Get Disco Elysium Before Australia’s Guidelines Decide You Can’t

Get Disco Elysium Before Australia’s Guidelines Decide You Can’t
Image: Disco Elysium

I get a lot of emails. Too many. But out of all the emails I do receive, none of them were about Disco Elysium, which is a crying shame given it’s easily one of the three most interesting games I’ve played this year.

Released last week on PC, Disco Elysium is probably best described as an oldschool cRPG crossed with a LucasArts point-and-click detective adventure, if the whole thing was tripping out on acid and you were having a conversation with your tie.

It’s apparently been in the works for five years, which doesn’t really do much to underscore what a unusual, wonderful thing developers ZA/UM have created. It’s a police procedural adventure where much of the narrative is an ongoing unstable discourse inside your own head. It’s a deep RPG that’s more about roleplaying personality traits than min-maxing combat abilities, one that’s reliant on skill checks and the paths unlocked by the character of your character, rather than a bunch of systems that all inevitably feed back into some kind of simultaneous or turn-based combat.

But describing Disco Elysium really, really does it a disservice. So instead, here’s a much better synopsis of what you can expect from the game via some of the deeply weird shit that gets thrown at you within the first few hours.

I chose a character that was ‘sensitive’ rather than a custom-built character, which is a nice way of describing a dumb-arse who’s attuned to people’s emotional responses and the intuition of the paranormal, as opposed to any of the normal stuff you would expect a cop to have.

Like logic. Crime scene analysis. Actually conversing with other cops. Knowing basic shit about the world you live in, because my alcoholism is so strong that my inner voice likes to remind me every couple of hours that I’ll probably be dead within weeks. Or things like what my name is.

That’s right: you start the game so shitfaced that you can’t remember your own name, spending the first few hours basically flubbing your way through conversations trying to answer questions about it as little as possible. It’s like one of those work conversations where you can’t remember someone’s name, so you get really good at talking around it, except all of this is reliant on a cheeky 2d6 check.

This is how you start the game, after a completely batshit monologue with your “Ancient Reptilian Brain”.

Later on, after discovering that you trashed your apartment so much you threw one of your own shoes out the window, you head downstairs. There’s a microphone. And because I’m about as unstable as Twitch chat, the game kicks off an inner discussion about how you should just grab the mic and sign the saddest song imaginable.

There’s another woman hanging out in the cafe. She’s in a wheelchair. The game gives you the option to suggestively wink at her, at which point your own brain gently questions your own sanity:

You’re so disconnected from reality at this point that you can, if you desire, question others about what is money. You can also walk around saying “I am the law”, too.

After meeting up with a fellow cop and showing them your room, and their naturally horrified reaction, this is the kind of choice you get:

disco elysium

So, you’ve gotta pay for the damages somehow. Obviously, you’re not a rich bloke. So remember that lovely lady downstairs? Well, if you have no morals at all, you can ask her for her pendant and … just pawn it.

Throughout the game, you’ll be occupied with certain “thoughts”. You can internalise these. The first of which: Hobocop! The sad reality of a cop who trashed the living shit out of their hotel room while trying to solve a murder, and now you have nowhere to sleep.

There’s a bunch of union workers up the road locked out of their jobs. The strike’s being lead by someone called Measurehead, who has very strong thoughts about race equality. You can resolve this by internalising his brand of supremacism, if you don’t want to try and knock him out.

Measurehead also feels very strongly about disco. Very strongly.

For a game this offbeat, drugs and alcohol are very much a core part of gameplay. Maybe a little too much for the Australian classification guidelines.

One of the game’s early tasks is literally to just get pissed.

There are downsides to getting pissed, like having terrible hand-eye coordination. This cropped up in a chat with a couple of older folk playing a boules in a hole, a hole that was apparently too much for my brand of cop to manage.

Disco Elysium had no problem making my a particularly vivid image out of my failure.

At some point, not having your police badge — or gun — becomes a problem. Apparently people respect the police a lot less when they’re not convinced that you’re actually a cop. And since I couldn’t find it, I had to make the humiliating call into the precinct to let them know that I’d lost my badge.

The writing for this passage was great, and made even better when I said “fuck it” and decided to ask for money as well.

The game’s not afraid to shit on regular RPG tropes either. In fact, much of the gameplay really goes against the standard RPG grain for 2019, but I really enjoyed this tidbit that calls out the gamey-mechanics of RPGs and how people are trained to play them.

This is the first day of Disco Elysium. There’s so much more, and I haven’t even gotten into the individual characters, the actual mystery, or some of the tasks and things you have to do.

It’s available on Steam or GOG for $56.95. It’s hands down one of the best RPGs I’ve played since Divinity: Original Sin 2. It’s super text-heavy, but it’s also funny as hell, bizarre, and genuinely one of the most interesting games of the year. Get it, before someone makes the Classification Board send an email to Steam about the whole “drugs for health and gameplay bonuses” thing.


  • I shall take your advice if it hasn’t been pulled from sale by the time I get home from work. Alas, I had to skip 3/4 of the article since I like to go into games fresh but the first few and last paragraphs sounded interesting!

    On an upcoming games note, I wonder if any of the upcoming Vampire games will lean into the side effects of Vampires feeding off drug users to get high.

  • You do realise that alcohol and tobacco are not considered “drugs” under the Classification Guidelines. These are assessed under the classifiable element “Themes” – “Drug use and references are limited to illicit or proscribed drugs, and do not include references to tobacco and alcohol, which need to be included in THEMES. “

    • The actual encouragement to take cocaine and party drugs and the stat bonuses that go with it will definitely be OK then

      • Wait, I’m confused… (I’m not familiar with this game, just trying to clarify in my head). The article doesn’t mention taking cocaine and party drugs aside from a screenshot that is conversational. You do however mention consuming alcohol and tobacco and it’s affects, along with screenshots in the tutorial outlining the benefits associated with tobacco and alcohol use.

    • Alex tells tells the truth. The game gives you stat boosts when you take speed/meth/cocaine etc. At one point in the game you steal cocaine from an abusive father and then split the gram with his under age kid.

      The game is a masterpiece.

      • Thank you. This detail is missing from the article. It only mentions consuming alcohol and tobacco and it’s effects. Hence my comment.

    • While I feel like this game’s terrible lack of PR would probably be remedied in part by submitting a classification complaint (because getting banned always seems to help generate headlines), the sheer amount of work they would have to do to get it re-classified successfully feels like it would ultimately just result in killing off access to the game in Australia.

  • I am glad this managed to survive the classification board. It is truly unique and excellent.

    Hopefully this can act as justification for getting the classifications altered. Probably not though, that would imply some sort of common sense in regards to our ratings system.

    • Much like We Happy Few, I feel that the argument could be made that the game goes to great pains to regularly reinforce the fact that although developing a taste for narcotics may come with some short-term and highly-specialized benefits, it is also – at its heart – a genuinely self-destructive pursuit of ultimate oblivion.

  • reliant on a cheeky D12 check.

    It’s 2D6, it even show’s you the dice.

    Get your act together, is this what passes for games journalism these days? /s

  • I’ll just keep all my digital stores thinking I live elsewhere in the world so I don’t have to worry about our ratings board.

  • Despite being a wildly different setting, it feels like the worthiest successor to Planescape Torment there’s ever been. Theres a bunch of little things in the aesthetic, story beats and the way the reams of dialogue and description are handled that make me suspect that that game was a major inspiration.

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