Deathloop, an action thriller which takes place in a time loop, has received rave reviews from critics.
It was released on Wednesday for PC and PS5 and is already being tipped as a game of the year contender.
It puts you in the role of an assassin charged with eliminating eight “visionaries” who are warping time.
Reviewers praised its “ingenuity” and “ambition”. “There is nothing on this planet quite like Deathloop,” ventured Matt Hewson on games website Player 2.
Gamespot and IGN both scored the game a perfect 10, praising its mysterious premise and “deft storytelling”.
Praise for black protagonists
Deathloop, created by the French game studio Arkane, is set on an island in a lawless time loop. Gamers take on the role of Colt Vahn, a gruff hitman who is unaffected by the loop, which resets at midnight every night.
To free the island, he must assassinate the loop’s eight architects before time runs out, which he accomplishes by gathering clues, manipulating the “Visionaries,” and orchestrating their deaths.
Julianna, a Visionary hell-bent on preventing Colt from achieving his goal, can be controlled by rival gamers in the online mode.
Polygon praised Arkane for making both protagonists black, saying the move was “a cause for celebration when there is a dearth of black people being represented as leads in big-budget media”.
The Telegraph’s Tom Hoggins gave equal praise to the game’s character development in his five-star review, singling out Julianna as the game’s “most characterful star”.
“The chemistry between the two leads is electric, and it’s played with a breezy humour that gives the game narrative life that it perhaps doesn’t capitalise on elsewhere,” he wrote.
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell of Eurogamer noticed a political subtext, comparing it to the depiction of the super-rich in The Great Gatsby.
“While Deathloop stands out among blockbuster shooters for featuring two black leads, the social divisions it explores are less about race or, for that matter gender, or sexual orientation, more about the reality-altering force of hideous quantities of cash,” he wrote.
“The Visionaries are a diverse bunch, but at the end of the day, they are all one and the same concentration of impossible wealth.”
But the backstory is also one of the game’s weakest elements, and lacks “emotional staying power”, according to Videogamer’s Josh Wise.
“As one egghead, in a scratchy projector film, began to unreel the mythology (“Long ago, the isle of Blackreef experienced a cataclysmic event which tore the fabric of” – and so forth), I realised that I couldn’t care less. Blackreef can go hang”, he wrote in his 8 out of 10 review.
However, most critics were more concerned with the gameplay, which Gamespot described as a “masterclass in open-ended action game design”.
Their critic, Tamoor Hussain, praised how the game’s premise, in which events on the Isle of Blackreef on any given day “have no bearing on the next”, turns the traditional conventions of the genre on its head.
Deathloop, unlike Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell, or Arkane’s previous release, Dishonored, provides a “intoxicating sense of liberation.”
However, this eventually leads to the game’s central purpose question: “When nothing matters, how do you give your actions meaning?”
In working to break the time loop, the solution earns the title “introspection.” It forces the player to think strategically, combining action with stealth and the need to decipher the clues picked up during each failed run-through of the day’s endless repetition.
IGN’s Matt Purslow found the approach similarly refreshing. “I’ve never played a game like Deathloop before. More accurately, I’ve played a lot of games that are a little bit like it… but never anything that fits so many interesting ideas together to create something so fascinatingly unique”, he wrote.
Arkane Studios’ success is dependent on balancing the impact of the time loop on the player’s progress.
According to Purslow, the “smartest decision” is to divide the day into four time periods: morning, noon, afternoon, and night. Different island districts, each jam-packed with intrigue, offer distinct Warhol-inspired pop-art cultures for the player to explore at their leisure.
“Despite the fact that we’re using a live, die, repeat structure,” he explained. “Information is Deathloop’s primary currency: as you pursue objectives and uncover new leads, you’ll discover clues that help you unlock doors and exciting new opportunities in areas you’ve previously visited, both in time and space.”
Groundhog Day fatigue is alleviated by Colt’s supernatural ability, which allows him to survive death twice in a single time period. Powers left by defeated Visionaries grant additional abilities ranging from invisibility to hacking.
And, while weapons are automatically stripped at the end of each day, players can collect the enigmatic element Residuum, which allows Colt to keep items when time resets, allowing him to gradually build an arsenal. All of the information Colt collects survives the daily reboot.
“This means you rarely have to repeat the same activity twice, which eliminates a source of frustration in many other time-loop games,” Purslow explained.
A potential game-changer for Playstation 5
Analysis by Stefan Powell, Newsbeat gaming reporter
Sony will be thankful that this title, which combines the 1993 film Groundhog Day and the 2016 video game Hitman, has seemingly saved the day in a year where exclusive releases for the Playstation 5 have been few and far between.
So far, the criticism levelled at many of the games playable on the latest generation of consoles has been that, aside from significantly improved graphics, there isn’t much difference between what we had before. So, many people have wondered, what’s the point of spending nearly £500 on one?
Deathloop, despite its flaws, demonstrates that unique, innovative, and quirky big budget gaming experiences are now making their way to the new generation of consoles, giving people even more reasons to upgrade.
Some critics have dubbed it “game of the year,” but whether it will be as popular with the general public remains to be seen.
It faces stiff competition from Battlefield 2042, Far Cry 6, and a new Call of Duty.