Loopynarrative Resonance

So I’ve been digging into Deathloop lately, a new PS5 game that I’m playing because I now have a PS5. It’s a really rad game, the central idea being that you’re stuck in a time loop — like Groundhog Day or Palm Springs — and wanna get out. The twist is everyone on the island is also in a time loop and the only way out is by killing eight specific people over the course of one day. Also, a rival assassin is out to kill you (and she’s one of the eight you gotta kill), along with most everyone else on the island too. Basically, it’s Groundhog Day if everyone in Punxsutawney was a hedonist with a mild case of blood lust.

There’s a lot that I like about Deathloop. The setting’s great: a remote polar island with a 50s-70s retrofuturistic architecture that makes for a great playground. The island’s not too big that it feels like an undertaking unto itself, but rather one that feels knowable with enough and systems that you can slowly piece together your Perfect Plan to kill the eight visionaries, most of whom are quite clearly super-rich, privileged jerks (which makes your goal of taking them out even sweeter). Also really refreshing is that player character Colt and rival assassin Julianna are both Black and brilliantly written and voiced with wonderfully sarcastic banter. It’s all very much my jam.

It also doesn’t waste its central time loop concept, instead, it uses it as a way to integrate a lot of conventional video game tropes. You died? It’s alright, you have a magical slab that rewinds you. You died too many times? Guess what, you wake up on a beach again the morning before (because time loop!). Want some of the loot you’ve collected to carry over to the next day? You need to grab some Residuum to infuse it to stick around. You manage to kill Julianna when she hunts you? Oh, and there are multiple timelines too so a Julianna from another timeline might pop up to try and hunt you down.

Basically, the game uses its central idea to explain away a lot of ludonarrative dissonance, y’know, that thing where a game’s story and gameplay don’t always line up. I’m of the opinion that it’s not always a big deal (extra lives are a thing because the alternative is frustrating), but it’s always cool to see a video game tackle it and find ways to make it make sense. Death Stranding and BioShock: Infinite both find ways to justify extra lives in ways that make sense for the story (comparatively, I’m not entirely sold on Braid, but maybe I need to revisit it). I enjoy it when games use their medium as part of their story, and seeing a game like Deathloop not only tells a fun time loop story but integrates it so wholly into the gameplay itself that it really feels like a cohesive whole. It’s neat, it’s cool, and I wanna finish this essay so I can play more.

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