I’ll level with you. I’ve found DEATHLOOP one of the most difficult games to review in the years that I’ve been doing this. 

At times I’ve loved it, but then my experience has been peppered with small frustrations that made me pause for thought. I’m hoping that unravelling my thoughts and feelings in the words to come provides some sort of clarity in any case. Here goes.

Make no mistake, DEATHLOOP has a fascinating concept (and by extension, play structure) where the characters relive “The First Day” again and again. These are called loops and provide safety from permanent death. As a result, the island where DEATHLOOP is set becomes a lethal experimental playground offering an experience like no other. The main protagonist, Colt, is looking to break the loop and escape by going up against his captor Julianna. He is also trying to recover his lost memories in the process.

It’s unclear what motivates each of the main characters to begin with, but one of DEATHLOOP’s strengths is how it invites you to unpick the mysteries of the island of Blackreef and its residents. This is done by following leads and scouring the environments for documents and audio logs which often contain juicy bits of information.

deathloop review 2

Before long it becomes clear the only way to break free is to eliminate all eight visionaries within a single day. These larger than life characters aren’t just going to line up for you to whack one by one however. Simply heading out to each area to kill them will not work, instead you’ll need to manipulate the timeline to bring them together. It’s here where DEATHLOOP gets clever.

There are four areas of Blackreef for you to explore. Each is fairly large, with numerous different routes available for you to explore offering options in how to approach each visit. These open sandbox-like environments also have a number of entry and exit points for Colt, which connect Blackreef through a network of tunnels. There are also four parts to each day (or loop) which somewhat change the make-up of each area offering different circumstances, uniquely accessible areas and differently organised enemies.

Despite the changes, each environment is fundamentally the same apart from the new areas you’ll unlock as the story progresses (usually an underground bunker of some sort). This inevitably leads to an element of repetition, especially if you get looped and have to start over. 

DEATHLOOP is an FPS which encourages you to use stealth to get about. Arkane Lyon’s stamp is clear to see, and their hallmarks shine through strongest when sneaking around is required. You can use your fists, or your trusty machete, to make silent kills and remain undetected. Otherwise, if you fancy making more of an entrance there are plenty of weapons to choose from and abilities in the form of slabs. 

First off, your weapons are tiered depending on how rare and powerful they are. Split into categories, you can acquire pistols, semi-automatics, rifles and more. Special arsenal leads will direct you to the very best weapons Blackreef has to offer. Each has trinket slots, which are buffs that can improve all sorts of attributes such as clip size, damage dealt, accuracy and much, much more. Character trinkets will also expand Colt’s range of party tricks, such as the classic double jump. This means there are hundreds of loadout options to experiment with.

deathloop review 1

Then we have slabs. These are abilities which Colt can use in all sorts of situations. For example, the shift slab allows him to teleport across space, whilst the havoc slab makes you temporarily highly resistant to damage and boosts his power. These remind a lot of BioShock, giving you different options in how to approach your objectives.

DEATHLOOP‘s structure is a little overwhelming at first, as it throws all sorts of mechanics at you. However, take it steady and after a couple of hours you’ll be hopping around Blackreef with no trouble at all. When you “loop” and restart the day, you’ll lose all of your gear but not your story progress. There is, however, a way to hold on to the goodies you’ve got your hands on.

Residuum is a resource that some items and the visionaries themselves exude which when extracted, can be used to infuse items so they survive from loop to loop. After each part of the day cycle, you’ll have the opportunity to cycle through your gear and choose what to save. It’s a clever idea, and forces you to make some tough decisions as well as risking collecting as much residuum as you can. 

I say risk, because if you are killed three times your loop will end and you’ll lose any uninfused gear and your progress. This is where my main issue with DEATHLOOP came into focus. Enemies will display little cones which fill as they become aware of your presence. If you are discovered (and this will happen a lot) then all hell breaks loose and it’s very difficult to get control of the situation again, depending on which part of the level you’re at.

