Trailers don’t always do the best job of conveying what a game’s really about.
That’s proven to be one of the biggest lessons from 2020’s never-ending summer of announcements — it gets awfully tough to tell all those flashy future games apart. Whether you long for the bygone days of E3 or have preemptively danced on its grave, the first week in June has traditionally been a pretty reliable way of separating the best from the rest. So maybe you haven’t been that bothered about Deathloop just yet. Other than the Bethesda pedigree and the intriguing art style that recalls Hitchcock’s Vertigo, it hasn’t been easy to figure out what the heck this game is about.
At a hands-off media preview event last week, Bethesda lifted the curtain on Deathloop, and what we saw left us gagging for more. While the team at Arkane Lyon jokingly likened its upcoming time-travel shooter to “Dishonored with guns” at several points during the presentation, it looks like there’s a lot more tasty stuff to sink your teeth into here than the analogy suggests. With combat bursting with giddy thrills and progression that rewards a variety of playstyles, Bethesda’s first — and only! — PS5 exclusive is already giving off serious Game of the Year vibes. (Sorry, Xbox fans.)
Here’s how it starts off: Our hero, Colt, wakes up with a nasty hangover on a beach in Blackreef. As is thankfully far more common in video games than in real life, he’s got amnesia. He remembers only a handful of details about who he is and how he got there, but there’s one thing he’s sure of — he needs to kill eight nasty ladies and gents known as Visionaries before the end of the day in order to escape the time loop he’s stuck in. Unfortunately for Colt, the hazards of spelunking across space-time aren’t the only thing standing in his way. The cunning Julianna Blake is hellbent on stopping him from breaking the loop — though you’ll have to play the game to find out exactly why.
The campaign is spread across sixteen dynamic levels, or four locations in Blackreef — The Complex, Updaam, Fristad Rock, and Karl’s Bay — each of which can be visited at four different periods of the day. Each location differs depending on the time of day you visit, meaning that previously inaccessible areas of the map will open up to you, or different Visionaries may appear. Here’s the thing: not only do you have to take out all eight Visionaries, you have to figure out how to do so within a single day.
That means you’ll need to revisit levels more than once, learning new details about your enemies and your environment, and manipulating both to get everything — and everyone — in the right places at the right times. Thankfully, at a certain point in the story you’ll unlock the Residuum, meaning you’ll be able to retain Colt’s upgrades and progress between loops. It’s a fun riff on the roguelite carryover progression popularized by last year’s indie darling, Hades.
Arkane’s gameplay demo showcased Deathloop’s open-ended approach to combat, and at an early glance, it invites favorable comparisons with Hitman 3, in that there’s an enormous variety of ways to take out a given target. In true shooter fashion, Colt will have access to the usual assortment of pistols, rifles, and bullet-gargling machine guns. He’ll also have a big ol’ machete, turrets, and even equippable supernatural abilities that allow him to teleport, become invisible, or store up incoming damage for an explosive counterattack.
Admittedly, there’s a lot going on, and much of the game’s success will depend on its ability to encourage players to actually use all this stuff. But from this early vantage point, Deathloop is shaping up to be a manageable sandbox of mayhem that will allow players to pull off some truly wild stuff. Sure, there’s enough rooftop scuttling and sneaky stabbing to evoke the lineage of the Dishonored series, but Deathloop seems to invite more than just stealthy or guns-blazing approaches to a given scenario. That’s great news for those of us who lack the patience — or, in my case, the precision — to fully enjoy stealth-heavy action games or full-bore FPS stuff.
It’s hard to imagine how all that freedom could possibly hold up as players build toward taking out eight baddies in a single loop, but the prospect is an exciting one nevertheless. Add to that a sprinkling of the timey-wimey hijinks of last year’s delightfully weird narrative adventure 13 Sentinels, where you can use information gained from a previous playthrough of a level to influence the next one, and you’ve got a very intriguing mash-up of genres that shouldn’t work together as well as they seem to in Deathloop.
We’re calling it now: this game is going to be huge.
Deathloop comes to PS5 and PC on September 14.