There are more and more new video games these days that sport a very movie-like feel: incorporating hi-def visuals, cinematography and plot devices plucked right out of the theaters.
Deathloop, however, is something different. It takes a movie-like idea of an ever-repeating day (think Groundhog Day or Edge of Tomorrow) and stiches it into an intricately crafted game world that could, quite frankly, only be fully realized as a game.
There are elements here that will all feel familiar—first-person trigger-pulling, stealthy investigation, puzzle solving, superpowered abilities and strategic organization—but it’s woven together in a very well-designed (if bloody) package.
Gamers play as a guy named Colt who opens his eyes to find himself being brutally murdered by a woman he doesn’t know. In fact, he hasn’t got a clue as to where he is or what’s going on. But after dying in a pool of his own gore, he wakes on the cold and bleak shore of an island called Blackreef. Colt still doesn’t really know where he is, but he’ll now have time to find out because he’s trapped in a never-ending time loop. Any and every time Colt dies, he reawakens right there on that same frozen beach and begins, once again, the same bleak day.
Besides grabbing weapons and killing things, a core part of gameplay is learning. What are your origins? What’s going on? What is this place? Why is the day repeating over and over? Why does everyone you meet want you dead?
It’s essential that you gather crucial information strewn around the island by finding notes, hidden-away recordings and door-unlocking codes. You’ll observe the patterns of the island’s inhabitants and eavesdrop on conversations. And then you can figure out how your interaction with others during the four distinct parts of the day (morning, noon, afternoon and evening) will reshape people’s actions and further serve your needs.
A big part of those needs is the absolute necessity to find and arrange the death of eight key people (called Visionaries) who are all integral to why the day is looping over and over. And while you’re trying to plot out and schedule those death sentences, that shrewd and pernicious woman who killed you to begin with, Julianne, is doing everything she can to upend your plans.
Thanks to the structure of this game, its compelling characters and strategic challenges, there are quite a few entertaining aspects to Deathloop. With a large puzzle-box-like design, the game slowly and evenly reveals its story and rewards, and it never feels overly grinding or tediously repetitious, as some Groundhog Day-like games can be.
Secondary conversations between Colt and Julianne venture into asking questions about life, and the things and relationships that can make life—which can sometimes feel repetitive even without a time loop—more fulfilling.
Colt may be the “hero” here, but we learn he’s much closer to being an amnesia-plagued killer than anything else. We also find out that the whole time-loop phenomena was used by the Visionaries to create an endless existence of personal pleasures, potential murders and drunken partying without any consequences.
In that light, and the fact that Colt is attempting to plot out eight Visionary executions in one perfectly planned day, we find a whole lot of very messy deadliness in the game mix. Deathloop is a game of exotic weaponry—including blades, pistols, shotguns and sniper rifles—which generally spew goop and gore in many flesh-rending ways. Even stealthy kills with wickedly wrenched necks can be unsettling. As the game progresses, players gain access to better guns, upgrades, and superhuman abilities that all make the death-dealing easier.
Colt and the people in his world are also very raw when it comes to their incredibly profane language. F- and s-words abound, along with a wide variety of other crudities including nasty references to male and female body parts (the c-word is in that list). Characters talk about drug use and sexual interactions. And we hear the moaning of one couple in the midst of an intimate grappling (behind a closed door).
From a pure gaming perspective, Deathloop earns the critic accolades that have been tossed its way. But, of course, there’s more than simply game design to consider when buying your family-room fare. And this bit of button-crunching entertainment comes packing more than enough nasty language and goopy visuals to earn it many a red flag.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.