Some video games are best played as fast as possible. While games often encourage us to take our time and explore, there’s nothing like the thrill of seeing something that could normally take 10 hours to beat casually deconstructed and completed in 30 minutes. That’s the whole appeal of video game speedrunning, where players try to beat a game as fast as possible and nab world records.
Forget esports; speedrunning is gaming’s great spectator sport.
After playing four hours of Deathloop, my brain just keeps thinking about how much I want to see a runner tear it to shreds. The stylish first-person shooter, which lands on September 14 on PC and PlayStation5 as a timed console exclusive, is all about crafting the perfect speedrun. Players won’t zip through it on their first playthrough, but they’ll get a lesson in some of speedrunning’s most important skills by the end of the adventure.
Deathloop is built around a time loop, which has become a strangely popular premise in gaming in recent years. Players control Colt, an unwitting hero who finds himself trapped in a Groundhog Day-like scenario. Live, die, repeat. After an opening tutorial, the game lays its endgame out: Colt has one day to assassinate eight different “visionaries” hiding out in four locations. Kill one or two over the course of a day and the loop will just reset; it’s all or nothing.
The opening hours of the game are about gathering information. Colt starts with some leads laid out on a flowchart, which point him in the direction of each target. In one of my first loops, I decided to track down Harriet. A clue told me to check out a hangar, where she’d been spotted conducting some sort of cultish wellness session. While I found out her exact location, she was protected by locked doors. Instead of making the hit, I simply explored the space, collecting clues about her schedule and casing the joint.
Later in my session, I returned to the hangar with a newly discovered teleportation ability. While my first attempt to take her down had been slow and stealthy, this time was much different. I ran directly to her location, used my new upgrade to get through her security systems, and blasted her away. Over an hour of work and my successful assassinations was over in mere minutes. One down, seven to go.
It was a mini-lesson in speedrunning. People who can complete Super Mario Bros. in five minutes don’t learn how to do it overnight. They have to deconstruct the game, gathering every little piece of intel on each level. It’s a process known as routing, where every little action is boiled down to a science to save the most time. Every jump has a specific timing and purpose.
That’s how I felt as I returned to the hangar for my assassination. I knew what rooftops to climb onto to avoid being detected or what gaps I could dash across to save time. I was no world record holder, but I was confident that my time to kill would only go down further on the next loop.
Deathloop is entirely about routing, and not just in its individual assassinations. In order to kill all eight visionaries and break the loop, players will need to slowly map out the perfect route. That means knowing where each target will be during the day (which breaks down into four chunks: Morning, noon, evening, and night) and working out an order of operations. Who should I go after in the morning? How many visionaries can I take down in one area? Is it possible to kill two birds with one stone?
After four hours, I’m still in that routing phase. Every run gives me new information, allowing me to optimize future attempts. Sometimes I follow a lead to a scripted event that’s built to give me a perfect opportunity, à la Hitman. Other times, I accidentally catch a target completely off guard and stealth kill them in a random room. It’s a process of trial and error, like a Mario player running through world 1-1 over and over to test each pixel for the perfect jump.
I don’t know how long a successful run of Deathloop will take. That’s what has me so excited. I can’t wait to see how much time a dozen or more hours of work will boil down to when all is said and done. Can I take every visionary down in 30 minutes? And if I can, how fast will a proper speedrunner be able to do it? I’m already imagining tuning into Games Done Quick this January and seeing someone armed with all the necessary information complete the game in under 10 minutes.
What’s especially fun about that idea is that Deathloop is still full of variables. Door codes and other number-based puzzles randomize, so players can’t just memorize a list of digits. A “perfect” run will still require some fast legwork as players rush to pick up documents as fast as possible. There’s also the whole multiplayer aspect of the game, where players can be invaded by someone controlling the antagonistic Juliana, which I’ve yet to see in action. All of these little factors could turn Deathloop into the most exciting speed game of 2021, for runners and spectators alike.
Deathloop launches on September 14 for PC and PlayStation 5, where it will be a timed console exclusive.