*Spoilers for several Deathloop puzzles*

You break into the VP’s office and find an electronic safe tucked under her desk. After hacking her computer and sifting through emails you finally find what you’re looking for: an email from the IT guy she’s having an affair with (scandalous) that reveals he wrote the safe combination on the bathroom mirror after their last, ahem, encounter. You head into the bathroom and turn on the hot water to steam up the mirror, revealing the code. You return to the safe and open it to find a stack of goodies. That’s a bingo.

If you’ve played a video game in the last decade, you’ve likely seen dozens of secrets just like this. While these kinds of exploration puzzles are most closely associated with immersive sims and RPGs like Skyrim, Fallout, Dishonored, and Prey, they’re also staples of action-horror games like The Last of Us and Resident Evil.

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Their prevalence can be attributed to the way in which they root the player in the game’s reality, making environments feel like places that exist outside of the moment. They’re an effective way of combining optional challenges with world-building that helps flesh out the story. But if I’m being honest, I think passcodes written on whiteboards and grimy bathroom mirrors are becoming a bit stale.

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Don’t get me wrong, I love snooping through work emails as much as the next guy, but there’s only so many ways you can hide a four-digit code before it starts to feel like pandering. What was conceived of as an immersive way to present locks and keys is now a derivative trope, becoming more and more conventional with each new iteration. Finding locker combos just doesn’t have the same magic that it used to, no matter how cleverly the digits are hidden.

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Thankfully Deathloop has a fresh approach to these puzzles. Its time loop structure, and perhaps more importantly, the way it handles the passage of time, opens it up to all kinds of new ways to hide codes and doors. There are still plenty of safes with combinations hastily written on nearby scraps of paper, but Deathloop puts all of those “basic” secrets directly along the critical path. Arkane knows that players are plenty familiar with safecracking at this point, so all of the traditional locked door puzzles are just part of the main campaign. However, once you venture off the beaten path and start turning over stones around Blackreef, you’ll quickly discover just how deep and complex Deathloop’s secrets can be.

One of the simplest examples does a great job of demonstrating how Deathloop hides its secrets. If you visit Updaam in the morning, you’ll find a piece of a cannon staged next to the library. Return at noon, and you’ll see the cannon is now partially assembled. If you come back in the afternoon you’ll discover a pair of Eternalists hovering over the cannon. Get close and listen, and you’ll hear an Eternalist inside the cannon explaining that he’s found a trinket that will protect him from getting hurt just as his friends ignite the cannon and launch him into oblivion. Now, return the following afternoon and eliminate the Eternalists before they can set off the cannon. This time, you can approach the cannon and listen to the man inside start to panic that he’s stuck in the chamber and no one is letting him out. If you ignite the canon yourself, you’ll be in the perfect position to see where he lands. In the evening, you can head to Karl’s Bay and climb on top of Hangar 1 to find the trinket: Cat Fall, an upgrade that reduces fall damage.

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The cannon puzzle wouldn’t be possible in a game that doesn’t allow you to change the time of day like Deathloop does, but it doesn’t exactly rely on the time loop mechanic. Luckily, there are dozens of secrets that do. One of the earliest puzzles you’ll encounter can be found in an apartment in Updaam right above Juliana’s satellite. There, you’ll find a hookah connected to poison gas with a note explaining that only one of the three hookah hoses is safe to smoke from. If you come back later in the day, only one of the smokers will have survived and you’ll find one-third of a keycode to unlock a nearby door. To get the other two codes, you’ll need to reroute the poison so that a different smoker survives, then explore their apartment to find another piece of the code. You’ll need to reset the loop twice in order to get all three parts of the code, changing who lives and who dies in the hookah room each time.

Deathloop even finds new ways to make classic locked door puzzles feel brand new. While pursuing the Heritage Shotgun in Karl’s Bay, you’ll find yourself looking for a door combo in the Dawn of Reason building. The code is represented in four pictograms painted on the inside walls of the building, and just like the workshop lock in Resident Evil Village, you have to line up the pieces of the code by standing in the perfect spot and looking at the right angle. You only have a minute to find all these codes before the prize beyond the door explodes, so you’ll have to work quickly to figure things out. I failed on my first try, but memorized the code anyway so I could come back in the next loop and try again. Of course, the code changes every loop, as do the positions of all the pictograms around the room. Dishonored 2 changes some of the combos every replay, but only Deathloop can make those alterations canonical. The game explains why some things change from loop to loop, and the changing door combo in Dawn of Reason is an expression of that fact, as well as a way to maintain the puzzle’s challenge even with prior knowledge.

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Like more traditional immersive sims, unraveling these secrets requires that the player examine the world as if it was a real, lived-in place. But because time follows different rules in Deathloop, all of its puzzles have a layer of complexity we’ve never seen before. Deathloop’s secrets would only work in Deathloop, expanding the scope of exploration puzzles far beyond what Dishonored or Prey could ever offer. They’re Arkane’s best secrets yet, and proof that we’ve barely scratched the surface on video game locks and the hidden keys that open them.

Next: Deathloop: Super Shifty Guide - Where To Find The Giftys To Collect The Heritage Shotgun

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