As you've heard a dozen times by now, Deathloop very much feels like fellow immersive sim Dishonored. But here's the thing—I didn't like Dishonored. I really wanted to, I loved the idea of it, but for whatever reason the game and I just never clicked. So I was mildly apprehensive when I landed in Blackreef with Colt, Deathloop's trapped-in-a-time-loop hero: because I've thoroughly enjoyed the trailers, the off-hands preview, everything about this game has been begging me to play it. Would I fall into the same trap I did with Arkane's earlier immersive sims?
Deathloop's premise is a simple one: eight targets, one day to kill them all. They call themselves Visionaries, unique bosses with their own personalities and slabs—powerful abilities that you can loot from them once defeated. Things like teleporting short distances, temporarily turning invisible or chaining enemies together to take down in one fell swoop are the prizes for taking down each foe. Killing all eight is the key to blowing apart the time loop. Leaving one alive or getting killed off instead means being flung straight back to the beginning of the day.
All's not lost when you wake back up on Blackreef's sandy shores, however. What I forfeited in weapons or attachments, I gained back in knowledge. The code to a safe that I was too late finding in my last loop could now be cracked open with ease. I had a better idea of where enemies would be, and how to efficiently take them out. After more exploring, I was able to begin retaining certain equipment across different loops, making me a little stronger with each new-old day. Untangling the island's various mysteries using both brawn and brains is honestly far more compelling than I ever imagined.
This is why Deathloop clicked with me where Dishonored didn't. Dishonored made me feel like there was a right or wrong way to play. When I was handed cool powers on a silver platter, I felt like I would be punished for using them, forcing me into what I viewed as more boring non-lethal methods. But Deathloop never tells me off for messing up, and it pushes for experimentation. Having to start over again doesn't feel like a failure.
Stealth does still seem to be the preferred strategy, which is annoying—as somebody who likes to bull-charge into every encounter—but Arkane has done a fantastic job of making the confrontational gunfights so much fun regardless. Chaotic head-first encounters are punctuated by weighty funk drums, the cymbals crashing in your ears as you slash or shoot your way through enemies.
The guns have a fantastic feel to them too. Weapon handling is super-smooth, and every bullet I shot felt purposeful and satisfying. I became particularly enamoured with the Tribunàl, a pistol with tight recoil that packs a punch. When I started collecting trinkets—small abilities that you can add to weapons or yourself—I was able to beef it up even further with more accurate aimed shots and bigger damage. Taking enemies on face-to-face means I have extra reinforcements to deal with, but it's a small price to pay for the satisfaction of dashing across a rooftop before dropping onto your enemy and getting a clean shot on them. It's harder than the subtler approach, but I don't feel like a scolded child when I do play around with more aggressive methods.
All of this is further helped by protagonist Colt's unwavering determination, aided by Jason Kelley's ever-brilliant voice work. He doesn't make being stuck in a time loop feel as frustrating as it is. He doesn't want to be in the loop, but he thrives off every scrap of knowledge and recon you gain. Where other time loop mysteries can have you deteriorating alongside the protagonist, Colt's character made me revel in every restart. I'm usually afraid of cocking up, but every bit of Deathloop does its best to put those fears to bed.
It took me a good few hours tinkering around in the game to even get around to taking out my first Visionary. Deathloop's tutorial is lengthy, necessarily so, but once I was handed free rein I was encouraged to continue to explore and experiment. Blackreef's four districts are brimming with small nooks and crannies to dig through that can reveal new quests, secrets or ways to take down your enemies. Its dishevelled, rubbly exterior is broken up by each Visionary's grand architecture, reflecting their personalities. It looks stunning, with the entire island oozing warm-toned 1960s vibes.
Each district plays out differently depending on the time of day, too. I dropped by one area, Updaam, in the morning to have a poke around. The streets were quiet—practically a ghost town. When I returned in the evening, however, I was greeted with what felt like a completely different place. Enemies were plentiful, roaming the streets in preparation for a fireworks festival taking place. I essentially had to relearn how to navigate each area depending on when I was visiting, making Blackreef feel alive.
Seeing just how far I could push a single loop without dying and losing all my equipment was thrilling. When I finally did get around to taking on my target, Harriet Moore, it wasn't some gigantic victory and that was OK. I'd have to do it all over again tomorrow, but with just a little more knowledge and gadgetry. And I was excited to go back and do it all over, while continuing to slowly fold in other Visionaries and mysteries.
I never thought I'd see the day where I'd be shown the ways and wonders of the immersive sim, but goddammit Arkane has done it. I'm already itching to dive back into Blackreef and go through deja vu just one more time.