“If you have the urge to be a cop who talks about how all cops are pigs and the rich should be murdered, this is a game for you.”
DISCO ELYSIUM: THE FINAL CUT is not the greatest RPG of all time. That’s probably either Deus Ex, the patched Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines, or Fallout: New Vegas. It may not even be the greatest top down isometric RPG of all time, which is probably Planescape: Torment. It is, however, somewhere up there. Which means that this is one of the rare games I’m willing to give a 10 out of 10 in its remastered updated state over a nine despite the fact this is reserved for G.O.A.T (Greatest of All Time) games.
Now, this is perhaps not a 10 out of 10 for everyone. These kind of ratings systems are inherently subjective and some people may value graphics (which this doesn’t have photo-realistic), combat (of which there is none in the game), or storytelling (which is fantastic). This is the kind of game where you have Alignments except instead of Lawful Good versus Chaotic, it’s Fascism, Communism, Moralism (Christianity/Centrism), and Liberalism (Capitalism). If you have the urge to be a cop who talks about how all cops are pigs and the rich should be murdered, this is a game for you. It certainly was for me.
The premise is you are an unnamed detective who wakes up in a trashed hotel room with amnesia. Which is the premise of at least a couple of games I’ve played over the years. However, the reason for your amnesia is pretty easy to suss out in the first five minutes: you very obviously got black out drunk, took a bunch of drugs, and tried to kill yourself.
If you’re looking for the Chandler-esque twist that you didn’t then I am happy to report there isn’t one. You are, indeed, an incredible fuck up and such a bad person that losing all your memories may have actually been the best thing to happen to you. However, there’s a better police officer in the floor below you and he’s there to say you were sent to cut down a hung body five days ago that you’ve just left there to rot.
The tone of Disco Elysium is bleak and uncompromising in a way that I wouldn’t quite call grimdark because you can stubbornly insist on trying to clean yourself up, quit alcohol, quit drugs, and solve the case in the most professional manner possible. But I like the game makes it pretty clear that solving the murder doesn’t actually do much to make the world a better place. The problems are explicitly systematic, related to colonialism, and its most charitable interpretation of law enforcement is that they sometimes do their job if it’s not too difficult (and their job is the defense of property rather than people anyway).
This is THE game that “those people” on the internet should be hating on but I can’t imagine any reading enough of it’s million lines of dialogue to care. However, I’m going stop and give an achievement to any game which talks about how the fictional fantasy communists murdered all the fictional fantasy anarchists the moment they succeeded in their revolution against the old monarchy. It’s a deeply personal story you have ten in-game days to get everything together before the world falls apart.
Functionally, I shouldn’t be giving this game a ten out of ten because it does have a few minor flaws. The “dice rolling” system can be frustrating as it encourages save scumming if you want to be able to see all of the content. A lot of the difficulties also feel overly large for the tasks at hand. However, the game actually accommodates failure and failure is a theme throughout the game. There’s also usually a way to get around all of the difficulty barriers with clothing, drug, and alcohol modifiers. One of the most insidious things in the game is the fact that you can compensate for being a thorough wreck of a human being by doing more of the substance slowly killing you.
After all, what can you say about a game that can kill you in the first five minutes of the game by taking too-low Physical Stats and giving yourself a heart attack? Then you can end horribly dying by looking at your horrific face in the mirror without preparing yourself? Or try to flee without paying the bill, trip over a lady in a wheel chair, and die that way too? This is a wacky game and yet also full of pathos as well as fantastic world-building. The characters feel REAL and if I was to ever say there was a Breaking Bad of video games, this is probably it.
I also have to give props for its Dieselpunk setting. Dieselpunk is a pretty rare form of science fiction/fantasy and this isn’t quite properly that but its close enough for a definition. It’s a kind of alternative 1970s where radio is the king of technology, polaroids are a fantastic new technology, cars are still incredibly rare, and the fall of disco is our defective detective’s greatest regret (after, you know, being a waste abandoned by his wife).
The Final Cut adds voiced narration for all of the dialogue, extra quests, and other modifications that I can’t really comment on because I didn’t play the original version. I will say, though, Disco Elysium is awesome. It’s the only game I can think of that really does rival Planescape: Torment for being a sheer writing work of art. If you think I’m overpraising the game, remember the source. I’m an anarchist humorist who absolutely loves offbeat science fiction and fantasy. It’s a shame the world of Revachol is unlikely to get a sequel due to the behind-the-scenes drama involved with it. This is a one-of-a-kind game that deserves to be a franchise.