Then there’s always the threat of you falling foul of another of DEATHLOOP’s party pieces. If you’re playing online, another player can invade your game as Julianna at any time and try to kill you. This will of course alert everyone to your presence, and can easily end your loop. Thankfully you can turn this off, but an AI version of Julianna will still appear more often than not to crash the party.

deathloop review 3

What doesn’t help is that unless you’re pulling off headshots, the elementalists can take a few rounds before going down, and they’ll strip your health bar fast. You can quickly get overwhelmed by reinforcements and when that happens, you’ve had it. This difficulty is multiplied if you’re attempting to sneak around indoor environments as there aren’t a lot of places to hide.

This changed fundamentally when I acquired the Aether slab as it rebalanced the gameplay significantly, making it much more enjoyable. It didn’t make things too easy either, but having the ability to briefly turn invisible offered an opportunity to keep a lid on the situation.

I won’t lie, DEATHLOOP really frustrated me at times, but there was plenty which kept me wanting to follow the story to its conclusion. What I did find, however, is that this is a game I couldn’t sit down and play for hours on end. Due to revisiting the same area multiple times, and often not surviving the direct approach, after a few hours of playing, I needed a break. Having completed it, I can honestly say I have no burning desire to jump back into the single player any time soon.

I will say that I absolutely love how stylish DEATHLOOP is. The 60’s-inspired environment is bursting with flair and filled with interesting, well-developed characters. The intriguing story is told at a brilliant pace whilst Colt and Julianna are very likeable and bursting with personality. The lead voice actors are brilliant too, along with the supporting visionaries. The Xbox version of the game comes updated with an extended ending too, which leaves the door open for more in the future.

DEATHLOOP looks brilliant as well, but I did encounter some irritating glitches whilst playing. The game crashed several times (even after an update), and at one point the menus seemed to stay glued to the screen when opened, stacking up on top of each other and forcing me to reboot the game. I lost some substantial progress this way which didn’t help my frustrations.

deathloop review 4

It’s not all about Colt though. You can play as the timeline invading Julianna on the flip side of the action. This PvP mode chucks you into someone else’s game and triggers a cat and mouse style scenario. It’s short, snappy, different and lots of fun. As you level up your hunter rank, better trinkets and weapons will become available for you to improve your loadout.

Matchmaking can take a little while, but after a couple of minutes you’ll usually find a game. I did wonder if many mirrored my choice, and turned off the ability for others to invade their games.

As much as I enjoyed DEATHLOOP, and I do love many elements of it, this is not a 5/5 or 10/10 game. It feels fresh, original and has some really good ideas, but if this is to be thought of as an experiment of sorts, there’s lots of scope to expand this universe going forward. I’d very much like to see a sequel and if it addresses these concerns, it could easily be an all time classic.

There’s lots to love about DEATHLOOP, along with its sizzling style and refreshing gameplay structure. However, in practice, reliving your day over and over does come with limitations.

DEATHLOOP is available from the Xbox Store

I’ll level with you. I’ve found DEATHLOOP one of the most difficult games to review in the years that I’ve been doing this.  At times I’ve loved it, but then my experience has been peppered with small frustrations that made me pause for thought. I’m hoping that unravelling my thoughts and feelings in the words to come provides some sort of clarity in any case. Here goes. Make no mistake, DEATHLOOP has a fascinating concept (and by extension, play structure) where the characters relive “The First Day” again and again. These are called loops and provide safety from permanent death.…

Pros:

  • Immersive swinging ‘60s setting
  • Unique and intriguing gameplay mechanics
  • Engrossing storyline and character development
  • Multiplayer mode is great fun

Cons:

  • Limited biomes get somewhat repetitive
  • Operating with stealth is hit and miss

Info:

  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Bethesda
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S, PS5, PC
  • Version reviewed - Xbox Series X
  • Release date - 20 September 2022
  • Launch price from - £59.99
TXH Score

4/5

Pros:

  • Immersive swinging ‘60s setting
  • Unique and intriguing gameplay mechanics
  • Engrossing storyline and character development
  • Multiplayer mode is great fun

Cons:

  • Limited biomes get somewhat repetitive
  • Operating with stealth is hit and miss

Info:

  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Bethesda
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S, PS5, PC
  • Version reviewed - Xbox Series X
  • Release date - 20 September 2022
  • Launch price from - £59.99

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