Among the many fantasies that humanity has entertained, the conquest of time has been paramount, whether through time machines, freezing or inversion. If time is the big consumer, then those who control time control the universe. It is no wonder then that the wicked of Death loop have decided to take time for themselves.
Arkane Lyon’s latest sandbox adventure deploys time mechanics like no other game. The studio has created the equivalent of a finely tuned watch. And it truly is one of the most amazing video game experiences of my life.
Death loop is a first person time looping murder / puzzle game where time has become both trivial and everything. The player character Colt wakes up, with no memory, on the beach of a strange island. The island experiences a repeated day, with everyone – except Colt (and one other character) – performing the same actions. Colt wants to break this cycle and escape.
The island is controlled by eight wealthy and murderous assholes called Visionaries. Colt must assassinate the Eight before the end of the day to break the loop. The Visionaries are spread over four separate sandbox districts and over four time periods. Going from one neighborhood to another moves the day forward. However, while Colt is in a district, time stands still. I can take all the time I want to explore, which is essential for the deeply fascinating, intricate, and carefully crafted level design that Arkane is known for.
Add to that Julianna, a young woman determined to mock and murder and also encourage Colt. Like Colt, she remembers the previous loops. And she can show up at almost any time to ruin Colt’s plans. The most important part is that it can be controlled by other players, who can also upgrade it along a completely separate progression path. I wasn’t able to fully test this, given how few people were playing during the review period (and I had a significant delay playing on PlayStation 5 as well). But the few times that it worked were amazing. Playing as, essentially, the villain transforms the whole experience, and he’s a design genius. I can’t wait to live it to the fullest now that more people are playing.
At the heart of this game is Colt and Julianna’s relationship, and Jason E. Kelley’s and Ozioma Akagha’s performances, respectively, are astonishing. It’s also important to note that both playable characters are black, which is cause for celebration when there is a dearth of blacks represented as leads in big-budget media (and in particular, a lack of black characters. who are not gang members or criminals). Plus, Colt is a bit of a nutcase and a surprisingly surprising lead – he gets to sing sometimes, he loves to murder, and he’s bad at telling jokes. He’s your friend’s weird father. Even when Julianna threatens him, he doesn’t have the heart to be mean to her.
It is surprising and delicious that most Death loop is intelligence gathering, not murder. After all, with four visionaries still left at the end of the day, Colt hasn’t broken the loop. In other words: Death loop is Edge of tomorrow meets Hitman.
Colt gains access to several upgradeable weapons. While some of these are standard fare – pistols, SMGs, rifles – some Legendary variants are notable. My favorite is a pair of guns that can be stacked like two giant Lego bricks to form a rifle.
As is tradition with Arkane’s games, Colt also has access to otherworldly powers. Shift allows Colt to instantly cross a wide gap (that’s basically Dishonored’s Blink ability); another allows Colt to bind multiple enemies in such a way that killing one kills them all (similar to Domino in Dishonored 2). Mixing powers and weapons often leads to incredible moments. For example, after locating two visionaries surrounded by their minions, I used my bonding ability to bind the two targets to a lone guard. Killing him meant I shot them both instantly.
With hacking tools available and multiple entries for each building, Death loop is more than welcoming for more stealthy players. But it’s the first Arkane game that feels so good as a full-featured action shooter. In fact, an Arkane game has never been so enjoyable. I didn’t feel punished for breaking a stealthy approach, and some magical powers even encourage it. Colt can throw people in the air; he can go mad and get supernaturally strong.
Part of what makes gaming so smooth is that the studio has also fully embraced the PS5’s DualSense controller. Each weapon is unique; each power has its own feel. Colt’s footsteps sync up perfectly with the growl on either side. It’s an incredibly tactile experience.
In terms of aesthetics, Death loop has an original, albeit abandoned, spy theme from the 1960s. No one lives forever, but covered with rot. One neighborhood is essentially an amusement park, while another is adorned with snow and a giant, throbbing satellite network. None of this is to say how places change throughout the day: a car that was idling in the morning crashed into some windows in the afternoon; an open water vessel can be accessed later when ice has formed. While this is a rehearsal game, no indoor or outdoor location feels recycled.
One would expect the leveling up to be seamless on a next-gen console, but unfortunately the game has to connect to its servers every time. It only takes a few seconds, but it’s definitely a blow to the momentum sliding elsewhere. That is the price of an innovative multiplayer mode, I guess.
Another issue is the game’s odd reluctance to let me track information correctly or by myself. Colt has a table of murders, but it only gives me step-by-step tasks, not general information Colt obviously knows. The pre-mission planning menus are awkward, making it difficult to know where specific information is or even if it can be tracked. I found it easier to take my own notes.
Additionally, I had imagined that the game would ask me to plan the day of the eventual perfect murder (i.e., kill all targets before the day is over). Corn Death loop itself collects all the information and traces the path. I understand how this could avoid frustration for players who are not diligent note-takers. But it dampened my sense of satisfaction after paying attention every step of the way.
Death loop is a strange but wonderful beast. It’s a time management game where I built a precision killing machine to perform a carefully planned rampage. It is also the story of a man who discovers who he is and why he is being hunted down by a young woman who knows everything about him. Time is Colt’s prison, but also the source of his power.
But it was liberating to be completely free, to have carried out such silent devastation. In the end, I was impressed with the precision of Death loopthe goal of, the freedom and respect granted to me as a player, and the minimization – but not the complete removal – of frustration in a game that is all about repetition. The success with which Arkane has achieved all of this is a testament to the incredible talent and intelligence of the studio. No other studio makes you feel so smart, and none of their games have done it better.
Death loop released on September 14 for Windows PC and PlayStation 5. The game has been tested on PS5 using a preview download code provided by Bethesda Softworks. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find further information on Polygon’s ethics policy here.