Deathloop may have been crowned as GamesRadar's GOTY, but you'll need to read our full ranking of the 25 best games of 2021 to see what else made the cut.
Deathloop is by no means perfect, but it is the most fun I've had with a video game this year.
It's ambitious and truly expansive. As creative as it is innovative, and as vibrant as it is varied. It's these qualities that make Deathloop standout as the best game of 2021. Developer Arkane Lyon has taken the languages used by first-person shooters and immersive sims and reinterpreted them for a new generation of play. The result is looping murder mystery that trusts players to figure out its intricacies on their own time, and with little direction.
Getting lost on Blackreef Isle isn't a problem, it's the entire point. The world is divided into four segments, as is the day that you're cycling through. You're encouraged to explore, experiment, and eventually expire. It's within this framework that the stage is set for Colt's escape from the carnage: assassinate eight Visionaries within a single loop and you might just wake to a different tomorrow. Die trying, and you'll be sent back to the beginning, armed with little more than the knowledge you've acquired along the way.
Of course, engineering the perfect cycle of assassination is easier said than done. Each Visionary walks their own path across separate corners of the world with little intended overlap. This group of genius billionaires and caustic creatives occupy their time with busy work, party planning, and frivolous rituals, operating individual routines that gradually transform from unknowable to predictable as you begin to internalise each's movements and motions.
It's as that shift begins to occur that Deathloop works its magic. By leaving you free to explore Updaam, Karl's Bay, Fristad Rock, and The Complex through morning, noon, afternoon, and night, you're able to instinctively formulate ways in which you can make their schedules align. This is key, because putting enough targets in one location – so that you can make the most of a single time and place before moving onto the next – is integral to success.
Break the loop
Deathloop gives you the space to develop theories and encourages you to test them in real-time – the consequences be damned. Throughout its opening hours, you'll rarely succeed but never do you feel like a failure. If you can't break the cycle by the time Aleksis Dorsey’s party draws to an end, as Ramblin' Frank's fireworks light up a night sky overlooking one of Arkane's most impressive and labyrinthian combat spaces to date, it's going to loop back around to morning anyway – there's no use crying over Colt's spilt blood.
I don't remember the innumerable lives I lived on Blackreef during my time with Deathloop, but I do remember the deaths. Sprinting through The Complex with the revolving Heritage shotgun in hand and a swarm of Eternalists surrounding me, dancing between bullets until one finally catches me in the torso. As I attempt to 'shift' up the craggy rocks that surround Charlie's Condition Detachment compound in Updaam, remembering an open window I can use to circumvent security, only to misjudge a jump and plummet to my death. How about the time I emerged from The Moxie victoriously, only to catch a slug from a Julianna I hadn't realized was lying in wait with an Aether slab equipped – back to the beach I go.
The way life and death unfolds in Deathloop is a sensation that isn't soon forgotten. Arkane works smartly to alleviate frustration throughout – impressive, given that light roguelike elements sit atop a first-person shooter framework and immersive sim foundation that inform Deathloop's basic rhythms. The studio's proficiency in building realistic worlds with honest characterization is evident here, as too is the experience gained through working on everything from Dishonored, to Prey, to Wolfenstein.
To say that Deathloop is a showcase of the power and potential of the PS5 does it a disservice. Even though it is exactly that; a true audio and visual achievement at the outset of a new generation, and a slick and confident shooter that has no comparison. Because it's the way Deathloop points the way to the future which deserves celebration. How it embraces experimentation and ingenuity in AAA design – a space of the industry that's proving to be more risk-averse than perhaps ever before, particularly in this environment of towering development costs and corrosive community blowback.
Throughout its history, Arkane has demonstrated that it understands the value of pushing back against popular convention. Deathloop succeeds because it outlines clear rules that govern its interlocked space and then spends 20 hours begging you to break them. Months after release, that's what has stuck with me. The freeform nature of play, and the ways in which you're able to push Deathloop – you're never able to break it, but it sure does feel good to try.
Deathloop rewards failure and celebrates experimentation. It suggests that success is in intermittent progression and celebrates the moments where your best-laid plans come crashing down around you. Deathloop is GamesRadar+'s best game of 2021; truth be told, nothing else even came close.
For more thoughts on Arkane's showstopper of an action game, read our full Deathloop review.