Disco Elysium Review
You wake up in a seedy hostel, naked, head thumping, and no recollection of the previous night’s events. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was playing Disco Elysium or living a day in Jimmy’s shoes. A few more minutes pass and I soon realised that this is definitely Disco Elysium, mainly due to the fact that you are not a complete piece of shit. This is an interesting introduction to the game, especially as you soon discover that you hold a role as an authority figure… you just can’t remember it!
There is more to Disco Elysium than excessive drinking, taking drugs, and telling strangers to go fuck themselves. Well, slightly more. You play the role of a Detective from the 41 precinct that has been assigned the task of solving a murder, that’s it! The problem is you don’t remember ANYTHING, and unlike Jimmy’s usual Saturday night/Sunday morning antics, the memories don’t come flooding back. You don’t know your name, where you are, why you are there, and to make matters worse, you have lost your only figures of power; your gun and badge. Lucky another precinct has sent a Lieutenant to help solve the case, Lieutenant Kim Kitsuragi. Is Kim there to actually help you solve the case? or does he have another motive, such as to show up your precinct? or perhaps something even worse…
Disco Elysium isn’t your traditional RPG, in fact it’s quite the opposite; There is no combat, you don’t have incredible super powers (although, the boy can drink and take drugs like very few can), and there is more reading involved in Disco Elysium than the complete works of Shakespeare. Rather, Disco Elysium is all about attention to detail, thinking about your actions, and thinking outside of the box, essentially it is a detective RPG. It’s engaging 30-hour story is full of incredible and engaging writing, an art that is lost in the current age of video games. All this combines perfectly with a unique character development matrix that makes each skill point feel more and more valuable as you progress, and soon enough you will forget that you are playing a game that is essentially point and click!
You are good at your job, very good once you figure out what EXACTLY it is you do. Developer ZA/UM have done an amazing job in creating a variety of ways you can play the game, meaning that you are not burdened with your first impression of an overweight, drug and alcohol abusing old man in his underwear as the game’s main protagonist. Despite this, I kept with this theme as I am all too familiar with this stereotype; expressing my inner Jimmy if you will. I continued to portray my character as a rude, arrogant,
corrupt‘pushing the rules’ kind of cop, but the options are near endless. Do you play a leading over-confident superstar cop? an arrogant know-it-all cop?, a friendly, smart, man-of-the-people’s type of cop? a macho physically intimidating cop? or combination, a cocktail if you will, of these traits and adapt your play style based on the path and people you encounter? These character developments and traits effect how the game progresses – Some characters will feel threatened and give in physical intimidation, while other people will respond with their own form of violence (I found out the hard way). Sometimes you will be met with an obstacle that you cannot simple pass due to your build, this means you will have to continue exploring and find an alternative path, one that suits your build. This can be frustrating at times but oh is it satisfying when you lie find an alternative option. Your actions do more than just impact that moment, some actions will unlock various thoughts in your Thought Cabinet. Think of the Thought Cabinet as a research tree, when you prompt a thought in-game such as whipping out your finger-shooters during a conversation, this will unlock the corresponding thought in your Thought Cabinet, such as Finger Pistols (9mm) in this case. These Thoughts can be researched to gain permanent stats at the cost of a skill point, for example Finger Pistols (9mm) will grant +1 Reaction Speed and +1 Suggestion when you have an empty hand so you can do your best Shooter McGavin impersonation at any given time!
These various character mechanics all combine with a truly engaging story, one that not only focuses on the murder case itself, but your inner turmoils thanks to your own consciousness. You will question yourself, fool yourself, argue with yourself; sometimes out loud as your consciousness does its best to prove that you are nothing more than a pile a shit and convince you to give up the case and just die. If your consciousness wins, then it is game over as you no longer have the will to live.
It can sometimes be difficult to maintain your morals as Disco Elysium explores several sensitive topics such as communism, homosexuality, corruption, unionised workforces, politics, rape, and of course, murder. This is no problem if you don’t have any morals and will say anything to get the job done, but there are times when you will have make some critical choices and even compromise them to get the job done.
