Deathloop on PS5 is a fun shooter and a secretly great detective game

A screenshot of action in Deathloop on PS5.
(Image credit: Bethesda)

Deathloop makes information as important to you as a gun. You are functionally a detective in this PS5 and PC game, piecing together an avalanche of clues about the island of Blackreef and how your assassination targets behave over a single looping day.

This person does this thing at this time. These two characters are in the same location at this moment. If you reach this location in the morning, you may be able to affect the outcome of an event occurring later in the day. The game is just as much about compiling this intel as it is about shooting dudes in the face. 

Your character Colt has eight targets, called Visionaries, and they all need to die in a single day in order to break the loop. This same day and its events repeat endlessly – for you as a player, the day is broken down into morning, noon, afternoon and night. In one time period, you can explore one of four areas of Blackreef. When you leave that place, time moves forward. Locations change dramatically depending on the time of day. It is a chaotic tapestry of events that you are there to unpick, and at first, it feels utterly insurmountable. 

Then, you get better at it.

The not-so-sneaky approach

We've played seven hours of Deathloop so far on normal difficulty, and it's best to approach it without thinking too hard about games like Dishonored, which was developer Arkane Lyon's previous work. Yes, you can play this in stealth if you want – but good luck with that, at least in the early game. 

You can sneak behind enemies and kill them with your machete, and some areas make it easy to avoid enemies entirely. But without some of the tools and powers you get later on, stealth isn't as easy to pull off as it was in Dishonored. For most players, firefights will be inevitable.

Deathloop's power curve wants you to feel helpless at the start. It gives you guns that jam up easily – and when you die, you lose everything, in the classic roguelike style. The game feels like it's jonesing you to let go of the dream of a perfect stealth run (at least at first), and get your hands dirty as you figure out what this game is. 

But things soon change. You find better quality loot, like more powerful weapons and attachable trinkets. You eventually unlock Slabs, which are basically superpowers – Karnesis lets you fling enemies into objects, or each other, while Aether lets the user turn temporarily invisible. Most crucially, you unlock a resource called Residuum. If you have enough of this, you can spend it on your favorite weapons, Slabs or trinkets to save an entire loadout for future loops. You get three 'deaths' in Deathloop before your day ends, and if you can find your last dead body, you can retrieve its Residuum Dark Souls-style, or lose it if you die again. 

A screenshot of action in Deathloop on PS5.

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Here's the thing: Deathloop isn't really a roguelike. As soon as you have some cool abilities and you're holding on to your best guns between runs, you stop thinking about the day resetting as starting the game again. You instead begin to see Deathloop as an assassination game that just happens to be set in a time loop – there's tons of continuity between playthroughs, including missions to complete with firm objectives and a storyline, which offers a reassuring feeling of forward momentum. You just have to wait a few hours before you feel like you're making proper progress.

The detective part of this game rewards your curiosity. Your menu screens are absolutely packed with what the game calls 'Leads' – that is, clues that tell you about an event, or a Visionary, or even some tasty weapons you might want to get hold of. Information is power, and while at first Deathloop feels like it's plowing your menu screens with too much of it, eventually you start to piece things together. 

That methodical process of figuring out what to do next has been expertly designed, here. Arkane gives you the breadcrumb trail, but you have to follow it – and sometimes you'll find a way to kill a Visionary without knowing exactly how you'll make it happen yet. Connecting those dots eventually feels like pure magic.

Slay day

You'll get comfortable with killing Visionaries in this game. Hell, we've killed four of them. The big deal here isn't the act of assassinating them – you'll be able do that many times over in the game – it's about refining your approach to make that process as expedient as possible. Every lead, and everything you learn about the environment as a player, is taking you towards that goal. 

Bethesda and Arkane only want to talk about one Visionary at this preview stage – Harriet, who can be found in the dock-like area Karl's Bay. She's delivering a sermon, of sorts, inside an aircraft hangar, from within the chassis of an airplane cockpit to a room full of goons. You can try and assassinate her with a rifle from a walkway up high, but there are other, more careful ways to do the job. She will deploy poison gas in the hangar and retreat if you open fire and miss (yes, we're writing this from experience). The game always gives you a second chance to get your target, though, and crucially doesn't treat the all-guns approach like failure. 

In our playthrough, Harriet died because one of her guards was opening fire at us across the hangar from her safe room, and accidentally touched a tripwire – blowing up everyone in the safe room, including Harriet herself. Perhaps this wasn't Arkane's intended way for things to pan out, but the game considered it a valid approach. We had a back-up plan involving well-placed grenades if that didn't work in our favor.

But clearly, there's another smarter, quieter and more puzzle-minded way to do this, that we won't spoil here. The same multi-route approach applies to almost everything in Deathloop, from the way environments are laid out to the way you can just stumble on a lead while innocuously farming an area for Residuum.  

The game keeps things spicy with Julianna, an enemy who can gatecrash your game and kill Cole. She's probably most comparable to the Big Sister from BioShock 2: a sub-boss who turns up for a dramatic fight, seemingly at random. We're playing this preview build in single-player, so Julianna is an AI character, but you'll have the option to let real players invade your game or become her yourself at release – this has enormous potential. The reward for taking her out makes the duel worthwhile. We've killed Julianna three times, and it always adds some welcome (if often inconvenient) drama to Deathloop's levels.

Cycle of death

A screenshot of action in Deathloop on PS5.

(Image credit: Bethesda)

It's probably fair to describe Deathloop as a shooter with powers, and the guns do feel nice, with disposable enemies who are pretty good at circling Cole in a pinch. Like we say, encounters can feel messy early on, but you'll soon be hacking turrets for supporting fire, throwing enemies into walls and taking handfuls of guards down simultaneously. The PS5 controller's various noises and haptic functions are on overdrive, here, to add to the feel of movement and combat. 

Deathloop will eventually make you feel like a badass – but on its own time. 

Our guess is that the developers don't want you to play Deathloop in a binary stealth or action kind of way. They want you to slowly build up a mountain of stuff – weapons, powers and information – then refine as you go, gradually figuring out what your optimal Colt is. Things are going to get messy: you'll slaughter tons of people for one totally inefficient assassination, or die for a really silly reason and have to start the loop again. 

But you'll absolutely have fun figuring out your ideal approach to this cycle of death. If Deathloop has anything in common with Dishonored, it's that it proudly feels like it won't be for everyone – it's for patient players who absolutely do not want a game that will play itself for them. That clear invitation to figure out your way to play is why it has the potential to be the best game of the year. 

Crucially, if you really, really hated the way you botched your approach to assassinating one particular Visionary, it doesn't matter – you'll do it all again tomorrow anyway.

Deathloop releases on PS5 and PC on September 14

Samuel Roberts

Samuel is a PR Manager at game developer Frontier. Formerly TechRadar's Senior Entertainment Editor, he's an expert in Marvel, Star Wars, Netflix shows and general streaming stuff. Before his stint at TechRadar, he spent six years at PC Gamer. Samuel is also the co-host of the popular Back Page podcast, in which he details the trials and tribulations of being a games magazine editor – and attempts to justify his impulsive eBay games buying binges.