Every single morning, Deathloop’s protagonist Colt Vahn wakes up on a beach, surrounded by empty beer bottles. He’s reliving the same day over and over, along with all of the other residents of the Isle of Blackreef. He wants to break the time loop, but a mysterious woman named Julianna won’t let him. Julianna and Colt spend the game trading bullets and quips with each other. Their chemistry was my favorite part of the game — that is, until Deathloop’s ending left me cold.
Now that I’ve beaten the game and seen all of the possible endings, I wish I hadn’t. I miss the version of myself who was 90% of the way through the story, still intrigued by the possibilities and mysteries yet to unfold. Because Deathloop’s answers are either unsettling or unsatisfactory.
[Warning: The following contains full spoilers for Deathloop.]
If you played Deathloop, I bet you had a lot of the same questions I did. For example, why do Colt and Julianna retain their memories, while other residents of Blackreef don’t? Why did Colt begin Deathloop with a case of amnesia, even though in the past he apparently could retain memories? Why do Colt and Julianna run into duplicates of themselves from other timelines, when no other characters do, and their duplicates seem to exist outside of the time loop? Otherwise, shouldn’t the entire island be full of duplicates? How did Colt’s past self write all of those magical hovering messages for his future self to find? And why does Julianna hate him so much?
I wish someone had told me that Deathloop wasn’t going to answer all of these questions in a satisfactory way, because then I could have sat back and enjoyed the ride rather than trying to follow its bread crumbs. Now that I’ve beaten the game, I can’t get over the disparity between my intense satisfaction with my perfect end-game loadout and my dissatisfaction with the messy end-game storyline.
Breaking free of the loop in Deathloop requires Colt to kill all of the time loop’s leaders, called Visionaries, in the span of one day. This requires tricking each Visionary into showing up at the right place at the right time (to get murdered). It’s a puzzle box, and it’s satisfying to solve — but the narrative doesn’t wrap up nearly as well, since several puzzle pieces appear to be missing outright. I never got an answer to my question about Colt and Julianna’s duplicates, or Colt’s messages from his past self, or how Colt and Julianna retain memories. All I’ve got are some Reddit theories.
Then there’s the game’s big twist, which manages to be surprising while also failing to reveal anything fundamentally interesting about the game’s main characters: Julianna is Colt’s daughter. Deathloop makes this discovery unsettling, even if you guess it ahead of time, because Colt spends the first third of the game flirting with Julianna. From Back to the Future to Bioshock Infinite to 12 Minutes, science-fiction stories about time travel seem to love including the “oops, you’re related” trope. Combine that with the fact that Julianna’s mom is dead and Colt was an absent father, and you’ve got some type of archetype bingo.
Anyway, Colt assumes Julianna is his ex-girlfriend during their very first phone call (“We dated, didn’t we?”). Julianna doesn’t correct him, instead choosing to wait until he discovers a document that reveals he’s her father. The player may discover this after a couple of hours, or nearer to the end, like I did. That meant I got to hear a lot of flirtatious dialogue from Colt that became, retroactively, gross. Here’s one exchange, in which Julianna reveals that she knows the location of Colt’s apartment:
Julianna: Second floor?
Colt: Sounds like you’re angling for an invite.
Julianna: Ha. So you can show off your little beer tap again?
Colt: Different me. This one’s done talking to you.
The implication is that a “different” version of Colt did take Julianna to his apartment for a date night. What happened in reality? Who knows. Then there’s this conversation, which foreshadows that Colt abandoned Julianna, but doesn’t specify that it was more of a deadbeat dad situation than a romantic breakup:
Julianna: Which part [of the loop] do you have a problem with: the sense of security? Or commitment?
Colt: The part where everyone here’s an asshole.
Julianna: So you want to “walk out.” Your answer to everything, and everyone.
Colt: Somebody got hurt real bad …
After he discovers that Julianna is his daughter, Colt lets out a prolonged “Fuuuuuuckkk” (and so do I). When he talks to Julianna about it, she teases him for wanting to have sex with her:
Colt: Did you know you were my daughter when this started?
Julianna: Why does that matter?
Colt: Because not knowing — it makes me feel really weird!
Julianna: Haha. Because you thought we were gonna …?
