Deathloop reviews: 'Ingenious' shooter is a contender for game of the year

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Deathloop, an action thriller which takes place in a time loop, has received rave reviews from critics.

Released on PC and the Playstation 5 on Wednesday, it's already being tipped as a game of the year contender.

It puts you in the shoes of an assassin tasked with dispatching eight "visionaries" who are warping time.

Reviewers praised its "ingenuity" and "ambition". "There is nothing on this planet quite like Deathloop," ventured Matt Hewson on games website Player 2.

Gamespot and IGN both scored the game a perfect 10, praising its mysterious premise and "deft storytelling".

Praise for black protagonists

Designed by French game studio Arkane, Deathloop is set on an island in a lawless time loop. Gamers play as Colt Vahn, a gruff hitman, who is one of the only people unaffected by the loop, which resets at midnight every night.

In order to free the island, he must assassinate the eight architects of the loop before time runs out - which he does by assembling clues, manipulating the "Visionaries" and orchestrating their deaths.

He is hindered by Julianna - a Visionary hell-bent on preventing Colt from achieving his goal, who can be controlled by rival gamers in the online mode.

Polygon praised Arkane for making both protagonists black, saying the move was "a cause for celebration when there is a dearth of black people being represented as leads in big-budget media".

The Telegraph's Tom Hoggins gave equal praise to the game's character development in his five-star review, singling out Julianna as the game's "most characterful star".

"The chemistry between the two leads is electric and played with a breezy humour that gives the game a narrative life that it perhaps doesn't capitalise on elsewhere," he wrote.

Eurogamer's Edwin Evans-Thirlwell also noted a political subtext, likening it to The Great Gatsby's depiction of the super-rich.

"While Deathloop stands out among blockbuster shooters for featuring two black leads, the social divisions it explores are less about race or, for that matter gender, or sexual orientation, more about the reality-altering force of hideous quantities of cash," he wrote.

"The Visionaries are a diverse bunch, but at the end of the day, they are all one and the same concentration of impossible wealth."

But the backstory is also one of the game's weakest elements, and lacks "emotional staying power", according to Videogamer's Josh Wise.

"As one egghead, in a scratchy projector film, began to unreel the mythology ("Long ago, the isle of Blackreef experienced a cataclysmic event which tore the fabric of" - and so forth), I realised that I couldn't care less. Blackreef can go hang", he wrote in his 8 out of 10 review.

However, most critics were more concerned with the gameplay, which Gamespot described as a "masterclass in open-ended action game design".

Their critic, Tamoor Hussain, praised how the game's premise, in which events on the Isle of Blackreef on any given day "have no bearing on the next", turns the traditional conventions of the genre on its head.

Unlike Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell or Arkane's previous offering, Dishonored, Deathloop offers an "intoxicating sense of liberation" .

But this ultimately leads to the game's central question of purpose: "When nothing matters, how do you give your actions meaning?"

The answer, in working to break the time loop, gives the title "introspection". It forces the player to think strategically, mixing action with stealth and the need to decipher the clues you pick up during each failed run-through of the ever-repeating day.

Fascinatingly unique

IGN's Matt Purslow found the approach similarly refreshing. "I've never played a game like Deathloop before. More accurately, I've played a lot of games that are a little bit like it... but never anything that fits so many interesting ideas together to create something so fascinatingly unique", he wrote.

The key to Arkane Studios' success is balancing the impact of the the time loop on the player's progress.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8HmSaaISpA

Purslow said its "smartest decision" is to split the day into four time periods - morning, noon, afternoon and night. Different island districts, packed full of intrigue, offer distinct Warhol-inspired pop-art cultures that the player can explore at their leisure.

"Despite using a live, die, repeat structure," he said. "Deathloop's chief currency is information: As you chase down objectives and unearth new leads, you'll discover clues that help you to unlock doors and exciting new opportunities in areas you've previously visited, both in time and space."

Groundhog day fatigue is eased by Colt's supernatural edge, allowing him to survive death twice per time period. Powers left by vanquished Visionaries also grant additional abilities, from invisibility to hacking.

And although weapons are stripped by default at the end of each day, players can collect a mysterious element Residuum, which allows Colt to retain items when time resets, helping him build an arsenal over time. All the intelligence Colt gathers also survives the daily reboot.

"This means you rarely have to repeat the same activity twice, which eliminates a frustration many other time-loop games suffer from" Purslow added.

A potential game-changer for Playstation 5

Analysis by Steffan Powell, Newsbeat gaming reporter

In a year where exclusive releases for the Playstation 5 have been relatively few and far between Sony will be thankful this title, that blends 1993 movie Groundhog Day and 2016 video game Hitman, has seemingly saved the day.

So far the criticism aimed at many of the games playable on the latest generation of consoles is that other than much improved graphics - not much is different compared to what we had before. Many have thought therefore, what's the point spending the best part of £500 buying one?

Deathloop, despite its flaws, shows that unique, innovative and quirky big budget gaming experiences are now coming to the new generation of consoles - giving people more reasons to think that now is a good time to upgrade.

Some critics are calling it game of the year but whether it proves to be as popular with the public remains to be seen.

It's got tough competition with Battlefield 2042, Far Cry 6 and a new Call of Duty all on the horizon.

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