WORDPRESS: The text box is open in front of you, the cursor blinks slowly, prompting you with a seemingly simple question: What do you want to say about Disco Elysium?
LOGIC: Ah, simple. This is a review, all you need do is state, objectively, using facts and yours truly, whether the game can be considered good
VOLITION: It was good, you enjoyed it
LOGIC: Then write the following: “Disco Elysium is a game released for the PC in late 2019. It is good. Story 10. Gameplay 7. Graphics 9.”
SUGGESTION: Then add “Please consider buying this game”
AUTHORITY: No, too soft. You need to be more direct with the reader “BUY THIS GAME NOW”
HALF-LIGHT: “Do it. Asshole”
CONCEPTUALISATION: This is no way to write a review…
ESPRIT DE CORP: I concur. Real reviewers use phrases like “Disco Elysium makes you feel like Disco Elysium”
RHETORIC: We’re one hundred or so words in-
VISUAL CALCULUS: One-hundred and forty-nine to be exact
RHETORIC: -and yet no sign of anything approaching a conventional introduction. This is not a good way to make an argument
CONCEPTUALISATION: No, I was talking about that dry, meaningless statement of numbers and cliches. Disco Elysium is a wonderful game, surely one that could be considered Art. Could this review not also strive to be a piece of Art in itself, a transcendent piece of writing that encompasses themes, ideas and beauty?
LOGIC: Story, gameplay and graphics like I said
INLAND EMPIRE: My artistic friend is right! This review should stride out in search of new possibilities and ideas, just as the game does. Disco Elysium is a game that has you thinking about your next play through almost as soon as you’ve started, as you catch only a glimmer of its sprawling possibility space. If you had chosen that dialogue option, how might things have played out? How would your relationship with a local youth have progressed if you had pointed your gun at them? What kind of a cop are you? What kind of a cop could you be? Perhaps the Cerebral Cop, your mental abilities tuned to the highest level? Or why not place your points in brawn and roam the streets of Revachol as a creature of pure instinct, strength and brutality? With every conversation, every spontaneously kicked post-box, every book read you wonder how that could have played out if you were a different kind of man
EMPATHY: Speaking on behalf of the reader, I am completely lost. What is Disco Elysium?
ENCYCLOPEDIA: Glad you asked! Disco Elysium is a game released for the PC in late 2019.
LOGIC: I like this guy’s style!
ENCYCLOPEDIA: The player steps into the garish green snakeskin shoes of a police detective who awakens after a night, perhaps a lifetime, of heavy-drinking in a hotel room with no idea where he is, who he is or what he was doing before that point. It soon emerges that you are detective charged with investigating a murder in Martinase, a district in the subtly-fantastical city of Revachol. The victim is a security guard employed by a company currently embroiled in a dispute with the local dock worker’s union and a few nights previous he was hung from a tree. Your first task is simply to get him down, provided of course that you can pass the required skill check necessary to look at the body without throwing up
The skills are perhaps the first thing that distinguishes the game from similar RPGs. Instead of more typical skills like Dexterity, Attack, Persuasion and so on, in Disco Elysium you can put points into traits such as Empathy, Conceptualisation, Electrochemistry (broadly speaking your knowledge of drugs and drug culture)
ELECTROCHEMISTRY: Hey, that’s not fair man, I’m also the “sexual skill”
ENCYCLOPEDIA: Ahem, Electrochemistry, Visual Calculus (your ability to mentally reconstruct a crime scene) and Inland Empire (your imagination, which when sufficiently high lets you converse with inanimate objects). But these skills do not only determine what actions succeed. In a game already dense with text, your skills represent facets of your personality that speak to you and to each other. These characters in their own right offer their perspectives and observations on events, at times contradicting one another
WORDPRESS: Ahh, so thaaaatttt’s what all this is supposed to be, gotcha
COMPOSURE: Please stop. This is only going to end with embarrassment. Disco Elysium is near-universally praised for the quality of its writing, to attempt to imitate that style and to apply it to as navel-gazing a topic as the process of trying to write a review of it is to invite negative comparisons and ridicule
VOLITION: Don’t listen to him…
ENCYCLOPEDIA: As I was saying. Then there’s the Thought Cabinet, a collection of buffs, the “internalisation” of which gives you new opinions, philosophies and interests to incorporate in conversation
LOGIC: Please, logical objective Gamers need more specifics than this. What is the gameplay like?