Colt: Yeah! I mean, no!
Julianna: You thought so before the loop, too. You don’t remember that, do you?
Colt: Why would you do this?
Julianna: To horrify you. To make you suffer. Come on! It’s fun!
Julianna managed to horrify me, but I don’t know if her plan worked as well on her dad. Unlike Oedipus, Colt doesn’t seem to experience much suffering in the wake of this realization. You’d think this new information would make Colt more curious, more introspective, and more engaged in conversations with her. Instead, he seems to check out even more. Colt doesn’t remember Julianna or her mother Lila, yet he also seems bizarrely incurious about both of them, even upon learning that Julianna believes he abandoned Lila, who died of a mysterious illness.
So, Deathloop had forced me to inhabit a man who sexually harasses his own daughter, yet the story is written so that she’s the villain in that situation — the one who tricked him into doing it, as a form of eternal torture. (Women, am I right?) I figured this disgusting “twist” would at least have a narrative payoff, and as I completed the final loop, I prepared myself for a hackneyed scene about the pair’s father-daughter relationship triumphing against all odds. I also assumed that — even though I didn’t like how Julianna and Colt’s relationship had played out — I’d at least get some more cool details about Deathloop’s sci-fi world before the credits rolled. Instead, I got neither. The game’s final scenes are a couple of extremely brief head-scratchers that play out depending on whether you choose to kill Julianna, yourself, or neither.
If you choose to kill Julianna, Colt will scream at her corpse that she is a “fucking liar,” questioning what her “plan” was. I don’t know why he reacts this way. At this point, Colt can either re-enter the loop again, or he can kill himself and escape at last. If the latter, he’ll meet Julianna on the beach. She lifts a gun to his face; this time, his death would be permanent. But, sad and silent, she lowers her weapon and walks away. The implication is that he let her down one last time.
If you don’t kill Julianna or yourself, you re-enter the loop together and she interprets this moment as a truce. The game ends with an exchange that came off more awkward than heartwarming:
Colt: You can call me “Dad” if you want.
Julianna: Oooookay. Dad.
Colt: Okay, that’s, uh…
Julianna: Too weird.
Colt: Yeah, let’s not —
Julianna: Yeah, nope. [pause] Dad?
Colt: Stop. Please stop.
Even if they’re in a truce for now, it seems likely that Colt will forget his past again and the events of Deathloop will start over. That seems to be the implication of Julianna’s dialogue in the game already, since she refers to Colt having done all of this before. So, they’re both petty people who can’t grow or change. That isn’t a happy ending for either of them. Although, it is the only one where they try to be a family. In the other ending, where they finally break free of their toxic cycle, I can’t feel happy for them, because I don’t feel like I even understand them.
Again, why does Julianna even want to keep Colt in the loop, thereby preserving their relationship at its lowest point? Surely torturing him would get old after a few decades; I got tired of it after just a few hours. I expected her to grow — or, I thought, maybe Colt could change? But no, he remains focused on breaking the loop even though it’ll create even more of an emotional rift between himself and his daughter. We also don’t learn about the state of the world outside the loop, so we don’t know whether Julianna has a humane reason for keeping Colt trapped; she describes the rest of the world as “shit,” but doesn’t elaborate further (yet another mystery I mistakenly expected Deathloop would explain). We don’t even know much about who Lila was, even though her death supposedly motivates the main characters. If you’re going to shove a mom into a fridge, at least make it count!
At the outset of Deathloop, I thought it was simple, good fun: two assassins who probably dated each other, trying to kill each other. I didn’t need it to be any more complicated than that. And now here I am, turning over more and more questions in my mind, unable to break free of the implications. Why does one of the Colt duplicates have a mustache when all the other Colts have a beard? How can a beard grow in the loop? It doesn’t make any damn sense!
But I don’t want to torture myself forever. So I wrote this article in an attempt to exorcise it from my own memory. I can only hope that when I wake up tomorrow, it’s in a state of blissful ignorance. Maybe I do understand why Julianna wants to preserve the loop so bad. After all, whenever Colt asks her why he wants to break out, she can’t come up with a good answer, and obviously, he can’t either. At one point, she retorts: “Hard to hear your motivations over all that gunfire.” Deathloop may have aimed that line at itself.