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:
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.