ESPRIT DE CORPS: Is it “addicting”?
ENCYCLOPEDIA: Uh, well….
ESPRIT DE CORPS: “Immersive”?
ELECTROCHEMISTRY: I’ll say it, the game has precisely two mechanics. Clicking things to walk over to them and clicking things to decide what your character will do or say next. There’s is no action, at all, no tests of your reflexes, no time-pressure of any kind
REACTION SPEED: I’m wasting away here!
HAND-EYE COORDINATION: The challenge presented by not accidentally clicking the wrong dialogue option is minimal
HALF-LIGHT: You can’t even get in a real fight, to shoot someone you just click the option to do that when prompted and it rolls a dice
LOGIC: I see. A worrying development. The gameplay can be described negatively, therefore the gameplay is bad, therefore the game is bad. How disappointing
DRAMA: Hardly. While it is true that in some ways the gameplay is quite pared down, that does a disservice to the inventiveness and quality of the writing
EMPATHY: The sheer breath of ideas, characters and interactions on show make it easy to understand the game’s protracted development cycle
DRAMA: Any conversation can go any number of ways, as steered by the many different variations of player character builds, with some random chance thrown in in the form of skill checks and the personal whims of the player
INLAND EMPIRE: Possibilities abound! How might the Free Market Cop and the man known as Idiot Doom Spiral get along?
SENSE OF HUMOUR: It should also be noted that the game is very funny. In many cases it is almost a shame that, for the sake of making progress with the case, you leave certain, truly absurd dialogue options unsaid
REACTION SPEED: Wait a minute, there is no Sense Of Humour skill in the game!
SENSE OF HUMOUR: Oh, I know, I just couldn’t really see which of you best conveyed the concept but felt the review would be remiss without this point
CONCEPTUALISATION: Hmmm, the game is very humorous, in particular the dialogue options, yet none of your skills seem to particularly line up with a sense of humour. Is humour perhaps something deeper in the soul of the detective. Is it his true, innate essence. An interesting reading, to be sure. What has this to say about the animal we call “Man”?
CONCEPTUALISATION: Subscribe to my Patreon.
VISUAL CALCULUS: If I may interject, I don’t know if I’d agree that the game does nothing innovative gameplay wise. Perhaps I’m revealing an ignorance of certain existing games-
ENCYCLOPEDIA: We’ll see
VISUAL CALCULUS: – but in a time where choice and player agency in games and narratives is one of the exciting areas of innovation in the field, Disco Elysium may be the first major title that –
LOGIC: He means “major title that the author has played”
VISUAL CALCULUS: – that takes this concept to its extreme. The game stars a detective as several other do, but unlike others has the nerve to cast you as a detective who can fail. If you dismiss the generally solid practices suggested by your partner, Lieutenant Kim Kitsurugi, you could potentially ignore a valuable line of questioning or alienate a witness. If you fail certain checks your character could go through the rest of the game operating under false pretences. The author’s play through was twenty-eight hours long and seemingly quite thorough, yet certain details and motives remained unclear by the end
That said, the game does hold your hand at times: the player character or narration’s ability to perfectly recall minor details mentioned hours previously and connect them to current events provides many valued assists. No doubt most players are tipped off to certain lines of inquiry that they hadn’t considered due to the presence of questions relating to them in the dialogue options. That however, doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a true Detective RPG, one that rewards concentration and focusing on details as a way to guide keen sleuths through its maze of possibilities
ESPRIT DE CORPS: Disco Elysium really makes you feel like a detective
PAIN THRESHOLD: But that’s not all. Is it
VISUAL CALCULUS: Uhh….
DRAMA: He’s hiding something sire, a flaw he doesn’t want to admit
VISUAL CALCULUS: Fine. Yes. The game does fall afoul of the most obvious danger of trying to gamify solving a mystery, the possibility that the observant player can get ahead of the mystery, or at least see through some of the loops of the plot. Yes, there’s freedom. Yes there are possibilities –
INLAND EMPIRE: What if you put all you’re points into Authority? All that commanding presence. That power. But no way to conceive of how to apply it. How would the case progress then?
