You’re trapped on an island, reliving the same day over and over, and you’re one of the very few who seem to realize it. Do you embrace the absurdity of the situation and take advantage of the time loop? Or do you do everything in your power to put a stop to the loop and escape the island? The main characters in Arkane’s Deathloop, Colt and Julianna, find themselves in the same situation, but they opt to take opposing paths. While Julianna is having the time of her life on the island, reliving every day and treating the experience like a never-ending party, Colt wants to break the loop and escape by any means necessary. Unfortunately, only one of them can get their way.
As you might imagine, players control how the conflict between Colt and Julianna plays out, as you can choose to take control of either character. If you choose Colt, you replay the same day to formulate and execute the perfect plan to break the loop. If you choose Julianna, you invade other players’ games as the guardian of the loop and do your best to disrupt their attempts to break everything Julianna has worked for.
The Captain Awakens
Colt wakes up every morning with a terrible headache; he made the awful decision to drink heavily the night before entering the time loop, giving him a daily hangover. While memory loss is a somewhat common symptom of prior binge-drinking, Colt suffers from something far worse; he doesn’t remember his past or, really, much about himself at all. What he does remember, however, is the events of the previous loops, making him one of seemingly two people who carry their memories forward after each time loop reset.
Julianna is one of the first people Colt meets when he wakes up on the island for the first time. She mysteriously seems to know a lot more about him than he does about her. Colt has no idea why he’s on the island or what the island even is, but he soon begins to learn more about himself as Julianna talks to him over the radio and, eventually, in the flesh. “She is his nemesis, his antagonist,” game director Dinga Bakaba says. “She’s is at every turn waiting for him in ambush. She is taunting him over the radio, teasing him with tidbits of information about the mystery of the island, but not revealing stuff directly to him.”
This situation spells a waking nightmare for him. “He’s in a s—ty situation,” Bakaba says. “I mean, he wakes up with a hangover every single day. That’s a rough way to start the day. On top of that, everyone on the island is trying to kill him, including Julianna, who is being very crafty about how to kill him. He’s really in a dire situation and I think he sees something that Julianna doesn’t see.”
All of these people on the island know they’re in a time loop, but they don’t realize it’s the same day over and over; they all think they’re waking up on the first day of the loop every day. Colt thinks that’s no way to live and begins to feel sorry for them, even though they’re all trying to kill him (at Julianna’s orders). He desperately wants to escape so that he may begin to once again piece together his life. In order to do that, he has to figure out a way to break the loop.
To break the loop, Colt figures out he needs to assassinate the eight Visionaries on the island within a single day. There’s a very specific way to do that, so to be successful, it will require trial and error over the course of several loops. Of course, even Colt figures out the perfect plan for taking out the targets in the right order, the best-laid plans can quickly go downhill when you have a big target on your own back, with another assassin waiting to ambush you at any moment.
Julianna wants to preserve the loop, which means trying to stop Colt. Despite being very serious about her mission, she goes about it in a fun way, poking at Colt and having fun at his expense. Julianna views the whole time loop experience as harmless fun, and Colt’s steadfast desire to ruin the party for everyone else tells her she has to put a stop to him. “She really sees him as the ultimate party pooper,” Bakaba says. “He’s trying to ruin everything that the AEON program worked toward for years.”
Not only does Julianna think Colt is trying to ruin the fun for everyone else, but also that he’s being ungrateful and squandering the opportunity for himself. “The way she sees it, Colt is being handed over the best gift in existence; you know, never dying, no consequences, the opportunity to be your best self-ad infinitum,” Bakaba says. “And he’s just saying, ‘No, I want out.’ She really just cannot reconcile that. Not only can she not accept it because if he manages to do that, he will ruin not only her fun but her work and her goals, and her philosophy. But, I think she’s quite enjoying the hunt.”
Because Colt and Julianna are seemingly the only two who remember the events after the time loop’s reset each day, the two become increasingly familiar with one another. The banter between the two borders on teasing and joking, but the hostile tension persists as the two simultaneously works toward opposing goals.
