Deathloop is the next big game from Arkane, the studio behind Dishonored and Prey. It has a lot in common with those games, and the immersive sim genre in general. You're presented with a varied toolset and a dense, multi-layered world, and encouraged to experiment with reactive, open-ended systems to achieve your goals. But Deathloop's wild premise sets it apart: you play as an assassin stuck in a time loop who must figure out a way to kill eight targets in one cycle. This is the only way hero Colt can break out and free himself. Think Groundhog Day, but directed by Luc Besson and set in a hyper-stylised 1960s.
Deathloop takes place entirely on Blackreef, a mysterious island where time endlessly repeats. Taking advantage of this bizarre temporal anomaly, a group of self-proclaimed Visionaries are using the island as a way to gain eternal life and live it free of consequence. And it's this ghoulish crew of villains—a collection of eccentric, egomaniacal artists, scientists, and party animals—that you have to assassinate. But to make this task more difficult, each target has an army of loyal henchmen protecting them, the island is riddled with security systems and, when you die, the loop resets and you have to start all over again.
Well, that's not strictly true. At first, a cycle resetting means Colt is back to square one. But later in the game he finds a loophole that lets him retain some of his abilities. Also, any intel you uncover during a loop—say, a door code or a target's location—is retained too. So over time, Colt gradually becomes more powerful, and his knowledge of Blackreef and the habits of its residents grows. This is a really interesting progression system, and the moment when you've grown strong enough, and learned enough, to kill all eight targets in a single, uninterrupted cycle will surely be powerfully satisfying.
In action, Deathloop looks incredible. Colt has the athleticism of Dishonored's Emily and Corvo, able to spring between rooftops and use an ability similar to Blink to teleport across short distances. But instead of relying on a sword and a clunky old pistol, Colt has a vast array of exotic firearms to choose from, making Deathloop much more of an FPS—and a deliciously stylish, fast-paced one at that. In a hands-off demo I watch an Arkane developer slide nimbly between cover, teleport around enemies to confuse them, and blow them away theatrically with a bright green shotgun. The energy is unreal—and that's from just watching it being played.
Visually, it's just as exciting. Blackreef is a bleak, rocky slip of land, littered with the remains of a crumbling old military base. But the Visionaries have retro-fitted it to reflect their idiosyncratic personalities, turning it into a surreal, colourful theme park influenced by the fashion, music, and pop art of the 1960s. The colourful space age furniture, neon signs, walls of tube TVs, and modernist interiors contrast brilliantly with the dusty, rusting remains of the old island. As with all Arkane games, a lot of thought has clearly gone into the visuals—and artistically, it's among the studio's best work to date.
Fans of the Dishonored series will find one of the game's targets particularly interesting. Aleksis 'The Wolf' Dorsey is throwing a masquerade ball at his mansion, and I'm immediately reminded of the first Dishonored's standout mission, Lady Boyle's Last Party. I watch a developer play a slice of this mission, teleporting across the rooftops of an abandoned old town on the outskirts of the mansion, dropping enemies with a sniper rifle or up-close with a knife, before infiltrating the mansion itself to locate The Wolf. It looks like classic Dishonored stealth, but much faster and way more aggressive.
Inside, a procession of hopeless stand-up comedians takes to the stage. If the jokes fall flat, which they inevitably do, my target pulls a lever and drops them into a pit filled with thrashing blades. Of course, no one really dies on Blackreef, but it's still a gruesome way to go. And when The Wolf decides to tell a few jokes himself and show these would-be comedians how it's done, well... you get the idea. Arkane has always been great at creating these Hitman-style ironic death traps, and it's great to see them here in Deathloop. But true to the immersive sim genre, this is just one of many ways to deal with Aleksis.
Killing The Wolf earns Colt an ability that lets him throw enemies around like ragdolls, slam them through windows, and hurl them dramatically off cliffs. And you're gonna need all the powers you can get when Julianna starts showing up. There's another assassin on Blackreef, and her objective is the opposite of yours: keeping the loop intact. How? By killing you. She'll appear at random, controlled by another player if you have PVP enabled, and can disguise herself as enemies (including Visionaries) to screw with you. This is a wickedly imaginative approach to multiplayer and I can't wait to see more of it in action.
Deathloop was originally going to be released this Friday, but it was delayed till later in the year—and honestly, I'm glad. Extra development time can only benefit a game this deep and complex. Arkane is keeping the immersive sim dream alive, and this is a thrilling, creative take on the genre that is absolutely brimming with potential. I can't wait to finally get my hands on a playable build, but until then I'm going to let myself get excited about this one. Arkane knows what it's doing, and however the final game turns out, you know it's gonna be interesting. You can break the loop yourself when, barring any further delays, Deathloop is released on PC on September 14.