VISUAL CALCULUS: – yes very good. Where was I? Yes, there are possibilities, but some segments of the twisted noirish yarn ZA/UM have concocted have to follow a certain path. In the author’s play through, one detail mentioned by a witness immediately pointed away from the path the plot wanted you to take, pointed in fact to the truth, but seemingly no options were available to go toward it. Instead, the player must feign interest in what is clearly a dead-end for some time
PAIN THRESHOLD: YES! FLAWS TIME BABY! Let’s go! Where to begin? If new players take the secret route into the docks they can get stuck in that area with no way out. The normal way is to talk to one character who deals inescapable damage to you both physically and psychologically –
ENCYCLOPEDIA: He makes you sit in an uncomfortable chair and comments on what a screw up you are
PAIN THRESHOLD: Shut up, you had your turn. If the player isn’t levelled up and has no medicine on hand, there’s no way out of this and you must restart. And the game clearly expects you to exhaust the dialogue options with that guy early on, so if you get certain information a different way and return to him the conversation doesn’t make sense. Which probably wouldn’t happen if that guy wasn’t so far away from everyone else. That’s another thing. The walking around, yeah, the in-game clock doesn’t penalise you for it, but a lot of your time is spent walking back and forth across Martinase — that damn bridge!!!. And changing costumes
ENCYCLOPEDIA: Clothing confers different stat buffs
INLAND EMPIRE: A clever touch. Trying on different outfits lets you see both in terms of appearance and also personality, the kinds of cops (“copotypes”) you can be. Curious what a half-light heavy build plays like? Take it for a test drive with some fingerless gloves!
PAIN ENDURANCE: After locating the right item in your constantly rearranging inventory first! There’s no option to sort things or anything? And the thought cabinet. Most of the thoughts have a penalty and take a few in-game hours to activate, and cost skill points to remove, almost like the game wants you to just look them up online beforehand. And the experience points seem to be doled out at random during conversations
HAND-EYE COORDINATION: I demand a challenge in which to earn my skill points!
SAVOIR-FAIRE: Hey cool cats, just wanted to unharsh the vibe here by saying this is a veeerryyy savoir-faire game
DRAMA: He’s not, lying, exactly….
LOGIC: The author never put points into savoir-faire, so he has no real idea what savoir-faire is meant to be about
ENCYCLOPEDIA: Wikipedia defines savoir-faire as a “French noun phrase that means being adaptable and adroit, knowing what to do in any situation”
LOGIC: The author did put a lot of points into Encyclopedia early on during his first play through
CONCEPTUALISATION: These constant interruptions are intended to convey why this was a bad idea. Convey it, Artistically
INLAND EMPIRE: Imagine that though. The Savoir-Faire Cop…..
RHETORIC: PLEASE! A conclusion, a summation, anything! This review needs structure damnit!
COMPOSURE: I agree, this has gone on for far, far too long, please, at least finish this before the two-thousand five-hundred word mark
CONCEPTUALISATION: Disco Elysium is a rich text whose scale is hard to fathom. It is, if the player wishes it to be, the story of a man reckoning with his own past and trying to decide what sort of person he wants to be in the future. This grappling with his personal past is mirrored by his surroundings, a city with a dense but not forgotten history that, just like the detective, contains many different view points and ideologies struggling against one another. A must-play for those with the patience to engage with it
SAVOIR-FAIRE: I’m…. savoir-faire. Yeah, sorry, still nothing
SHIVERS: Like a good novel, enhanced with painterly visuals and distinctive soundtrack, Disco Elysium can raise the hairs on the back of your hand and catch your breath like the best of them
ESPRIT DE CORPS: If you liked The Haunted Island A Detective Frog Game you’ll love this!
ENCYCLOPEDIA: Interesting fact: Disco Elysium holds an average critic score of 91/100 on Metacritic based on 59 reviews
COMPOSURE: Disco Elysium is a video game, a game, and I refuse to debase myself by fawning over something that is descended from an electronic recreation of “pinged pong”
AUTHORITY: I refuse to debase myself by fawning over anything created by another person. Never give them the satisfaction, I say
DRAMA: From its opening moments set in the hazy world of semi-consciousness through its many detours, red-herrings and dramatic confrontations, Disco Elysium hooks players with its memorable characters, ever-evolving central mystery and inventive and playful prose.
INLAND EMPIRE: What kind of cop are you?
Screenshots taken from ZA/UM’s website