by Sean Martin
reviewed on PC
Itís taken awhile to write up a review for Studio Za/umís introspective detective RPG, Disco Elysium. Thatís not because itís bad, on the contrary, I genuinely believe the game is an astonishing achievement and super innovative. Itís not that it defies description, because if you look around, there have been thousands of words written about it, discussing its politics, mechanics and unique setting, and as the years go on there will be thousands more. The reason it took so long is pressure. Disco Elysium is huge, containing some of the largest amounts of consistent writing, description and dialogue Iíve ever seen in a game, to the point that I was frequently astonished simply by playing it. Itís hard to do justice to a game that there is SO MUCH of but Iíll try explaining not just why Disco Elysium is so special, but why itís so special to me.
REVOLUTION IN REVACHOL
In Disco Elysium, you wake up as a nameless detective in a hotel room in Revachol, a city of tensions, a powder-keg ready to go off. For the next 50 or so hours, youíll work to unravel the mystery of a hanged man behind your hotel, the factions at play within the city, but also in tandem, to unravel who you are and change yourself if you donít like it. Disco Elysium is a detective game, but itís what Iíd refer to as an internal RPG. While most RPGs offer external development (magic, combat, stealth), Disco instead takes strong influence from pen and paper RPGs, giving you a skill tree which reflects your mental faculties, as well as The Thought Cabinet. This is essentially the aspect of suggestion, where someone presents your detective with an idea in conversation, such as communism, and youíll choose whether to internalize this idea (Often granting you a buff or debuff) via an investment of time and skill points. Itís a way of unravelling hidden memories but also for defining your character as a patchwork of chosen ideas.
CHORUS OF CONSCIOUSNESS
Whatís most important about internal focus is the way your mental faculties vocalize themselves. When conversing with one of Revacholís characters, an aspect of your consciousness will pipe up. If itís Encyclopedia, it could provide you with necessary contextual info, Empathy helps you understand someoneís position and Shivers may provide an almost supernatural aspect of understanding. How often these aspects pipe up depends upon on your skill level with each of them, or upon the collection of random clothing you have accumulated trawling through Revachol (Clothes can buff and debuff skill levels). In conversation, youíll have skill checks that are the equivalent of dice rolls. There are white skill checks that you can re-roll, and red, which are one time opportunities. The chance of successfully landing them depends upon your skill level in the attribute being tested.
DONíT MESS WITH KIM KITSURAGI
Revachol is a wonderfully varied city, filled with quirky characters, factions, ideas, and political philosophies. Itís a rich location, and as the detective, youíll absorb a good deal of this through text and dialogue. Disco Elysium is a heavily text-based game ó you run around the city completing various tasks but the huge amount of information is passed along via text. Iím not usually a big fan of lots of text in games but Disco manages to keep it both fresh and frequently funny. This often comes in the form of dialogue options, as your alcoholic, amnesiac character can act in absurd ways, and also from the arguments and interjections of your various mental faculties. It comes from surreal occurrences, which act as intrusive thoughts, such as talking to the body of a dead-man, or randomly kicking a post-box you think looked at you funny. But most of all, it comes from the fantastic character of Kim Kitsuragi, your partner. Kim is wonderfully dry, and acts as a hilarious balancing influence through all this crazy stuff.
A NEW RPG
It wouldnít be an overstatement to say Disco Elysium is a new breed of RPG. Itís a monumental achievement in terms of the writing, a literal novel in game form with incredibly consistent and hilarious writing. No other game Iíve seen has gone as far in representing the reality of consciousness: messy, intrusive, often surreal, but connected and insightful at the same time. Disco manages to represent feelings Iíve only ever had when Iíve been drunk when shivers especially channels unusual, almost out-of-body mental experiences that weíve all had at one point that relies heavily on the quality of the writing. Disco Elysium is not only the best game of this year in my opinion, but undoubtedly one of the best games of the decade.
Incredible inversion of typical RPG formula, fantastic characters and setting, the best representation of consciousness Iíve seen in a game.
None, itís a ten right?