Of course you can turn the tables on Julianna by killing her and taking her Slab, though this is much easier said then done and especially if Julianna is being controlled by a human player – a notion that Dark Souls players will almost certainly be familiar with.
Once you’ve reached a certain point in Colt’s campaign to break the loop, you gain the ability to play as Julianna to maintain it. When playing as Julianna, Deathloop becomes yet more compelling still in a number of brilliant and unexpected ways. Much, much more than just a trivial afterthought, Julianna has her own skills, trinkets, weapons and abilities that make controlling her a freshly different proposition from playing as Colt. There’s real incentive to play as Julianna and spoil someone’s day too, as succeeding in doing so awards abilities and additional skills that can be used to make future incursions much more deadly.
More than any of that though, playing as Julianna against a skilled Colt player (and vice-versa), is its own reward. Clashes between two skilled ‘loopers’ are often spectacular affairs as players use mines, traps and all manner of firearms and special abilities at their disposal to get the upper hand. Certainly, after the impressive depths of the single-player campaign have been plumbed, endlessly entertaining clashes between players as Colt and Julianna respectively will likely bear out for many weeks and months later, as the island of Blackreef provides a peerless theatre for such innovative and enduring violence.
While the struggle to unravel the timeloop and all of the machinations involved with that is hugely compelling sci-fi stuff, it wouldn’t land not nearly as effectively as it does if it wasn’t for the evocative setting, compelling characters and superb world building that Arkane has accomplished. For a start, Colt is an actual personality with a sort of goofy, laugh out loud charisma that feels a world away from the mute likes of Corvo and the grim, po-faced nature of Billie Lurk. Equally, Julianna proves the appropriate yin to Colt’s yang, with razor-tongued, quick-witted comebacks that continually needle the player through the duration of Colt’s campaign.
The world of Blackreef is an evocative one to say the least. A lively and colorful composite of 60s and 70s retro influences that crib from the likes of Nobody Lives Forever and A Clockwork Orange, Deathloop’s vibrant hedonistic getaway is a distinct departure from the grime ands grey of Dishonored’s Dunwall and is a revelation in doing so. Likewise, the denizens of Blackreef are a stylish lot too, adorned in fashions that look like a crazy mix of alternative dress and impeccable Jean-Paul Gaultier style esoterism.
If the folks of Blackreef are as distinct from those seen in other games on the surface, so too is that the case for their behaviour. Much more than just a bunch of random goons, the cultists of hedonism that have made Blackreef their home can be found doing all sorts of crazy stuff. Whether they’re dangling themselves over a pier edge, doing enough drugs that they can’t stand up straight, or attempting to shoulder press a propane cannister, it’s certainly fair to say that these Eternalists are a refreshing bunch that only add to the wonderful oddness of Deathloop’s world.
As a PlayStation 5 title, Deathloop makes ample use of the capabilities of Sony’s latest console to say the least. Fidelity, performance and ray tracing modes provide players with the expected trade off between framerate and visual detail as required, though arguably its the performance mode in which Deathloop plays the best, as the smooth framerate and insignificant drop in visual detail make the game run at its smoothest and by proxy, most satisfying clip.
Further afield, the DualSense controller is leveraged to incredible effect and in perhaps in a fashion that is superior to any other PlayStation 5 title to date. The haptic feedback is wonderfully palpable, rattling along with aplomb as you unleash on enemies with automatic firearms. Then there’s the adaptive triggers which not only provide expected palpable resistance, but also provide a surprising amount of stiffness when your weapon jams which is not only scary from a gameplay perspective, but is exacerbated by the sensations that the adaptive triggers provide. Quite simply, Deathloop is a perfect showcase for the PlayStation 5 and feels ‘next-gen’ in ways that transcend the potent hardware that purrs underneath the console’s stylish chassis.
As seemingly the last game to be developed for PlayStation platforms by Arkane, Deathloop’s well earned position at the very apex of what Sony’s current generation console can offer feels somewhat bittersweet. As swansongs and teary send offs go, Deathloop is right up there with the very best and effortlessly cements itself as a defining offering for this console generation that will be talked about and held in reverie for months and years to come – a brave new benchmark for first-person shooters everywhere going forward.
Review code kindly provided by PR.
Deathloop releases for PS5 on September 14, 2021.