Video games are inescapably intertwined with iteration and do-overs. It’s written into the technology that builds them, the development practices that craft them, and often the very rules governing how they work: win-lose, trial and error. Some games have tried to mask this artifice in the service of more naturalistic storytelling. Deathloop embraces it. Up to a point.
Dying fuels its story and propels its fun. Not to a satisfying conclusion, but one I couldn’t turn away from. Like its tragic hero, Colt Vahn, I also wanted to break the loop, if not so I could escape the purgatory of 1960s pastiche, then at least so I could put the game down, content in the knowledge that I had exhausted most of its possibilities. What felt like a blank canvas at first turned out to be a paint-by-numbers one, and the image eventually revealed felt like one I’d seen plenty of times before. Deathloop’s fundamentals are so strong. I wish the rest of the game was too.
Arkane Studios’ latest immersive murder sim plays like its predecessors but with an important new twist: you’re trapped on a mysterious island in a repeating 24-hour time loop. Colt was originally chief security officer for the AEON Program, a group of eccentric societal elites who call themselves Visionaries and command a cult-like army of masked lackeys called Eternalists. They took over the island of Blackreef to leverage its anomaly for the shallow immortality of the time loop, and now Colt has betrayed them because he wants out. Julianna Blake, the only other Visionary whose memories carry over day to day, wants to stay, so she spends every day trying to hunt him down. The setup is high-society James Bond meets the paranoia of The Prisoner with A Clockwork Orange’s hyper-violent menace coursing throughout, which is to say an excellent premise for a video game as long as you don’t think about it for too long.