Even though she gets on his nerves and is, quite literally, trying to kill him, Julianna is the one person Colt can talk to. “There is a very interesting dynamic between the two characters,” Bakaba says. “She seems to have quite an interest in him, not only in stopping him, but she wants him to keep trying even though she will do everything to prevent him from accomplishing his goals of breaking the loop. I think they are both fascinated by each other to some extent. It doesn’t immediately show on Julianna’s side.”
This dynamic leads to nuanced interactions between the two, giving their relationship more layers than the antagonistic relationships typical of entertainment media. “I would say they are ‘best enemies’ because there is definitely some connection between the two,” Bakaba says. “They will sometimes laugh at the same jokes, they will sometimes just talk about their situations, but most of the time, they have radically opposing views on the situation and radically opposing goals. It’s an interesting dynamic and they are both full of surprises, so it’s never boring to hear them interact.”
One of the more interesting things Julianna does to Colt is begin each day announcing to every inhabitant on the island that Colt is a traitor and should be killed on sight. Julianna wants Colt to fail in his mission, but according to narrative director Bennett Smith, there’s more at play than simply wanting Colt stopped.
“That’s part of her method of making it more fun,” Smith says. “When Colt is put under pressure, he overcomes the obstacles that are before him, just like a player would. The player gets more powers or guns or whatever, and gets more skilled in the mechanics of the game. They become better at what they do, which is killing people usually, and fighting her, making it more challenging for her. She sets you up at a disadvantage from very early on. She’s like, ‘Everyone go kill Colt!’ Colt has to navigate around this obstacle.”
But is there more to it than that? Hearing that Julianna wants Colt to get better and better so that it’s a greater challenge for her is all well and good, but is she testing and training him for a greater task? Is there more at play than Julianna’s initially evident motivations would have you believe? We’ll have to wait until the full game’s release to get a solid answer, but Smith says that early on, Julianna tells Colt she wants him to get better at killing.
“She pretty much stated that to him pretty early on,” Smith says. “She says to him something to the effect of, ‘Chop, chop! Let’s Go! I want you to be good, so go kill these guys and then come talk to me again.’ But of course, she can show up and kill you, so that’s kind of the fun part of it.”
Art director Sébastien Mitton credits the work of Smith, who leveraged his experience working with actors in Los Angeles, for getting the most out of Colt and Julianna’s interactions. “I love the dialogue between Colt and Julianna, and how Colt reacts to some events around him.,” Mitton says. “There are insults, but it’s all interesting. It’s not just random swear words; something’s really happening between Colt and Julianna, and of course, each character in the environment.”
Killing in Style
The visual design of each character reflects their personalities. For Mitton, the main references for Colt’s design were actor Lee Marvin as he appeared in the 1967 film Point Blank, and Kurt Russell in The Thing and Escape from New York, with a twist of Tarantino inspiration for good measure.
Despite his assumed military background, Colt sports a leather jacket that’s more retro military-inspired than ripped straight from the ranks of any branch of the armed forces. His jacket crackles and reflects light as you move through the world, and he sports gloves that recall Mitton’s days as a Harley Davidson rider. While Colt has his signature look, his mood is often shown through his wardrobe as well as his personality.
“We have mad Colt and the Colt who’s a bit more depressive … you can see that through narration, but also on him and what he’s wearing,” Mitton says. “It’s really interesting because it goes back and forth between narration, design, visuals, and we’re each feeding each other until we get to a satisfying result for everyone.”
For Julianna, Mitton wanted to lean heavier into her personality with her design. Julianna is playful by nature, so it was important to have a design that reflects that. “She represents an eternal youth and work, as well; she worked really hard to keep her memory,” says Mitton. “She has a big library in her house and she works to preserve the loop. She’s the guardian.”
Julianna features several different looks, but Mitton says the team tried to remain true to the spirit of her character. “Even if we change her outfits and her clothing, we try to keep her characteristics and her psychological characteristics,” he says. “We don’t just make visual skins to have variation. We really want it to embody something.”
If you’re excited to see how it all plays out, Deathloop launches on PlayStation 5 and PC on May 21. For more in-depth looks at the upcoming Arkane title, check out our current issue and our coverage hub by clicking on the banner below.