There are two things that have stuck with me about Deathloop, but I’ll just focus on the one thing that it does that I haven’t experienced in other games; its unique cat-and-mouse take on PVP.
I’d say outright that it’s the defining feature of the game and what made it a special experience for me. It’s what made the bevy of system interactions all click into place.
It rewarded intimate knowledge of the intricately designed levels, from the static physical layouts to the dynamic differences that come with the time of day and whatever setup that was put into place from a previous level, such as the presence of certain Eternalists and Visionaries. For example, I enjoyed hacking the turrets and mines laid out by Egor for Colt in the Complex at night to turn the entire level into a death gauntlet for an invading Julianna.
I was more conscientious and experimental with my loadout. Specific slabs, weapons, and trinkets may be OP against the simple AI, but useless against a relatively unpredictable human player that is also wielding powerful gear, some might which directly counter what you have. If you’re playing as Colt, you also have the added challenge of knowing how to balance your loadout in such a way that lets you accomplish your PVE goals while dealing with, if not outright beating, a human opponent. It was particularly thrilling to use Aether, the invisibility slab, with the Ghost and Flicker upgrades that keep you invisible forever as long as you’re standing still and attacking only makes you shimmer for a second, in combination with the game’s one sniper rifle to hunker down and try to spot Colt without getting spotted whenever I’d invade as Julianna along the many rooftops of Updaam.
It made death real again. From the anxiety of losing progress as Colt to the pressure of only getting one shot as Julianna, the fear of dying made it so that tension ramped up considerably during an invasion. That tension was always powerful enough to keep me going through multiple half-hour-long invasions! Not to mention the mechanical considerations to be made, as Colt has three lives compared to Julianna’s one, which fed into my strategic and tactical decision-making. Bum-rushing is much more of a viable method for Colt when you’ve got lives to spare, whereas you’d have to be more measured as Julianna while accounting for Colt’s respawn locations and paths to his loot-filled corpse.
It reinforced Colt and Julianna’s strange relationship. The AI-controlled Julianna makes Julianna look as bad as the rest of Blackreef’s hapless residents that you can effortlessly toy with and run over. In turn, it renders a lot of the expertly delivered banter between her and Colt hollow, or at least so far removed from what actually happens in-game where she falls far short of what the narrative is selling her as.
Player-controlled Julianna, however, is that conniving, calculating, and chaotic wild card that has been killing Colt over and over for what seems like an eternity. I distinctly remember getting completely rag-dolled and riddled with bullets by a Karnesis expert Julianna on the final day, in a way that was reminiscent of cutscene Julianna making her appearance on the first day.
As Julianna, I came to witness how crafty and tenacious, and on the flip side, how timid and predictable Colt can be. There were Colts that were basically Solid Snake and finished their missions without me ever seeing them or snuck up silently behind me to impale me with a machete, Colts that got into ill-advised gunfights with me and a bunch of Eternalists, and Colts that carelessly tripped over mines I’ve strewn about objectives and health stations.
I understand why players don’t want to engage with the PVP in Deathloop, much like how the vast majority of Souls players don’t want to engage with player invasions. They want a single-player experience where they are in full control of how they engage with the game, which is largely disrupted by the presence of an uncontrollable second party that can be too stressful to handle or result in a lop-sided encounter that doesn’t feel fair or fun. I felt that way sometimes in Deathloop, and in a way I’m glad that invasions are opt-in with a toggle you can set in the options, as I’ve made use of it myself for sessions where I just wanted to accomplish specific objectives without additional pressure.
However, I do think it’s a bit of a shame that there’s probably a good chunk of people who were looking for a systems-driven, improvisational immersive sim experience in Deathloop but missed out on it by immediately opting out of player invasions, and instead only played through a way too hand-holdy and linear first-person shooter with little to no challenge or incentive to experiment.
I’ll eventually go back to it sometime in the future when I’ve mostly forgotten the solutions, and I’ll do the thing that some people recommend where you turn off all the objective markers and leads, so I can figure out things on my own and maybe have a better time with the “break the loop” portion of the game. The other thing that stuck with me is discovering all its strange secrets, which the game thankfully doesn’t hold your hand with. But I’m pre-emptively mourning the inevitability of the playerbase thinning out by then that invasions will be effectively gone.