Point and click detective games have been done to death and often even a good story does not overcome the tedium of constantly walking to places and talking to people. But Disco Elysium brings something wonderfully refreshing to the genre. Instead of being about rubbing the right item on the right door, Disco Elysium looks internally to the power – and limitations – of the human mind.
In Disco Elysium, you play as a detective in the city of Revachol who has been tasked with solving a murder. Unfortunately, after a heavy night of drinking, your character has suffered total amnesia. You can’t remember your name, your mission, or even that you are a detective tasked with solving a murder.
While the amnesia concept seems old hat by now, it is utilized to surprising effect in Disco Elysium. Most games featuring an amnesia storyline use it as a crutch to allow others to explain the world to the main character. In Disco Elysium, your amnesia is both a mystery and a hindrance, actively hampering your investigation and the trust of your partner in you.
And then there’s the internal factor. Disco Elysium is much more concerned with what is happening inside the detective’s head than most other games I’ve seen. The game features 24 different traits with 12 of them being mental traits. Sometimes these traits will affect what you can do in the world while other times they affect thoughts that you’re capable of having.
For me, Disco Elysium’s biggest success was in the way it gamifies dialogue. There are the standard RPG elements where you roll dice to determine whether you intimidate or charm a person, though these rolls can be easier or harder depending on earlier actions or choices. Your chances of succeeding an intimidation check may be decreased if you said something childish earlier. And then there are the roles to determine whether you’re capable of even having a specific thought. These rolls can happen unprompted, indicating whether you succeeded or failed and giving you a corresponding narrative.
I loved some of these internal dialogues. The failure options tended to be amusing and would often make you wonder what your thoughts would have looked like if you succeeded. Additionally, failing some of these checks gives you even greater incentive to level up those mental skills. Some of these checks can even be performed again, giving you a reason to return to some of the same areas to see if you can figure it out now that you’re a better person.
And it’s a pretty good looking world to backtrack through. The game is designed to look almost like a painting, with dark smudges near the border of your screen and a focus on lighting your immediate area. The game is dripping with style. I personally loved the Hieronymus Bosch-esque design of the thought cabinet, with each thought appearing as a weird monstrosity.
The stunning visuals in this game combine with impressive sound design which beautifully conveys the downtrodden feel of Revachol. Additionally, the vast majority of the extensive dialogue in this game is voice acted by some marvelous talents. The dialogue never felt stiff or unrealistic – every character I met sounded like they were in a noire detective film.
The only complaints I have with the game are minor. The voice acting covers most of the dialogue, but it also makes the few moments of non-voiced dialogue feel weirdly out of place, like all the characters in a film suddenly stopped talking so they could think at each other.
It’s also difficult to not get frustrated at how stupid the main character is initially. Early on, your dialogue options range from making your character sound ridiculously stupid to making your character sound only mostly stupid. Fortunately, his idiocy abates a little over time and you get some interesting dialogue choices.
Overall, I loved Disco Elysium. I always felt like there was something I wanted to do or someone I wanted to talk to. Watching the protagonist think and learn and fight his own subconscious makes Disco Elysium a uniquely interesting game worth checking out.