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I played 5 hours of Deathloop and learned nothing. It was amazing

The game is a never ending chaotic party.

deathloop
Bethesda

Deathloop is a simple game. 

At least, that's what I was thinking one hour into my five-hour preview of Arkane Studio's upcoming blockbuster. The premise seems easy enough: You're stuck in a time loop, and to break it you need to eliminate eight targets, called the "Visionaries," in one day. Like I said, simple, right? 

It wasn't until I got to the door that leads me to my first victim that I realized maybe this game isn't so simple at all. I completely missed something in a previous loop that I now realized was essential to get through the door. That's when it hit me that this daring action game is also one big puzzle.

Deathloop is the old adage "insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results" rendered in 3D with a jazzy '60s soundtrack thrown on top of it. It's pure chaos and, from what I can tell from my time with the upcoming game, an incredibly fun time. 

In Deathloop, you wake up on a black-sand beach of Blackreef. You play as Colt: very confused, mildly panicked and stumbling around trying to figure out who you are and what the hell is going on. Soon, you learn that Blackreef is an island with a questionable militaristic past -- but now, it's an endless party. What else are you going to do in a time loop other than give in to pure hedonistic pursuits? 

Colt is the ultimate party pooper. For reasons not yet clear -- Colt's exact motives aren't known to me yet, but I'm extremely keen to find out -- it's time for the party to end. To break the loop, you need to eliminate the eight people behind its creation in the space of just 24 hours. Days are broken up into morning, afternoon and night: You're not under a stopwatch -- rather, the day progresses when you leave one area to enter into the next. You get three lives, but after the third death, the loop starts again and you lose all your weapons and upgrades. 

I didn't achieve much in my five hours with the game. I stumbled about and made (mostly) the same mistakes over and over. I discovered some juicy secrets that just led to more questions. I got almost too much joy out of hacking into turrets and watching my enemies fall victim to their own creation.

Did I do what I set out to do? Absolutely not. Did I have a good time? Yes, yes I did. 

I came into the game expecting to be constantly racing against the clock. Coincidentally, I had just finished playing 12 Minutes, another game about time loops. In 12 Minutes you have, you guessed it, 12 minutes to play out the loop and further the story before it resets. It all plays out in real time, whether you're ready for it or not. There's pressure to get things done in a relatively short amount of time. 

Deathloop takes a different approach. 

The levels are broken up into self-contained areas. You can visit any area at any time of the day: morning, noon, afternoon or night. Rather than giving you a time limit, you're given a movement limit, as you can only move between levels a certain amount of times each day. Your loop resets once you either die or play through the morning-to-night. This is how Deathloop balances action and puzzle solving. 

Sometimes you'll learn that something specific happens in the morning, but it's already the afternoon. No matter, just wait until the day starts again and be there in time for the next loop. Time may seem like the enemy, but it's really your friend. Make the time loop work to your advantage and take your time learning everything you can to play out the perfect loop. 

Break the wheel 

For all its decay and strange vibes, Blackreef is a fascinating place. Deathloop is a super stylish game. The aesthetic is heavily inspired by the sixties, and dare I say: It's funky. I personally didn't experienced the swinging sixties, but I like to imagine it looked like it does in Deathloop. 

The island is modeled off the Faroe Islands, and the buildings have a distinct Amsterdam feel. If you've played the Dishonored games, it will probably feel a bit familiar (just not as much whale oil). The place is both buzzing and strangely abandoned, with trash piling up in the streets, flats open for you to rummage through, and Eternalists (your enemies) drunkenly dancing amongst amusement park displays that are falling apart. Because the loops aren't strictly timed, you have freedom to explore every nook and cranny. And it's best that you do; even overhearing conversations between Eternalists can lead you to more discoveries. 

Like Dishonored, Deathloop is supportive of both stealth and tank styles of play: There are multiple paths to each objective (or "lead"), and many opportunities to go the sneaky way or all guns blazing. Be careful though -- gunshots alert all the Eternalists around to your presence, and if you haven't scoped the place out properly you will find yourself surrounded by 15 more enemies than you expected. Personally, I find the stealth method much more satisfying. You can sometimes sneak up behind enemies peeing off the roof of a building and kick them to their undignified death, which is a highlight. On the other hand, the music that plays during all out gun battles is really great. So whichever route you choose, you're going to have a good time.  

The story and writing are irreverent, fun and genuinely entertaining. At first, it felt a bit forced and awkward, but dialogue quickly fell into a good stride. I regularly found myself laughing out loud at dialogue, and it's fun to overhear all the conversations between the Eternalists. 

deathloop

This is Juliana, my wife. 

Bethesda

Colt is thus far a great character with ample charisma, something rare in gaming's main characters. Main characters often seem a bit like empty vessels for the player, but Colt is very much his own character with plenty of personality. Then we have Juliana, the other main character. Juliana is a real mystery -- we don't know much about her other than she hates Colt and is out to kill him. Is she just a party girl, or is there something more going on? 

Colt and Juliana have great chemistry, even though Juliana is taunting and hunting Colt constantly. Juliana is such a firecracker, and I may be in love with her. It's such a shame I have to hightail it out of the area I'm in whenever she shows up to hunt me down: When Juliana arrives on the scene, you have the option to either try to defeat her or flee. Every time I tried the former, I ended up dead. 

There's definitely a history between Colt and Juliana, but it's only been hinted at this early in the game. I finished the demo eager to learn more about them. In fact, I finished the demo eager for almost everything about Deathloop. It's a hard and sometimes confusing game -- I left with more questions than when I started. But more than anything, it's compelling. I'm excited to visit Blackreef proper on Sept. 14 and, above all, see Juliana again. Have I mentioned I love her?