How the two games approach the unique 'Groundhog day' gameplay element
DEATHLOOP is a complex game - it takes complex ideas and attempts to present them to the audience in such a way to make them easily digestible by an audience, and it succeeds at this.
Weirdly though, it’s not the first game about timeloops to release this year, with it being one of three major releases that all use the mechanic in different and unique ways. If I was a smarter man, I'd be here talking to you about all three of those games and how they stack up to each other, and that was initially the plan, but like always I got side-tracked, I became distracted.
I thought about how one of my favorite games ever made is ALSO coincidentally about a timeloop. Talking about more than one timely game at a time would be too difficult for me, so I want to directly compare how Outer Wilds (one of my favorite games and one of the most beautiful captivating games ever created) and DEATHLOOP take different stances on the timeloop, and how each has a benefit compared directly to the other.
So the way that DEATHLOOP uses the time loop mechanic is quite different to other games that use a similar mechanic. It’s important to first off break down how it works, so here we go.
In DEATHLOOP, the basics of the mechanic is that you will always wake up on a beach, every single loop. It is always the first day of the time loop, but you’re given four slots of time to allocate to exploring four different locations.
If you visit one location at a certain time of day, you may have a chance to take out one of your targets, but if you visit the same location at a different time you could discover information that allows you to kill multiple targets in one location.
You retain information between loops so it’s extremely important for you to remember what’s important between loops and the method in which you got to your goal. You can only break the loop if you manage to kill all eight targets in one single day, meaning it’s utterly essential you explore every environment for clues and information to make your life easy - some even making it so you don’t need to go near your targets to defeat them.
While DEATHLOOP shares mechanics and thematic similarities with the likes of Outer Wilds, the similarities end there. Outer Wilds makes it so that you have a definitive ending to the end of each day, a sun going supernova and storming the universe in a light so bright it engulfs all.
DEATHLOOP simply…ends the day. Outer Wilds has a strict time-based system in which you have 22 minutes before the universe ends, 22 real world minutes in which to make your discoveries and to find out what the hell is happening around the world.
You explore different planets and keep track of various pieces of information you find, then the loop resets when you burn in the ether of eternity. DEATHLOOP has a stationary system in which you have four times of the day in which you can explore four different districts.
You can only pick one district per each time period (although you can revisit districts) and things shift in each district over the course of the day. One target may be in three different districts throughout the day, and it’s this that gives DEATHLOOP the uniqueness it boasts.
Your actions in one district have a direct impact on other time periods and districts, to the point you have to orchestrate the perfect one day killing spree, embracing your sociopathic tendencies even if only briefly. Mess one thing up and you’ll have to set up your loop again, you have the benefit of recalling your history and recent events but your targets do not.
Both systems have their merits and their downfalls. For example, DEATHLOOP sees the timeloop as more a tool than a huge element of the narrative.
Those who have played the game are probably reading this and cursing me from behind their screens, but hear me out here. DEATHLOOP does implement the loop in such a way that it has a narrative purpose behind it, but that purpose isn’t used to further the narrative like Outer Wilds does.
It’s the driving force behind your actions and your story, but not behind the mystery of the game. It never hides what it is, you always know that you’ve in a timeloop thanks to something that has been built on the island of Blackreef.
In a direct contrast to this, Outer Wilds is built upon the foundation of the timeloop. When you first take your tiny ship and rocket off your home planet, you don’t know that when you die in twenty-two short minutes, you’ll wake up back at your campfire and have to do it all over again.
When you do wake up again, you’ll quickly realise that there’s no real indication of when the loop is going to be over. You could time it out yourself, but if you’re like me then you’re too lazy and idiotic to do that.
Without direct access to the sun, and knowing which phase of supernova it’s going into, you’re stuck hoping against hope that you can finish what you’re doing before the end. To me, that feeling is special in a way that words almost cannot explain, but allow me to try my hand at it.
I have a fondness for DEATHLOOP. The way the characters are developed is fantastic, the story is engaging and moves at a rapid pace and the gun/stealth play is incredibly entertaining.
Regardless of this, I prefer the way in which Outer Wilds uses the timeloop. Sure, DEATHLOOP uses it well and both are brilliant games, but Outer Wilds is built around a central ticking clock and for me, the clock is everything.
I love how tense every single last minute is, how I’m trying harder and harder to squeeze one last bit of exploration until everything goes pitch black for a miniscule moment before exploding in a flurry of color.
Article by Ryan Easby
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