I love the premise of Deathloop: trapped in a timeloop, you need to assassinate eight targets before the day is out to stop everything from resetting. While you're at it, you're being hunted yourself - by another assassin who can played by your pals. I'm really hoping Dishonored developers Arkane will deliver something great with this one, and having seen an action-packed (if hands-off) preview, I can't imagine any other studio pulling it off.
I was given the low-down on all the weird and wonderful supernatural abilities at your disposal in Deathloop, and Arkane also showed off how missions on the game's 60s-themed party island can go down. While it offers you plenty of stealthy opportunities, however, it seems pretty different from the Dishonored experience, sometimes favouring the guns-blazing approach.
Deathloop takes place on Black Reef, and you play as Colt, the assassin who needs to kill eight Visonaries who're causing the day to reset over and over. It's not the sort of thing you can just speed your way through - it seems players will have to spend a lot of time gathering intel before they're able to properly act, with a fair bit of trial and error involved.
"The roguelike element is actually much less present than it might look, because it's not about difficulty, and the repetition is more about you being the master of the time loop," says game director Dinga Bakaba. "The game isn't about 'perfect execution.'"
Colt can travel to four different districts of Black Reef (which are essentially four different levels), and he can choose to go there in the morning, afternoon or evening. Across these time zones and places you'll find different Visionaries and different info you'll need to end the loop. Your ultimate goal is to line up the schedules of all of your targets to get them close enough to each other that you can take them all out quickly, and each time you "fail" a loop, you'll have hopefully learned something that'll help you do that.
"Once you have all these elements in place and you know what to do, then you go for what we call 'The Golden Loop', which is trying to enact this plan," says Bakaba. "By then, you'll be superpowered, you'll know the map - it's more a victory lap than anything."
You'll do it all in style, of course. Black Reef looks like one big 60s-themed party island, and everyone knows that party infiltration missions are, in fact, the best. During the preview, the devs showed Colt trying to get to a Visionary holding a speech at a little soirée where everyone is wearing masks. In one loop, he rushes in, gunning down everyone because fuck it, he had to get in there somehow. Surprisingly, that fails, but in the next loop he finds a note pertaining this particular target - but he needs to come back later to act on it. A sneaky window entrance and a couple of blinks across some chandeliers later and there's the masked Visionary, sat on top of a rather convenient trap door.
"At the beginning, you will be quite weak, you're just a guy with an uzi and a machete. But as you unlock more and more, you'll start to be a superhero," Bakaba adds. "At that moment, it's not about difficulty anymore, it's about going through the story."
But what I'm most excited for in Deathloop is something Arkane did so well in the past with Dishonored: special abilities. Colt has loads of supernatural weirdness he can learn. Similar to Corvo's Blink, Shift allows Colt to teleport a short distance away. Aether turns him invisible. Havoc absorbs damage that he can them discharge back at enemies. Nexus ties the fates of a group of enemies together, so if one dies, they all go down. And my personal favourite is Karnesis, which lets Colt telekinetically launch people into the air. Seeing it in action reminded me a lot of the biotic abilties in in Mass Effect. Black Reef has a lot of cliffs you can throw (and kick) people off of too, so there are always good times to use Karnesis.
As for more conventional weaponry, Colt has loads of guns which can all be customised with collectible trinkets - from simple ones like shock absorbers and surpressors, to buffs that give you more damage the more enemies you consecutively hit. There are loads of ways to get a playstyle that suits you, though it's worth noting that you can lose equipment by dying during a loop. To keep your favourite stuff with you, you'll need to find caches of sparkly goo called Residium.
My only gripe is that it didn't seem like stealth is always the best way to go about your murdering business on Black Reef. The preview I saw often used sneaky abilities and the odd cheeky backstab to get to a specific location, but would then whack out one of Colt's many weapons or more deadly skills and rush around guns blazing. And unlike Dishonored, when you kill enemies in Deathloop their bodies disappear. It seems as though there's not much point in leaving anyone alive or trying to do a "ghost mode" playthrough, which I suppose is fair enough. You are an assassin, so killing is in the job description. But it removes the pressure of being caught out by a body you forgot to hide, or a person you didn't neutralise, taking away a level of tension.
Tension is added in a slightly different way with rival assassin, Juliana. She's one of the Visionaries - a deadly one at that - and it's her job to protect the loop. You'll know when she's on the hunt for you when a short sound cue plays, and she'll have similar weapons and skills to Colt's to use against you. If you play offline, Juliana will be AI, but if you want a proper challenge you can open up your game to online Julianas, and have other players invade your world.
"We didn't want to have a multiplayer mode and a campaign mode, we wanted all of that to work together," explains Bakaba. "We immediately said we didn't want limitations on this multiplayer mode, or railroad how Juliana would play. We needed the character to have personality that would accomodate both Seb - who's very straightforward and headshot me the first time I showed my head - or someone like me, who'll pop in and not even attack you to make the match last as long as possible. Or even people who'd want to roleplay her, or be friendly with Colt."
I hadn't even thought about being a friendly Juliana, but now I'm just more scared of her. What if people pretend to be my friend then murder me after? I've played too much Dark Souls to put my trust in other players that like that.
But if you fancy destroying my trust as an invading assassin lady, Deathloop is due out on September 14th. It's one of our most anticipated games of 2021, and after seeing more of it, that certainly hasn't changed.