Deathloop for PC preview: A violent Rube Goldberg machine turned video game

Deathloop Preview May 2021
Deathloop Preview May 2021 (Image credit: Arkane )

Few games manage to summarize themselves so succinctly in their name alone, but Deathloop might be a front-runner.

Recently, I was treated to a preview of Arkane Lyon's upcoming immersive sim, dubbed Deathloop, which is heading to PC and PlayStation, with an Xbox version no doubt arriving a little later. Despite having some incredibly slick trailers, I feel like they haven't really done the game justice, there's a lot more to Deathloop than meets the eye. Even now, I feel as though I've barely scratched the surface in regards to the possibilities herein, which is described by Arkane themselves as a "murder puzzler."

Here's what we learned about Deathloop at a recent showcase, and why should definitely add this to your most anticipated upcoming games list.

What is Deathloop about?

Deathloop Preview May 2021

Source: Arkane (Image credit: Source: Arkane)

Deathloop is an immersive sim with elements commonly associated with shooters and roguelites, but it's still difficult to categorize. Set in the 1960s, you play as Colt, ew wan amnesiac assassin reliving the same day over, and over, and over. You can't remember the pre-game loops, or how you ended up on the island of Blackreef, where the game is set. Your goal is to investigate the island across multiple incarnations of the day's events, unwrapping the story's central mysteries as you go.

Blackreef is a derelict army base, taken over by a parade of strange mercs and art-deco scientists. Some sort of time experiment had been taking place here. The island's leaders, known as Visionaries, live life in an endless infinite loop of partying and debauchery, effectively achieving immortality. Unlike most of the island goers, Colt retains his memories of each loop, which takes place over the course of a day. All Colt knows is that he must assassinate the eight Visionaries, and doing so requires careful study of the island, its inhabitants, and their daily routines. If any of them survive the day, the timeloop resets, trapping Colt in a never-ending dance of life and death.

Much like the Visionaries, death simply puts Colt back at the start of the loop. Upon each reset, Colt remarks upon new story elements he's discovered, retaining memories of things like door codes and weapon locations. However, learning to navigate the loop isn't the only challenge awaiting Colt.

Source: Arkane (Image credit: Source: Arkane)

Directly opposed to Colt is Julianna, who is tasked with protecting the Visionaries and the timeloop from Colt. She roams the island and serves as part of the game's overarching story. Players can also take on Julianna's role, interfering with other player's games in asynchronous competitive PvP. Arkane developers noted that they hope PvP interactions between invading Julianna players and Colt can create fun anecdotes and sharable content, but they appreciate not everyone will want to experience it — thus, it can be disabled.

Throughout the demo, we caught a glimpse at the surprisingly varied island of Blackreef, complete with its different sections, Visionary targets, and enemy behaviors. Here's what you'll be doing when you take on Colt's mission in Deathloop.

Murder puzzling

Source: Arkane (Image credit: Source: Arkane)

Deathloop borrows elements from roguelites in that you can grow in power with each new loop, but Game Director Dinga Bakaba explains that the team at Arkane doesn't really see it that way. You're not exactly punished for dying. Instead, you're performing an investigation that just happens to take place across several loops.

There are multiple powers you can possess that'll help you with the loop. The island is divided up into four key areas: The Complex, Fristad Rock, Karl's Bay, and Updaam. The map appears to be very dense and vertical. Using powers like Blink, borrowed from Dishonored, are important for traversing the game's world while also avoiding detection. There are a wide variety of powers, called "slabs," which can be equipped to improve your chances of success. Reprise functions similarly to Tracer's time-reversal power from Overwatch, letting you avoid death up to two times per loop. Havoc gives Colt the ability to store up received damage and unleash it as a devastating blastwave. Karnesis is effectively telekinesis, letting you lift enemies up and throw them over balconies or into hazards. Nexus lets you link the fates of multiple targets — headshot one of them, and they'll all take the same damage.

As you customize your playstyle, you'll also uncover trinkets that add modifiers to your weapons and slab abilities. Shock Absorber reduces gun recoil, for example, while perforator gives your bullets higher penetration through enemies. You could use a combination of these trinkets and abilities to customize your experience throughout the game, taking skills that give you an edge in stealth gameplay, or others that let you take a more direct, aggressive approach. You will lose your customized abilities upon death typically, unless you spend residuum resources to retain them on subsequent loops.

Deathloop Preview May 2021 (Image credit: Arkane)

Deathloop Preview May 2021 (Image credit: Arkane)

Deathloop Preview May 2021 (Image credit: Arkane)

Deathloop Preview May 2021 (Image credit: Arkane)

Deathloop Preview May 2021 (Image credit: Arkane)

Source: Arkane

The game is washed in a colorful and optimistic 1960s art-deco design, juxtaposed with a Tarantino-like arsenal of deadly weaponry. We spotted a large variety of weapons in the game, including machine guns, revolvers, blades, explosives, shotguns, and more exotic weapons like automated turrets and silenced nail guns. The slabs and trinkets intersect with the different weapons to give you a large toybox to combine and play with, as you make your way through Deathloop's self-professed murder puzzle.

Deathloop could become one of the more unique games of recent memory.

Despite the variety of deadly tools, repeating the same gameplay area over and over may sound as though it could get repetitive. Arkane developers noted during the presentation that they've worked hard to create variety amidst all the looping. You can visit any of the game's four districts at any time of the day, and the routines of each district's citizens could be completely different based on where you are in the daily timeline.

For example, there's an area that is blocked off by a digging crew during the earlier part of the day, but eventually they complete their work and move on, giving you access to a new area. NPCs often talk to eachother too, similarly to Dishonored, revealing information about key targets, presenting opportunities for you to exploit. If you smash one of the Visionary's inventions, later in the day, he'll go to another Visionary to drown his sorrows in alcohol. This gives you an opportunity to assassinate both of them in one fell swoop.

Learning the ins and outs of Blackreef is absolutely crucial to breaking the loop, and ultimately surviving Colt's ordeal. Among all the violence, there's an overarching mystery about what exactly is going on here, leaving me with a healthy amount of curiosity.

Extremely promising

Source: Arkane (Image credit: Source: Arkane)

I wasn't quite sure what to make of Deathloop when I first saw it, but after the more recent trailers and this presentation, it now sits among some of my most anticipated titles for the near future. Arkane have yet to make a bad game in my book, which is reason enough to be excited for Deathloop. The unprecedented combinations of features could create a cluttered experience potentially, but if Arkane manages to strike a balance, Deathloop could become one of the more unique games of recent memory.

Deathloop is slated for PC and PlayStation on Sept. 14, 2021, with an Xbox version likely in tow after the timed exclusivity period ends.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!