The now classic time loop conceit hits PS5 and PC this month via action shooter/puzzler Deathloop. We spoke with the game’s narrative designer, Arkane Studios’ Bennett Smith, to learn more.
When asked for a quick story summation, Smith gives us enough to have us definitely hanging out to get playing.
“A man with no memory wakes up on an arctic island and discovers he’s trapped in a time loop. Worse, everyone on the island is trying to kill him. To escape he must figure out how to kill eight people, called the ‘Visionaries,’ in a single day or risk being trapped on the island forever.”
From what we’ve seen so far of Deathloop, we’ve got quite a Tarantino-meets-007 vibe. Smith doesn’t disagree.
“I can say that the ‘Tarantino-meets-007’ tone was extended to the characters and dialogue,” Smith admits. “Players will find this game hyper-violent, irreverent, and darkly humorous. The first scene in the game sets the tone, and the ride just gets crazier from there!”
“Players will find this game hyper-violent, irreverent, and darkly humorous.”
While no specific past games served as inspiration, the Deathloop design teams did look to their previous collective playing experience, including an indie classic.
“When I joined Arkane in July 2019, I had just completed Disco Elysium, and I was incredibly impressed with how they reinvigorated the classic and somewhat staid dialogue choice system,” enthuses Smith. “Although DE is a far different game, I was inspired to try to breathe that same kind of fresh life and perspective into an FPS/immersive sim.”
After the likes of Arkane’s Prey and the Dishonored games, with Deathloop Smith confides that the aim was to “lighten the tone a bit.”
“The narratives of both Prey and Dishonored are deeply interesting and complex explorations of the dark side of the human condition,” he says. “With Deathloop we wanted to try a slightly different direction, and inject more humour into the player experience. In many ways this was terra incognita for an Arkane game, but we’re proud of the final product and we think players will enjoy it too!”
While the shooting elements have been at the fore of promotion for Deathloop, we were keen to find out more about the puzzling side of the equation.
“There are two different types of puzzles in our game,” Smith tells us. “There’s the ‘macro’ puzzle of how to kill all the Visionaries in one day, and the ‘micro’ puzzles that exist all over Blackreef. These are mysteries waiting to be solved: three people arguing around a ticking box, a pleading chat left on a computer terminal, a cannon being assembled… Only by observing and interacting with these micro puzzles will players learn information and, sometimes, these discoveries can help inform how to solve the macro puzzle as well.”
Deathloop isn’t necessarily the sort of game in which you’d expect to find multiplayer, but Smith tells us about its clever system to get players socialising.
“Our player character, Colt, is constantly interacting with Julianna, the main antagonist,” Smith reveals. “Once the player kills the NPC Julianna, they’ll unlock the opportunity to play as Julianna and invade another player’s game. This also means other players can play as Julianna and invade your game (we do allow players to turn off this mechanic). Julianna has a unique ability called ‘Masquerade’ that allows her to swap appearances with anybody else on the map, allowing her to confuse and play tricks on Colt, among the other weapons and powers at her disposal.”
Ultimately, it’s all about delivering an enjoyable time, and Smith hopes that this is what players gain from the Deathloop experience.
“This past year has been pretty gnarly for our collective human experience, and I hope that players will have fun escaping to (and from!) Blackreef for a little while, kicking some ass with Colt.”
Deathloop releases on September 14 for PS5 and PC. Pre-order now at JB Hi-Fi.
We couldn’t let Smith go without finding out his all-time favourite time loop movie. We’ll let him get away with this one: “Back to the Future – not quite a time loop film, but I’d argue it’s in the same ballpark.”