A.I

If you liked Deathloop, you should read The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

As I wrapped up my current Deathloop playthrough, I was intensely reminded of a book I had just finished — Stuart Turton’s 2018 murder mystery best-seller The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. If you liked one, you just might like the other.

Though I’m not the first to make this comparison, I found the two echoed one another so closely because they mash up genres in an eerily similar way. Deathloop and The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle both combine time loops with murder mysteries — genres that are similarly dense with detail and encourage clue-finding. Plus, each category is enduringly popular on its own. Time loops are a science-fiction trope that’s littered across film, with Groundhog Day as the de facto icon of the genre, and many other examples since. Agatha Christie murder mysteries continue to be popular as well. Deathloop and The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle both pull from the best of these genres, creating something unique yet familiar.

Stitching together time loops and murder mysteries may not sound like the easiest marriage, but in Deathloop and Evelyn Hardcastle, they mesh extremely well. A murder mystery focuses more explicitly on whodunit, and it might dwell on characterization as much as clue-laying and tight plotting. A time loop story also requires meticulous plotting, but it’s often already a mystery, where the story might hinge on figuring out what trapped the characters in the first place. The meeting of the two is a maddening combo of “who” and “why,” and figuring it all out feels like watching several Inceptions nested inside one another. It shapes up into what I jokingly call “keep a notebook” entertainment, since both Deathloop and Evelyn Hardcastle require audiences to fastidiously fact-find in order to crack the puzzle.

Image: Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks via Polygon

[Ed. note: The rest of this article contains minor spoilers for Deathloop.]

Deathloop and Evelyn Hardcastle also have a similar setup. They both open by dropping the main character into an unfamiliar place, and then force that character to slowly learn the rules of the loop they’re trapped in. From there, the granular comparisons between the two stories only grow. They both hop around times of day and locations, both feature a Bioshock-like interlocutor, and both force the protagonist to interact with their past and future selves.

More than that, despite their different tonal notes, Deathloop and Evelyn Hardcastle have so much shared DNA in their narrative forms, though the former is a little more sci-fi dystopian Western, while the latter is a little more English mansion thriller. They both also share a heightened, sometimes maddening, level of complexity. Deathloop’s interwoven narratives hold the key to breaking the loop. What’s more, Deathloop doesn’t let players save mid-loop, which really hammers home the formal aspect of being forced to start all over upon death. At the same time, the mystery of who Colt and Julianna are, and what they’ve been up to on previous loops, looms over the entire enterprise.

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle finds its narrative propulsion from similar sources, but it allows you to be the passenger. Far from feeling like a more passive experience, the book offers an impressive number of characters to keep track of. It nests storylines within storylines, as the protagonist also wakes up across various locations and times of day — there are other wrinkles, which I won’t spoil here — finding clues and overhearing conversations. At its best, it too feels like a symphony of plot elements, where each detail somehow comes together by the end.

If finishing Deathloop has sent you into a spiral — and not the kind where you repeat the same day over and over again — The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle might be a good story to jump into next. Though I’m not sure I’d recommend consuming both back-to-back like I did. It might be good to give your brain a bit of a break first.

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