You know what we need more of in games? Good old-fashioned hard-boiled detective work. It should show up in every game, really. When you kill someone in Overwatch you should have to investigate who did it, inevitably coming to the shocking conclusion that it was you. What were those Pikmin conspiring to do? Who punched this ? block? Solving mysteries makes for great gaming and Disco Elysium is a great example of that.
You wake up in a dingy hostel in the bad part of the city of Revachol. You’re not sure who you are, why you’re here and why your hangover is quite as bad as it is. It’s not long before you begin to piece things together, though: you’re a cop (ostensibly, anyway), you’re here to solve a murder (or try) and you apparently spend most of your time drinking. The memory loss is a problem, too, but right now the focus is on solving that murder and maybe grabbing a few more drinks while you’re at it.
You’ll create a detective all your own, investing points into an array of stats and skills. Disco Elysium’s closest relative is probably something like Planescape: Torment – there’s a big focus on verbose dialogue segments and little to no action to be found here. Your stats and skills are bent toward social interaction and investigation as a result rather than combat. It’s an interesting take on the concept, made even more interesting by the fact that excessively high levels of skills tend to compel your character to use those skills in situations where there may be better options. Specialization is a great way to get things done, but it’s also a great way to develop tunnel vision.
With that character assembled, you’ll embark into the world of Revachol, doing your best cop impersonation along the way. Our police hero is as clueless as they player thanks to some of that classic amnesia, so you’ll learn as they learn and make an ass out of themselves while doing so. There’s typically a variety of ways to address challenges based on your stats and skills, so your route through the game will be based on what you’ve chosen. As you have new experiences your character is able to ruminate on them, resulting in further adjustments to your attributes based on what you choose to focus on, and your gear and tools can provide further bonuses and maluses.
Games of this nature usually go for length rather than quality when it comes to writing, and Disco Elysium’s not necessarily free of this. Still, it hits far more often than it misses. The situations your cop finds himself in and the people he meets along the way are almost universally interesting. Sure, the game tries a little hard to be gonzo, but that’s par for the course in 2019 and Disco Elysium’s a little more honest about it than most. You’ll solve the curse of a haunted shopping district, discover the secrets of an abandoned game company and battle the ever-present threat of alcoholism within the first few hours.
Disco Elysium’s presentation is pretty gonzo as well. Revachol is a world both familiar and unfamiliar, so there’s plenty to explore and discover even when you think you might know what’s happening. The environments look crisp and clear and basically everything, from skills to items, has loads of browse-worthy flavor text. Incidentally, for a game with so much text it’s disappointing (but not surprising) that there’s plenty of typos strewn liberally about. That’s not the end of the world, but it’s a little annoying regardless.
Perhaps the best thing I can say about Disco Elysium is that it offers a lot of choice and intrigue in places where most games would only offer the illusion of choice. In particular, the ability to determine how your character feels, the opinions they hold and how they act is well fleshed-out where most games would just push you toward thinking as the developer thinks and paying them for the privilege. That’s high praise and it means that Disco Elysium is absolutely worth a look.