Deathloop preview: A madcap mix of Hitman and Dishonored

While the first half of 2021 has been quiet for new game releases, it’s about to heat up. The back end of the year is already looking loaded with Halo Infinite, Battlefield 6, Horizon Forbidden West, and much more looming. In between all those heavy hitters, there’s one upcoming release that could end up being the surprise game of the year: Deathloop.

Developed by Arkane Studios, Deathloop has long been a curiosity for gamers. It debuted at E3 2019 with a stylish trailer, though it wasn’t clear what it actually was. Later, a gameplay glimpse revealed that it was a first-person shooter with some extra powers reminiscent of Arkane’s Dishonored series. Still, it’s “time loop” premise was a little vague. It felt like there was a special twist; it just wasn’t clear what it was.

A preview event finally reveals those missing pieces. Imagine a spy thriller that blends Dishonored and Hitman into an action-packed, sci-fi take on Groundhog Day. That only begins to describe Deathloop’s madcap premise.

Looper

Here’s the simple explanation. Deathloop is a first-person shooter about a character named Colt who’s stuck in a time loop. He needs to eliminate eight targets to break that loop. The basic flow of the game is that players load into a level and hunt one of the eight people down. The catch is that players won’t know how to find their target at first. They’ll need to search for clues while sneaking past guards or gunning through them.

Oh, and every time Colt dies? Players exit the loop and restart from the top.

It’ll be tempting to label Deathloop as a roguelite, but that’s not really the case. While there is a “die and try again” flow, players aren’t starting from scratch when they reload into a mission. Acquired weapons and gear are permanent, so there’s constant progression being made, even in failed attempts.

Most importantly, any intel gained is applicable to the next go-round. If a player happens to overhear two guards talking about where the target will be and when, that knowledge doesn’t go away. Each level is a time loop, after all. Gather enough intel over a few runs and a player should be able to jump into a fresh loop and track down their target swiftly. The game even lets players jump into the loop at different times of day so they don’t have to wait around for a specific moment.

What’s unexpected here is how much Deathloop looks like it’s taking cues from the Hitman series. In those games, Agent 47 spends a chunk of levels absorbing details about his targets. He maps out their walking routes, observes their little habits, and figures out the opportune moment to strike. Deathloop works the exact same way. Each run is about seeking out more and more details as to who exactly the target is and where to find them.

In the gameplay clip we saw, Colt must find his hit hidden at a swanky party. If he goes in guns blazing, he’ll quickly find himself overwhelmed by dozens of partygoers — not a terribly viable strategy. Instead, he can take the time to sneak around the area outside the party and scavenge for clues. Perhaps he’ll find an audio log or pick up on a stray conversation that narrows it down much more. It’s like a big, bloody game of Guess Who?

Even the assassinations themselves are reminiscent of Hitman. In the gameplay clip, Colt has a chance to simply snipe his enemy from afar and make a quiet escape. Instead, he decides to go a more slapstick route with a comedic, scripted elimination.

It’s a glowing comparison. The Hitman series has done a fantastic job of using puzzle-like investigation to create a thinking person’s action game. That same idea is at the heart of Deathloop, whih turns each assassination into a little mystery that must be solved before the grand finale.

The spy who shot me

Deathloop’s espionage was a highlight of the gameplay reel, but it’s not just a cerebral stealth game. In fact, it’s downright boisterous when it comes to its action.

There are two distinct aspects of combat, which go hand in hand. When it comes to weapons, players have access to a wide array of classes. Those include standard gun types like shotguns or hacking tools that can take over enemy turrets or cause distractions. At the top of each loop, players actually select their loadout, which keeps each run feeling different. On one attempt, players might go in full-bore wielding dual SMGs. The next try, they might go full stealth.

Combat really starts to look like a blast when special powers come into play. Throughout the game, players collect slabs, which grant new power-ups. That’s where Arkane’s unique stamp really comes through. Some of these powers are pulled straight from Dishonored 2, like a teleporting “blink” jump or the Nexus ability that allows players to link multiple enemies together and kill them all by shooting one.

The most gleeful slab shown in the gameplay reel is a power called Karnesis. It’s essentially a telekinetic power that allows players to yank an enemy off the ground and throw them. At one point in the demo, Colt sneaks up on three guards standing next to a railing. He tosses them all into the air and sends them off the edge with the flick of his wrist. It’s a morbid delight.

It’s always hard to get an exact feel for a game from prerecorded gameplay demos. They tend to be perfectly crafted, showing play that’s more high level than most fans will achieve. Even still, the gameplay demo offers a seriously appetizing taste of what’s to come. Colt fluidly swaps between guns, tools, and powers. He’ll rapidly shoot down two enemies, toss another group of enemies up in the air, and then teleport behind a turret to sic it on some guards in a flash.

I went into the Deathloop event having no real sense of how it would play out. I walked out dying to get my hands on it. It’s an incredibly stylish and slick premise that capitalizes on Arkane’s strengths while borrowing entirely new ideas. Forget Halo and Horizon; Deathloop is the game to watch this fall.

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