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The RPS Advent Calendar 2021, December 23rd

Kick, kick, boom

As you approach this door of the Calendar you get a feeling of déjà vu. "Oh no," you mutter. "It's going to be another bloody time loop." You're right reader, it is! But this one will kick hard enough to start the day again, and really puts the writing on the wall.

Let's go round again for the powerful boot and powerful assassinating of Deathloop!

Brendy Caldwell: Deathloop's kick is sublime. Colt's various powers in the timeloop shooter are nice and all, but his powerful hoof grants you free kills all day, every day (same day). It is one of the most cost-effective bootheels this side of a New Rock shoe sale. It also encapsulates everything I love about Arkane's wackiest outing yet. The grim-faced gloom of Dishonored is discarded for an upbeat, jazz-dunked immerse-o-shoot where stealth is no longer the primary means of attack. You get caught sneaking behind a crate in Deathloop? Time to snap a neck, fill two faces with buckshot and punt the final guard off a cliff.

One of the earliest abilities you get is the double jump, which says everything really. If there's a mechanic in games more emblematic of carefree movement and unrestrained chaos, I don't know what it is. Later you get the ability to fuse enemy minds, so when one baddie is shotgunned in the belly, two of his nearby mates will die from the sheer violence of psychic empathy.

And you'll really want to kill these chumps. The principal antagonists of Deathloop's wintry Blackreef Island are, uh, complicated people. They are corporate sleazebags with an unstoppable urge to be liked. Egomaniacal artists entwined in a relationship that could only be more toxic if they were dating a drum of sludge. All of them are caught in a temporal anomaly that sees them unknowingly repeating the same day over and over. These people are infinitely insufferable. Imagine if the influencers and start-up bros responsible for Fyre Festival never left that island in the Bahamas and became crazed supervillains. That's basically Blackreef.

Shooting people in a Deathloop screenshot.

Arkane long-timers might have beef, I concede. Some of the complex interactions between powers, weapons and the environment that you find in Dishonored games won't appear here, thanks to the shaved-down menu of abilities. But for an enthusiastic first-person-shooterist, less is more. I've long thought pausey wheel menus are a flow-crushing plague on game design and exist as an imperfect solution to the pocket-full-of-guns problem that wouldn't exist if you just, you know, held fewer guns. Deathloop gives you fewer guns, and fewer powers. But the result is more impact.

Take the Strelak Verso, a pair of handguns that can be dual wielded or clicked together like violent Lego to become a burst-firing rifle. Or the Fourpounder, a bucking pistol with the clean, polished geometry of the massive autorevolvers in the movie Looper. You can find one of the latter with bullets that leave a cloud of toxic, explosive gas and it is excellent. But you can get just as much mileage out of the spider-like proximity grenades, or the hackable, movable turrets.

In short, there's a lot of shooty shit to do. And when you run out of bullets? Well. Polish up those Doc Martens. In Deathloop, you can really kick ass.

Rebecca: Fair to say that I am that Arkane long-timer Brendy mentioned: Prey and Dishonored are both up there among my favourite games. If you want a 45-minute uninterrupted monologue on why it's mandatory to play the Daud DLCs before tackling Dishonored 2, or how Prey's criminally overlooked Mooncrash expansion was by itself one of the best games of 2018, I'm your gal.

So of course I went into Deathloop expecting to like it. But what I didn't expect was for it to show me something I never realised those previous games had been missing: a good sense of humour. Sure, there are funny asides in the lore and background of Dishonored and Prey. They just never really extend to the characters themselves, who are all (understandably, but still) quite deadly serious about the situations they find themselves in.

Colt and Julianna pose in Deathloop art.

Deathloop, on the other hand, never fails to see the funny side. One of my favourite animations in this game plays at the end of a Julianna invasion. She and Colt can go for a fist bump, only for the winner of the match to pull back and do a nyah-nyah face at the person they just gleefully murdered. Just try picturing Corvo Attano or Morgan Yu having that much fun. You literally can't. I'm not saying this inherently makes Deathloop better than Arkane's other games, but it definitely sets a vastly different tone.

The Dishonored games in particular make a point of guilt-tripping you every time you take the lethal approach to a problem, especially if your victim was clearly just an ordinary mook doing their crap job. But in Deathloop, until you reach that final loop, you know that everyone you hurt is going to wake up again this morning like nothing ever happened. So, in a break from Arkane tradition, you're positively encouraged to go about your business with a clear conscience. Just really let yourself live in the moment and enjoy those ragdoll physics as you boot yet another Eternalist off a cliff edge and into the sea.

Imogen: I will attempt to refrain from reiterating how amazing Arkane are at making stealthy murder 'em ups, because everything I'd want to say has been well-put already. So instead, I would like to highlight how amazing Arkane are at creating pure style. The main soundtrack gives me so much joy to listen to, the original song Déjà Vu is like listening to a Bond theme. Then you have the absolute fashion icons that are Colt and Julianna. I've written about it before, but their outfits are a delight to look at. Whenever particularly well-dressed Julianas invade my game, I watch in hope that they don't have the invisibility power; I'd much rather this fight be a fashion show. Arkane's art department really went all-out in making this game look and sound absolutely gorgeous. Even if you don't play it, I implore you to watch some of its cutscenes, listen to its music, or browse through its concept art.

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RPS

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The all-seeing eye of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the voice of many-as-one.

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