Despite these sensitive topics, Disco Elysium has the candid ability to make you laugh, even when there is a serious underlying theme to the topic. Whenever I felt like a laugh, I would visit Cuno, an irrational kid with a serious attitude (and quite possibly a drug) problem. Cuno likes to refer to himself in the 3rd person and to quote the kid himself, “does not give a fuck”. Building relationships with almost everyone in Revachol is essential as this is the key to gathering information. A beneficial relationship doesn’t mean you have to be friendly or best friends, in some cases a hostile relationship is just as effective, as intimidation can be just as effective as solid friendship.
I previously mentioned the Thought Cabinet, one aspect of your character progression, the other is a skill matrix called your Character sheet and is somewhat common to traditional RPGs. This is where you assign your stats over four main classes – intellect, psyche, physique, and motorics. These classes lay the foundation for a total of 24 different skills, each reflecting how you intend to play the game. I entered the game with a ‘knowledge is power’ mentality, pumping stats and skills into intellect. Initially, this paid off; despite not knowing my age, where I was, or why I was there, my inner encyclopedia was able to provide factual information based on the conversations I was having. This was terrific, I was able to pinpoint the moment suspects were lying and catch them out instantly… If I wanted to. This in turn meant I neglected my physique, basically I was as intimidating as our local MEF TECH muscle, Chris. This became an issue when I met a man with a physique like Hulk Hogan as I couldn’t use my intellect to convince him to let me pass, despite this I took the physical option and decided to punch him… which I instantly regretted.
The game takes place in the fictional city of Revachol; a dark, gloomy, run-down city that is perfectly reflected by the games colour palette. Revachol is your typical shit hole; Crime is high, poverty is common (I may, or may not of contributed towards this), corruption is high (again, something I may or may not of partaken in) and the best part of it all is that no one cares, not one single person. Every person you encounter within Revachol is only looking out for themselves and is a reflection the city’s image- They’re rude, disrespectful, arrogant, and of course, hate cops. It is easy to drop down to their level and hurl abuse in return, which is exactly what I did. But there were a few times I felt bad for the person and being nice in return was not only rewarding in the game, but also mentally for myself, that’s how much Disco Elysium draws you into the game, very Disco indeed.
The actual city Revachol is not huge, in fact you initially feel somewhat limited to where you can explore, but as both days and the story progress you begin unlocking new and restricted areas, which is a shame as I couldn’t help but admire how good this game looks, I wanted to explore more! Sure, its isometric gameplay perspective may not appeal to everyone, especially when combined with a point and click approach, but if you can look past these mechanics then you’ll quickly begin to appreciate the unique art style and how much detail there is.
Disco Elysium a great game, no doubt. I knew this even before I played it, but to experience it myself was an absolute honour. I loved the variety of ways you can play the game, it’s the engaging story, and the insanely good writing is a real credit to everyone involved. Sure, I would have loved more voice acting, but as the game is basically interacting between a characters for 30 hours, to voice every line of dialogue with the ridiculous amounts of variable options within the game would been nearly impossible. Disco Elysium does what many other games cannot, make you enjoy reading. I wouldn’t spend 30 hours reading a book, but I would easily spend another 30 hours playing Disco Elysium, probably more. I especially found it refreshing that in this day and age where developers are constantly forcing gamers to play their game a specific way, Disco Elysium does the opposite – play the game exactly how you want to!
- GAMEPLAY - 87%87%
- GRAPHICS - 84%84%
- STORY - 97%97%
- AUDIO - 81%81%
Disco Elysium is a must play for any RPG fan – Its story and character development are some of the best writing you will come across in a video game. The nature of being a detective requires more attention to detail, which in return slows down the pace of the game and may distract some people from playing Disco Elysium, but for those of you who accept the case are in for one amazing journey!
For more on Disco Elysium, check out our previous coverage.