Best Action 2021: Deathloop

Game of the Year 2021
(Image credit: Future)

Arkane's Dishonored successor contained some of our favourite action of the year. For more of this year's best PC games, head to our GOTY 2021 hub.

Phil Savage, UK Editor-in-Chief: Finally, an Arkane game that dares you to let your hair down. Where Dishonored wagged its finger at high-chaos murder and mayhem, Deathloop revels in it. Sure, your overall objective is to break the very time loop that lets you fight and kill without consequence, but along the way it's constantly asking: Do you really want this to end? Are you not having fun?

I am having fun. It's easy to miss how good Arkane's combat usually is, because there's a sense that being quiet and nonlethal is the right way to play. In Deathloop, the lack of a quickload key means that, if you're spotted, you're unable to correct your mistake. And eventually, you start to ask if being noticed is even a mistake at all. You've got an arsenal of cool guns and a selection of powers that make you really good at taking out your targets. Is it really so bad to use them?

Jody Macgregor, AU/Weekend Editor: Deathloop does feel like Arkane's response to people who felt pressured to sneak and quickload through Dishonored. That's how I'd have played Dishonored whether it felt right or not, so Deathloop—with its guilt-free murderthons and, instead of quicksaves, a modern take on ye olde three lives—shouldn't be for me. And yet I kicked people off cliffs, ran across rooftops firing wildly at pursuers, set off dominoes to drop a landmine on someone's head, and loved it all.

Shaun Prescott, AU Editor: Kicking people off cliffs was one of the primal joys players memed during the weeks following Deathloop's release. It's satisfying and unrealistically powerful, but crucially, it's also brilliantly stylish. Its high-pressure improvisation finds the perfect complement in the soundtrack, which marries strange, modern cyclical drones with James Bond-style grandiosity and meditative guitar licks. That marriage of music with Sébastien Mitton's art direction has always been a crucial—albeit subtle—factor in Arkane's brilliance, but unlike Dishonored's Victorian fantasy and Prey's sci-fi, Deathloop offers an unusual hybrid setting, with fewer obvious styles to draw from. They nailed it. Four months on, I still get shivers when I hear Tom Salta's Deathloop's theme.

Morgan Park, Staff Writer: My biggest surprise coming off Deathloop was that it was a darn good shooter. That's not something you'd expect from a studio that spent the prior decade making stealth games that featured exactly one gun. There are some truly inventive firearms on Blackreef that I loved so much I immediately had to cash in loop points to have on every run.

An SMG that you can reload while shooting? Check. A dual-mode shotgun that looks like a fancy clock when it transforms? That one never left my loadout. Early on, I also found a silenced pistol that has one of my favorite reload animations in a long time.

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Phil Savage, UK Editor-in-Chief: I was also consistently surprised by how much depth there was to the buildcrafting. At first it seems stingy that you're only able to bring along a couple of guns and a select handful of the power-ups you've earned. And, certainly early on, I leaned into a specific playstyle that meant certain upgrades—the Nexus and Shift slabs—never left my loadout.

But as the invasion system kicks in and other players start to hunt you down, you're forced to reevaluate your approach with PvP in mind. I'd bring the Aether slab—which grants invisibility—to Updaam missions, where the high number of NPC enemies could potentially surround me if I'm caught fighting Julianna. More open, barren areas might call for Havoc, boosting damage and resistance, giving the edge in an open firefight. Weapons, too, are more meaningful once you've been through a few loops and have a sense of the dangers each place and period might offer—and ways that Julianna players tend to perform based on past experience.

The threat of invasion brings all of Deathloop's systems together, and encourages you to explore the breadth of the game's toolsets. In the moment, too, they bring an element of chaos and uncertainty that suits Arkane's style of immersive sim well. The best battles are full of unintended consequences, where the turret you reprogrammed long minutes ago in pursuit of another objective is repurposed as the perfect trap to lure your hunter towards. There's little more satisfying than turning an invader's impatience against them as you slowly manipulate the environment to your advantage. And as an invader, it feels great to weaponise the added tension of your sudden appearance—goading your quarry into a costly mistake.

Phil Savage

Phil has been writing for PC Gamer for nearly a decade, starting out as a freelance writer covering everything from free games to MMOs. He eventually joined full-time as a news writer, before moving to the magazine to review immersive sims, RPGs and Hitman games. Now he leads PC Gamer's UK team, but still sometimes finds the time to write about his ongoing obsessions with Destiny 2, GTA Online and Apex Legends. When he's not levelling up battle passes, he's checking out the latest tactics game or dipping back into Guild Wars 2. He's largely responsible for the whole Tub Geralt thing, but still isn't sorry.