Disco Elysium (2019)
Here it is finally, a longer game that I've been meaning to review for weeks now! My timing's probably not great, as the "Final Cut" edition of this game is coming out just over a week from now bringing along with it new content. I'd purchased this game back in December, though, and had started playing it in February so I didn't know the new version was so close to release. Nonetheless, Disco Elysium was such an incredibly one-of-a-kind game with so many different outcomes possible that it's likely I'll play it again when the new version is released. Disco Elysium is an open-world roleplaying game where you play a detective solving a murder while also trying to to pick up the pieces of your own life. Disco Elysium is truly groundbreaking - it feels limitless in the amount of choices to be made and it takes you through every emotion, from crying of laughter to painful regret.
It's difficult to figure out how to describe this game, as it was such a full and thorough experience that it's hard to even introduce it. You begin the game by choosing a character type, which determines your stats and qualities. I chose the "sensitive" type, as it seemed the most applicable to me out of the options. You awake to a strange voice within you telling you the repercussions of "what you've done", then open your eyes to an absolutely trashed hotel room. Once you gather your clothing and make it out the room, you talk to people who seem to know you but your character has no idea who they are - or even who you. the protagonist, is. Not only does it appear that you have amnesia over the people and places around you, but you don't even seem to recognize how to basic human things in this world. It serves the purpose of introducing you to this unique world and how society works within it, as well as who you actually are - a cop sent here to solve a murder case. You meet Kim Kitsuragi, a detective from a different precinct who's been assigned to work with you and seems fairly unphased about the fact that you don't know who you are. He fills you in on the case you'll be working on together - a man has been hanged outside the hotel and you must figure out who's done it.
I do wish I'd played Disco Elysium at the peak of its popularity. I think I put it off for a long time for several reasons of why it didn't appeal to me - the protagonist is a cop, the art style is very grim, and it involves a wild amount of reading. All of those things didn't actually weigh negatively at all when I finally started playing it. Sometimes I did need a break from reading pages and pages of dialogue, but it was usually pretty interesting and hard to break away due to the way its written. What most surprised me most about this game was how much of an open world it is. So, even though there'd be parts with a lot of reading, right after that you could go explore the world freely, taking everything in without text. The world is a lot bigger and more rich than I expected it to be, there's so much detail to be found everywhere and with all the people you can talk to. The second thing I completely didn't expect about this game is how much I would actually laugh playing it. It's genuinely one of the funniest games I've ever played; it feels weird to say that because it's often such a dark game as well. I loved constantly disappointing Kim by doing some absolute nonsense and veering the case completely off the tracks through side-missions, such as searching for cryptids. I think being a cop sort of balanced itself out in the end because you can make yourself the most useless, most absolute mess of a cop there is, or, even the most anti-cop cop there is. Thanks to my decisions, my character turned out to best be described as "very apologetic communist cop". Also, this story takes place in a world where everyone is very openly anti-cop and often isn't afraid to say so to your face. The people who do see you as authority figures sort of "let" you say ridiculous shit and not question it, as well.
There's very little for me to criticize about Disco Elysium, but I'll say that the game would've felt a little bit smoother if I could've moved about the world with less clicking. You can run by double-clicking anywhere on the map, but when you need to travel a large distances you just have to keep doing that constantly. If you could zoom out of your view even more, you'd be able to click further away and let your character run from there. Also, with such a complex explanation given of the world you're in, it would've been helpful to have more visual aids. Yes, you have a helpful map of Martinaise, the city the game takes place in. However, you're told so much about about overall Revachol and Oranje and other places that it would really help to see those on zoomed out on a map as well. I respect the amount of intricate world-building that goes into this sort of abandoned, post-war impoverished Martinaise, and it's a world you really feel like you get to know, but maybe a timeline of events would help as well to sort of situate yourself within it. My understanding is that Disco Elysium is actually based on a book Robert Kurvitz - when this book gets translated to English, we may get to read, see, and further understand the details of this world.
As I mentioned above, the art style for Disco Elysium didn't appeal to me at first glance. It's a noir, gritty watercolor expressionism (I say this as someone who doesn't know that much about art), especially abstract in the way it depicts character profiles. At times, it's even grotesque and surreal, especially with the art shown for the "thought cabinets" you can unlock. This style grew on me over time, especially because the way the landscapes and environments were depicted all looked like beautiful, washed-out paintings. Character profile were also really interesting because of how strongly they could vary - some were truly bizarre depictions that barely seemed human, but depicted a certain emotion from that character. I realized some of the art in this game is better when you stare at it a little longer and unravel it a bit, like the profiles used for the each of the skills. The soundtrack carries a sort of consistent sadness throughout it, along with sounds that sort of remind you of revolution and of a calling to the people. Later in the game I became more in awe of the music in Disco Elysium, especially in the more fun parts and climatic scenes. The soundtrack can go from powerful and somber melodies (Burn, Baby, Burn is incredible) to making you want to get up and dance.
Strangely enough, I think Disco Elysium has inspired me to get into TTRPG (table-top role-playing games), which I really am not very familiar with at all. From what I understand, Disco Elysium is structured much like a D&D game, except in video game format and instead of a medieval fantasy setting, it takes place in a setting "inspired by the French Revolution". You can learn more about the approach the developers took and the ideas that spurred the making of the game in this article. Making decisions in this game is often determined by a dice roll showing if that attempt will be successful or not, depending on your stats and on prior accomplishments. I was at first scared of taking riskier opportunities, but later on in the game found it really fun to up my stats and wear certain gear to try my best at those rolls. I'd sometimes get incredibly lucky, and then once I also got a "failure" when I had a 97% success rate! Almost all of these can be retried, so it's fairly forgiving - plus, sometime the failed result is actually the better result to watch play out. The below video shows my "failed" attempt to sing karaoke, the part of the game that had me in tears laughing. These success and fail checkmarks definitely affected how the late-game events played out. I had to push myself not to reset the game on important check marks that I failed and just move on instead, taking whatever consequences may come from it.
Disco Elysium is unlike anything I've ever experienced in any media. It's been a while since I've gotten truly hooked on a video game like I was with this, unable to step away when I was closer to the end and unable to stop thinking about it when I wasn't playing. At night, I would think about the choices I made and how doing things differently could have saved someone. As someone who originally thought this game wouldn't appeal to them - I absolutely highly recommend it to anyone. Yes, it's a lot of reading and it is sort of harsh world, but it's also incredibly humorous and will take you on a ride of all kinds of emotions. Your game will likely differ slightly from mine just from the different choices and paths available, which is pretty exciting and makes me want to jump back into it myself.
Disco Elysium is available on PC and Apple Store (Final Cut coming soon to consoles)
Played on: PC
Playtime: 33 hrs