Everyone says they want to time travel. Sounds cool, right? Maybe you’d go back 20 billion years to when everything began, or fast-forward until we’re living in cities on the Moon. Time travel fantasies often focus on moving forward or backward through time, but what about staying put? What if you were stuck in a time loop? What if you had to shoot your way out of it?
Deathloop from Arkane Lyon seeks to answer this question with a mix of clever mechanics, vicious gunplay, and pulp noir bravado. Now on Xbox Game Pass as of September 20, it is arguably one of the very best time travel games because it explores different ways to use time rather than simply explore where time can take us.
Deathloop is more Groundhog Day than Back to the Future. It follows the story of Colt Vahn, a gruff and tumble gunslinger who is trapped in a 24-hour loop on Blackreef Island. The island is host to the AEON Program, a villainous group exploiting the timeloop to have an endless party and a strange type of immortality. In order to get free of the loop, Colt must eliminate the members of the AEON Program, known as Visionaries, in a single day. Unlike most of the Visionaries, Colt is able to retain his memories from day to day which gives him a significant advantage. Beyond that, though, he has amnesia. Colt is figuring out who he is as much as he’s figuring out how to escape.
There is one problem: Juliana. She’s the head of security and shares Colt’s immunity to the memory-wiping effects of the timeloop. This means she puts all the guards and goons on the lookout for Colt every day. She’ll even track you down herself, leading to some epic fights at random times throughout your days. She’s not above using Colt’s radio to talk shit and play mind games, too. Dying isn’t an escape either. When you die, you wake up on the beach and have to do it all over again.
All this sets the stage for one of the most unique and exciting games in recent memory. Taking out the Visionaries isn’t as easy as just chasing down a waypoint on a map and shooting your way through. They are all developed characters with their own motivations and secrets. You spend a lot of time investigating and observing things on Blackreef Island in order to learn where and how to exact your revenge. Stealth is crucial, as is developing the unique powers you gain with each successful assassination.
If you’ve ever played Arkane’s Dishonored series, then this should be familiar territory for you. You’ll gain powers that let you teleport, slow time, and (my favorite) psychically link enemies so that taking one down wipes them all out. Couple this with an arsenal of extremely cool guns and there’s plenty of action to fill your days.
All this action and intrigue is bundled in some exceptionally cool aesthetics. Deathloop has a vintage feel, far from the futuristic sci-fi vibe the backstory might lead you to expect. Think classic James Bond movies. And while you’d think replaying the same areas over and over would get boring, there are so many secrets and layered puzzles to solve you’re always finding something new.
Half the game is figuring out how to take out all the Visionaries, the other half is actually pulling it off. That’s what makes it such a good time-travel game. Instead of focusing on changing the past, it drowns you in the present. Deathloop is a game about the untapped potential of the here and now, and worth playing ASAP.