Deathloop hands-off preview: Dual-wielding deja vu

A recent new look at Deathloop with the devs showed us how time works in the game, as well as the tools and powers we'll be using to 'break this f***ing loop.'

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Deathloop has been one of my most anticipated games of 2021, top to bottom. It comes from one of my longtime favorite developers, Arkane Studios, with a gritty-yet-stylish appeal that has made me giddy more than once throughout the trailers and music like the Déjà Vu single. Every new bit of info and each day that brings me closer has had me more excited than the last to finally play Deathloop this coming September, so perhaps you can imagine the sheer electricity in my blood when Arkane and Bethesda invited us to see some new content from the game. My delight aside, there were a ton of great new details revealed in the preview, including how the time system works in this day-looping game and the equipment we’ll be using to end Colt’s worst day in Blackreef once and for all.

Take all the time you need

One of the most interesting things Deathloop Director Dinga Bakaba told us a while back was that although Deathloop is built upon a looping day in Blackreef, the game won’t punish you for taking your time exploring it. This preview event finally gave a mechanical understanding of exactly what that means. Yes, the premise remains that if Colt doesn’t kill eight specific targets - the Visionaries - keeping the Island of Blackreef in a perpetual time loop, he will never escape it, but the actual mechanics of this loop aren’t as constantly forward-moving as you might think. It’s not on a constant flow. Rather, time in Blackreef is built upon periods of the day that only progress forward as you enter and exit areas of the island.

Specifically, the preview introduced us to four periods of the looping day in Deathloop: Morning, Noon, Afternnoon, and Evening. Simultaneously, Blackreef is divided into various districts such as The Complex or Karl’s Bay. Entering a district sets you on the Morning period of the day and you can stay in that period as long as you stay in that district. Moving from The Complex to Karl’s Bay would shift the time period to Noon. So what this means is that you can explore every nook and cranny of a district during that period of the day to your heart’s content without time moving forward: quite the liberating detail for those anxious about being on the clock.

The fun doesn’t end there though. The other equally important part of this time and location system in Deathloop is that there are different events and activities going on in each district depending on the time of day. A target Visionary might be hanging out in one district in the Morning period working on some secretive project and they might be hosting a party or have a rendezvous taking place in another district at a later time of day. Meanwhile a whole district’s enemies might be on high alert at one point of time or sluffing off for a party in another point. And this is if Colt doesn’t influence things drastically at an earlier time of day, too. Just as well, as you learn more about the loop and progress through the game, Colt will gain further access to previously unavailable districts that can add further to your timeline-influencing efforts. It also gives you more to juggle as you go.

Put all of this together and Deathloop’s time management seems all the more manageable and interesting. Influencing events at one location may make another location operate differently later in the day, but you also don’t have to worry about an opportunity slipping by Colt because you weren’t fast enough to run there. Meanwhile, your chances will expand Colt’s opportunities and leave him with more options to choose from each day as you work to figure out how you’re going to put eight targets in the dirt before you close out the Evening shift on Blackreef. Otherwise it's back to where it started to give it all another go to find the right combination of events in various locations that make the perfect line of murders possible.

Tools of a time-looper

We’ve had quite a few looks at the implements Colt will be using to ice his adversaries as he fights to escape Blackreef’s cyclical clutches, but the preview event went into far more detail about what kind of weapons and other implements of assassination and survival will be at our disposal. To put it in the simplest terms, it looks like Arkane Studios is going deep into its lovely historical bag of tricks alongside some new ones to give players a myriad of ways in which to kill loudly or act in the shadows of Blackreef.

On the more physical side of things, the preview event introduced us rather intimately to a number of firearms and gadgets Colt may find in his escapades across the island. The game’s weapons are broken into various classes which operate quite differently from once another, including your standard handguns, SMGs, machineguns, marksman rifles, and shotguns. More than that, there are also meaner, and yet more discreet, weapons like your standard machete or the more eclectic silenced nail gun. You can become the center of attention rather quickly or play it far more quiet depending on what you’re trying to accomplish or how you want to go about it. There was even a neat little toy called the Sapper Charge. This serves as a grenade, but you can also set it to proximity or trip mine purposes to lure unfortunate foes into a rough time.

Of course, we’ve also seen a number of supernatural elements at Colt’s disposal in previous teases of the game and Arkane let us have a better look at what was going on here as well. Anyone who played Dishonored 2 should be happy to see some familiar powers utilized in Deathloop. By discovering rare artifacts known as Slabs, Colt can gain access to powers that extend his ability to go loud and proud in his aggression, help him murder without a sound, or even avoid combat altogether. The usual suspects return, such as Shift allowing him to blink short distances in an instant or Nexus letting Cole link targets together and then kill all of them by killing just one. Meanwhile, Aether allows Colt to go translucent and dodge detection from enemies and cameras while using Havoc will make Colt absorb damage and then direct it back at foes in a deadly blast. There’s even a power that gives Colt a sort of lives system if he's about to die, but of course it’s in very limited supply. Die three times and it’s back to the beginning of the loop no matter what.

Even further aiding this are trinkets which can give you or your weapons special abilities. Something like Perforator might cause your bullets to fly through enemies and hit other enemies as well while a Creeping Death trinket will cause you to make less sound when moving -  perfect for a stealthy assassin. These neat little accessories help you further distinguish and build your playstyle as you travel Blackreef.

Seeing some classic Arkane powers mixed up along new ones was fun to see and the weapons looked like a blast. Heck, you can up your arsenal too because most of the singlehanded weapons can be double-wielded, including pistols, SMGs, and even the silenced nail guns. Whether you want to go in all John Woo, Rambo, or Houdini, the game seems like it will cater to you. Of course, you should probably be concerned about losing your powers and gear at the end of the day in the loop. For this, you’ll want to track down a powerful resource called Residuum. By utilizing this you can unlock the ability to take equipment, trinkets, and powers back to the beginning with you so Colt doesn’t have to start from scratch each time he wakes up in Blackreef - fantastic if you were worried about having to collect your favorite loadout each time you begin anew. With Residuum, at least some of it will be waiting for you when you start the loop again.

Die, die again

What we saw during the preview event was as promising and exciting as anything I’ve seen so far for the game. It answered some burning questions I’ve been waiting to see addressed since the first announcement of the game’s premise. What’s more fun is that there’s still plenty of mystery here and a lot of things we likely won’t know until we drop into the full game. Between the sheer amount of variety in action and stealth and the way in which the time system and its effect on locations and their inhabitants work, Deathloop is a déjà vu I’m ready to experience over and over again. I’ll be looking forward to figuring out little by little how to help Colt break this loop when the game launches in September.


This preview was based off of a hands-off demonstration shared by the developer and publisher. Deathloop is slated for launch on PlayStation 5 and PC via Epic Games Store on September 14, 2021.

News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. When he's not handing out beatdowns in the latest fighting games, exploring video game history, or playing through RPGs with his partner, he's searching for new food and drinks in the constant pursuit of good times with good people inside and outside the South Texas area. You can also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

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