Here’s a most epic RPG, featuring a brilliant script and a unique detective experience with a total mess of a human being. Huzzah!
Become a Walking Disaster in Disco Elysium
Disco Elysium is from Studio ZA/UM, an eastern European indie team.
It’s available on Steam, PS4, PS5, and Stadia. It’ll also reach Xbox consoles and the Nintendo Switch later in 2021.
And what struck us right way about the excellent Disco Elysium (2019) was the dialogue. It was making us laugh consistently with its deadbeat absurdity, so we were most chuffed.
It’s like an intellectualised take on Charles Bukowski‘s drunken ranting.
Helen Hindpere was the writer for the game, who had little prior experience and had to adapt rapidly as the game was developed.
Her writing plays out like a comical nightmare, with lots of dark humour wrapped around one cop’s memory loss following a spectacularly drunken night.
Some of the exchanges you can have with other characters are so ridiculous it’s up there on Curse of Monkey Island levels of brilliance.
Although that’s how the game begins, the story develops in a manner that’s increasingly haunting and disturbing.
Disco Elysium starts off with your character coming to in a seedy motel room after a thunderous night of excessive drinking.
You’re in the city of Elysium, a fantastic realism concept not too far removed from Earth. But with a type of Blade Runner spin to it.
Although it’s clear your character is a police officer, the bedraggled bloke has lost his memory and proceeds to stumble about like an idiot.
Bewildered, you start piecing things together and asking unfortunate people you come across lunatic questions.
But your memory loss leaves you in a strange situation, asking these bizarre questions and confusing people around you. That’s where a lot of the humour comes from.
You’re joined by the highly professional Kim, who takes a lenient (even if through gritted teeth) stance to your unorthodox lifestyle and working methods.
Particularly as you’ve lost your police officer’s badge, gun, and it later transpires various other more important things during your drunken rampage.
Whilst trying to find that lot, you also have to solve a local murder. And that, dear reader, is the essence of Disco Elysium!
As a point and click adventure, you must tour around and quiz characters you come across. This helps you to gain clues and piece together the murder.
Where ZA/UM’s title stands out is with its extensive use of dialogue trees, lack of combat, and a morale system to keep your character alive.
Or to just indulge in quite crazy behaviour that convinces everyone around you that you’re out of your mind.
There’s also the Thought Cabinet, which you can add skill points to adapt his understanding of the world.
Heading into Disco Elysium, we’d heard great things about it. It won several Game of the Year awards in 2019.
And it didn’t disappoint, right from the go it had us intrigued, fascinated, laughing, and pretty enthralled in its story.
Alongside its excellent dialogue and story development, the flow of the gameplay has a strangely intuitive, otherworldly feel.
Just by talking to NPCs you kind of, in a bumbling way, find yourself progressing.
You’re piecing back together the career of a very drunken cop (you do eventually find out his name), saying outrageous things to strangers, all while wandering around in just your underwear. If you want. That’s not mandatory.
With its unique visual style and excellent soundtrack, we were pretty blown away by Disco Elysium.
We will note it’s not for everyone. There’s an enormous amount of dialogue in the title. ZA/UM released its Final Cut version in 2021 and that’s added voice acting to the script, which does alleviate some of reading burden.
It’s like wading through a novel, one packed with philosophical and socioeconomic complexities played out with hardened, nihilistic disdain for reality.
What it reminds us of is Moscow Stations (1969), Venedikt Yerofeev’s remarkably drunken tale of forgetfulness and intellectualising over cocktails containing brake fluid.
As what makes Disco Elysium so special is Helen Hindpere’s writing.
It had to be exceptional, otherwise the game would be dull to play. Instead it’s riveting, baffling, disconcerting, and full of an overriding melancholia.
As we often found ourselves, between laughing at our character’s depraved dialogue, reflecting on his obvious and deep sense of loss.
Quite the achievement, we think. If this looks like something you’d enjoy, don’t hesitate. Brace yourself for a moment, dive in, and enjoy the madness.
Disco Elysium’s Soundtrack
British Sea Power’s soundtrack has a real brooding sense of pathos about it. A very effective work it is, too.
English alternative band British Sea Power is responsible for it. The band has been active since 2000.
The above reminds us of a few FAR: Lone Sails numbers. That’s also another fantastic soundtrack (and game) with similar dystopic and existential themes.
In April 2020, the band won the BAFTA Game Awards for Best Music. So congrats to those English folks right there.