Review: Deathloop is gorgeous, flawed and mindlessly fun

Deathloop is a wild and mostly entertaining medley of super-powered shooting, puzzle solving and over-the-top storytelling all wrapped in a phenomenal retro-futuristic aesthetic.  

The set up is simple, Colt is an assassin trapped reliving the same day until he can hunt down eight targets before the loop restarts while himself being hunted by rival assassin Julianna.

The catch is these targets are scattered across the island of Blackreef, more than a day apart, yet all have to die before midnight to 'break the loop'.

To quote Colt it's like a 'f***** up fairytale'.

The good

Deathloop looks exceptional, particularly on a PlayStation 5, with its phenomenal art style shining in everything from environments to menu layouts, all backed up by a slick soundtrack. 

The endless day is divided into four time zones and Blackreef itself is split into four districts with time passing whenever you travel between them. Developer Arkane Studios has a knack for creative level design and every area is dripping with visual flourish, dense with secrets to discover. 

The districts also change throughout the day with new weather, areas to explore and enemies to contend with. This means four stages essentially become 16 when all variations are accounted for. 

You'll have four opportunities for exploration a day before the loop resets and you start from scratch, losing your weapons and items but keeping what you learned about Blackreef. 

The joy of Deathloop is in memorising what works where and when - think Bill Murray in Groundhog Day but instead of getting very good at piano, you're steadily becoming an unstoppable murder machine. 

With your targets spread across both space and time, you'll have to lure groups of them to one place to take them all out at once. This makes for entertaining Hitman-esque hijinks as you comb the map for clues as to what makes each target tick and what might bring them out of hiding.

Deathloop screenshot.
Photo credit: Bethesda / Arkane Studios

I can't speak to the story much without spoiling it but suffice to say there are twists and solid writing to keep you invested, even if some of the late game reveals feel a touch forced. 

The combat overall has a satisfying kick, particularly on the PS5's Dualsense where the haptic feedback gives each weapon its own unique feel. The guns look fantastic and come with their own absurd and creative quirks, like the diamante encrusted pistols which slot together to become an SMG at the click of a button.

And it's not only guns at your disposal. The DNA of Arkane's flagship Dishonored series is obvious in the super power 'slabs'  looted from each key target. The trusty blink teleport is back, along with other classics like telekinesis and invisibility.  

There are also more interesting powers like 'nexus', which tags enemies together so what happens to one happens to all. You can further customise powers and weapons with looted 'trinkets' to provide passive buffs suiting your playstyle. 

While equipment and power-ups initially disappear each time a loop resets, a resource called 'residium' can infuse items so they persist between loops. The game is very liberal with its residium so you'll quickly gather an everlasting arsenal.

But you aren't always the hunter as rival assassin Julianna will randomly turn the tables during your loop and begin hunting you. While she can be controlled by AI, toggle multiplayer mode on and she can be piloted by other players which is an absolute blast.

Julianna has her own progression system based on how creatively she can take out other players and you can jump into a session with her anytime you want to take a break from the main story.

Engaging as it was, I didn't get to spend much time in multiplayer mode in my review period. And unfortunately, the challenges found in multiplayer highlighted some of Deathloop's biggest weaknesses in singleplayer.

The bad  

In Dishonored, how you approached combat had profound impacts on the story and there was a genuine benefit to choosing a stealthier approach. In Deathloop, there's no reason not to immediately mow down everyone you see and doing so becomes trivial once you pick up a few upgraded slabs and unique weapons.

Enemy AI is lacklustre and their stupidity combined with my power to turn invisible with a superpowered shotgun meant I never felt in danger after my fifth hour of gameplay.   

You also aren't encouraged to be creative with your powers and weapon combos because there's essentially only one enemy type -  the stupid type who run straight at large men holding shotguns. 

Deathloop screenshot in Newshub's review by Finn Hogan.
Photo credit: Bethesda / Arkane Studios

While blasting foes never stops being mindless fun, it's rarely more than that. This is exacerbated by enemies constantly repeating the same pieces of dialogue, often yelling identical lines over each other while rushing directly into your line of fire. 

I'll die happy if I never hear the words 'It better not be Colt!' again.

The exception to this is Julianna, who has her own powers and makes for a great mini boss encounter. But if she isn't controlled by another player she falls for the old invisible shotgun to the face trick as easily as the rest.

And while you're never in much danger of dying in combat, failing an objective means restarting the loop from scratch till you get it right. Then Deathloop has multiple loading screens and menus to navigate before you're back into the action. 

This drags the pace down and highlights the danger with looping mechanics - anything frustrating in the game becomes even worse through forced repetition.

The verdict

When Deathloop works, it sings with frenetic action, a playfully over-the-top story and a stellar aesthetic that make for breezy, brutal fun.

However, sloppy AI and a lack of enemy variety means the fun only goes so far. 

The story is a fresh mix of familiar elements which eventually wear thin and so while I loved a lot of the journey there, I was underwhelmed by the climax.

There's enough here to justify the price of entry but, much like Colt himself, I can't see myself staying in the loop forever.  

Three-and-a-half stars.