Deathloop’s got a great elevator pitch. It’s a murder mystery with a time travel twist. You’re trapped on an island locked in an infinite time loop, with you and its denizens forced to repeat the same day over and over. The only way out is to track down eight targets, found somewhere in the four districts that divide the island. Assassinating all before one loop ends breaks it for good. But while you see the loop as a curse to be lifted, your intended kills see it as an endless, consequence-free party. As such they, and nearly everyone else on the island, will attempt to kill you on sight. And that includes your worst enemy and equal, who can be controlled by another player online. They have a single goal: protect the loop by ending you before you end it. Die, and your day starts again.
The original concept, created while Arkane was working with MachineGames on 2019’s Wolfenstein: Youngblood, would offer a diverse tool set, player freedom to experiment, and an architecturally coherent, intricate world to explore. A continued adherence to the defining principles of the studio’s previous works. The focus however, would be on replayability. The studio soon found itself eager to include “a big story”, character development, a rich world, an adventure arc – all also defining characteristics of its past games. “How could we build familiarity in a very focused, intimate space?” asks creative director Dinga Bakaba rhetorically. The solution: break time. The 60’s-style setting and “the impossible task” – eight assassinations in a single day – crystalised soon after.
Time to kill
Colt starts the day equipped with little more than “a cool jacket, a horrible hangover and a rusty SMG.” The rules of the loop and your place in it are quickly and violently explained. A better arsenal, including traditional weaponry (that’s customisable) and unique powers, need to be recovered as you explore the island from those you’ve bested in firefights or caught unawares. Discovery of two loopholes make your death less severe. One will allow you to carry over certain things between loops. The second is Deathloop’s own spin on respawns. Reprises give you three chances per loop to continue, and by finding your previous downed self you recover all items collected up to their (your?) untimely death.
“He is, I think, perpetually funny, surprising, charming,” says Bakaba of Deathloop’s protagonist Colt. “I think this is a guy who copes with those tragic events with self-deprecation and ‘dad’ jokes. He has flair, is very confident. He can just throw out these jokes, approach the situation with a lot of confidence.”
Colt’s nimble. Necessary when the world’s out to kill you and you’ve spaces to explore. Blackreef’s world design clearly shows Arkane’s continued love of verticality and, by association, powers that tap into superhuman exploration (“It’s really important to us,” says Art Director Sebastien Mitton. “Without powers, I always feel like I’m stuck on the ground. I’m frustrated”). As a result, each district is a dense sprawl. “Imagine a level like Dishonored 2‘s Edge of the World, and made even bigger, that’d give you an idea,” explains Bakaba of the expected scale for each.