Deathloop is the coolest escape room I’ve ever experienced. That may not sound like much, considering plenty of escape rooms are cheesy monuments to corporate team-building exercises and gentrification, but I mean it as a compliment. Deathloop uses the fundamentals of old-school locked-room mysteries to deliver a rich and stylish universe driven by intrigue, action and strategy. The main difference between Deathloop and an actual escape room is, well, all the death.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a fair amount of dying in Deathloop. Dying is a core mechanic of the game, and it’s the first thing players actually do in the campaign, called Break the Loop. The opening scene has Colt, the main character, on his back with a murderous woman called Julianna sitting on top of him, pressing a massive blade to his chest. After some banter, she plunges the knife into Colt’s heart, and he sputters and dies.
And then the game begins. Colt awakens on a cold, empty beach littered with bottles, and he makes his way to a compound built into the side of the sea wall. As he walks, glowing words appear around the environment, as if a loved one is leaving words of encouragement and warning for him. Colt is confused — he doesn’t even know his own name at this point, let alone how he got here or who’s trying to talk to him.
The identity of the message-writer is just one of a dozen or so core mysteries in Deathloop, and these are the driving force of the campaign. Colt’s job is to explore Blackreef, the island where he’s been trapped in an infinite respawn cycle, and learn as much about its leaders and technology as possible, in order to burn it all down. Blackreef is a retrofuturistic bubble populated by residents who split their time between partying and violently defending their consequence-free way of life, and Colt can either sneak or shoot his way through their ranks.
In action, Deathloop feels a lot like Dishonored (of course), with a chaser of We Happy Few and Quadrilateral Cowboy. It’s mechanically mature and narratively dense, but best of all, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Deathloop is one of the few first-person action games that I can successfully play in stealth mode, silently taking down enemies, hacking turrets and sniping from the rooftops in order to stay alive. Usually with games like this — I’m thinking Deus Ex and Far Cry — I intend to play stealthily, but it doesn’t work out. I get too close to an enemy, or miss my headshot, or forget about that security camera, and I end up just throwing a grenade and emptying my magazine, recklessly running into danger.
Deathloop invites the kind of stealth that I can sustain. The environments are endlessly climbable, offering plenty of vantage points for Colt to survey and mark his enemies, tracking their movements and revealing the kinds of weapons they’re carrying. If something in Deathloop looks scalable, it likely is, opening up the game world in all directions. Additionally, if I accidentally alert the enemies in one location, I don’t feel like I have to abandon my plans and roll in guns blazing. Generally speaking, I can find some cover, pick off the folks that follow me, and return to the rest of the mission in stealth mode. My favorite weapons in these moments are the Tribunal and the PT-6 Spiker, both of which are silent and deliver instant-kill headshots.
I’d like to blame the success of Deathloop’s stealth mechanics on my own skills or the masterful sense of level design coming out of Arkane Studios, but it might just be the game’s hit-or-miss AI. There are times it feels too easy to sneak up on enemies, and moments when they fail to react appropriately to Colt’s presence, standing still for seconds too long, piling up in hallways or ignoring nearby scuffles. It’s not every encounter, and there are still plenty of moments when I’m bested by the NPCs, but it’s enough that I’d classify the enemy AI in Deathloop as OK, rather than good.