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‘Deathloop’ is a captivating immersive sim. Here are others you’ll want to play.

(The Washington Post illustration; Bethesda, Square Enix)
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“Deathloop” is one of the most critically acclaimed games of the year. Of course it is, it’s an immersive sim — a genre that tends to get critical acclaim. If you’ve never heard that phrase before, the immersive sim genre is the product of a long, rich history of developers experimenting with the larger role-playing genre. It’s the kind of game that provides a virtual world — often viewed in the first-person perspective — filled with rules, character scripts and physics systems that react in real time to a player’s decisions.

An immersive sim world is always designed with rewarding player choice in mind. Infiltrating a castle, for example, has many routes, and some of them are only available to the player with the right set of unlockable abilities. Similarly, there are many great options for enjoying immersive sims, and we have some suggestions down below.

These games are famously hard to make. And compared to arena shooters like Call of Duty, which appeal to a broader audience, immersive sims don’t sell as well. As a result, they have become fewer and farther between over the years. Fans of the Deus Ex series have been disappointed in franchise developer Eidos-Montréal sitting on the series as it shifts focus to more mainstream franchises, like Disney’s Marvel superheroes with “Guardians of the Galaxy."

It’s not the first time the Deus Ex franchise has been shelved for a Disney product. Warren Spector, who made “Deus Ex” and coined the term “immersive sim” in his post-mortem essay of the groundbreaking game in 2000, has run into constant trouble funding his future projects. He later created the Nintendo Wii exclusive game “Epic Mickey” to bring in money, according to journalist Jason Schreier in his book “Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry.”

It’s no wonder, then, that the marketing for “Deathloop” focused more on the game’s style, action and superpowers. It wasn’t until the game released that it was revealed that Arkane’s latest title is still very much in line with its legacy as one of the few studios dedicated to the immersive sim genre.

Review: ‘Deathloop’ is an imperfect ode to games in 2021

Some immersive sims are still so immensely popular that many of these games likely need no introduction. If “Deathloop” is your first exposure to the genre, there are dozens of critically acclaimed and smartly designed games to sample from the last two decades, many of which remain easily accessible today.

All of Arkane’s past games

“Dishonored,” its sequel and “Prey” are obvious choices. The superpowers in “Deathloop” are inspired by those found in the Dishonored series, which itself was inspired by Spector’s “Thief” and “Deus Ex.” This is an especially good recommendation for anyone tired of gunplay, as they’ll have plenty of daggers and swords to use here.

And the labyrinthine Talos space station in “Prey” features Arkane’s onion-peeling design of its layered virtual worlds. Boxed in with ceilings and dark matter, the level designers make full use of each grid. If “Dishonored” has too much action for your taste, “Prey” is a slower-burn, science-fiction narrative. Imagine being the hero of Ridley Scott’s “Alien” with even less information and a glue gun instead of a flamethrower.

The Deus Ex series

The first “Deus Ex” was a milestone in video game narrative and design. It was not the first immersive sim, but it’s the game that coined the term and popularized the genre. It’s still available on PC and is absolutely a must-play for any student of video game history. Its sequel, “Invisible War,” was far smaller in scope because it was also designed for less powerful consoles at the time.

“Human Revolution” and “Mankind Divided,” both made by Eidos-Montréal, are fantastic, modern-era evolutions of the first game. This entire series is far closer to a role-playing game, complete with shops and living spaces to explore and rummage through. If “Cyberpunk 2077” left you disappointed, look to the Deus Ex series.

“Thief 2: The Metal Age”

Along with “Deus Ex,” the Thief series is among the most influential in the genre. While various studios have tried to recapture the magic, the sprawling sequel still holds up today. Level design had never been more ambitious, and even by modern standards, many maps pale in scale to the castles and estates of this 2000 release. Most stealth games owe a debt to this game in particular, and it’s rarely been surpassed to this day.

The BioShock series

Before “Deus Ex,” there was “System Shock,” a PC game that revolutionized first-person storytelling and narrative, even years before Valve released the first “Half-Life.” While the first game hasn’t aged well, its sequel went on to inspire countless games, including all of the aforementioned titles on this list as well as the BioShock series. BioShock was directed by Ken Levine, who also worked on “System Shock 2” and Spector’s Thief series.

These games are focused more on action, shooting and superpowers, and are probably the closest in spirit and aesthetic to “Deathloop,” right down to the retro-futurist artwork. The entire trilogy has been remastered for modern machines.

The Hitman series

Another child of Spector’s Thief series, this is one of the few (perhaps only) third-person immersive sims created. Rather than using the shadows, Hitman games encourage players to use social cues, including disguises, to infiltrate locations. If you enjoyed planning ahead and finding clues on how to find the perfect loop in “Deathloop,” you might want to check out this series, especially the recent modern trilogy. Hitman games have never been better.

The Elder Scrolls and Fallout series

Now we’re finally into fuzzier territory. Both probably need no introduction, as they’re the crown jewels of publisher Bethesda Softworks’s lineup. Both are solidly considered open-world role-playing games. But they also include many features of the immersive sim, from interacting with physical objects, all the way to areas and regions designed to be entered via multiple pathways. If, for some reason, you haven’t tried any of these and you’re looking for something more expansive (they’re multiple times larger than something like “Deathloop,” if not as tightly designed), every game in the series is worth a look. For the Fallout series, look to “Fallout 3” or later, when Bethesda took over the franchise.

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