Disco Elysium is a stunning exploration of a character’s inner psyche

Never in all my years of playing games have I had a clear picture of the character I’m playing but am also completely bewildered by what he’s about to do next.

Disco Elysium is some kind of sorcery. Magical wordplay that can be gripping, overwhelming, empowering, enraging and everything else in between. It’s a narrative tour de force that will probably spoil every RPG for you from this point forward.

RPGs have always been wordy. Often characters you meet will recite reams of text, talking, at length, about their religions, trying to convince you of their values, and maybe even persuade you to do a naughty deed or two. But those games often stop short of really exploring the inner psyche of your own character, diving deeper into thoughts and feelings, allowing you to articulate how you really feel.

In Disco Elysium, those conversations run much deeper, because everything you do is almost always attuned to one of your senses. Catch an overwhelming scent and it might cause you to throw up, or it may even heal you. Chat about politics and it could spring the historical side of your brain into action, or, if it gets a bit heated, kickstart your aggressive side into action.

Of course, the basics are still there like haggling prices with pawnbrokers, or using charisma and charm to get what you want, but dependent on where you spend your skill points, your conversations will play out quite differently. And there are many more actions locked behind particular traits.

As you might expect, these actions have consequences. Some people are already pissed at your character before you’ve even had a chance to speak and are just looking for a reason to really take things to the next level. That’s because your character doesn’t have the best reputation and has clearly been into some dark shit the night before the game begins.

So bad, in fact, you can’t remember any of it. And have managed to wake up in a total stupor, dressed in nothing but your pants, stumbling around the room, nearly having a heart attack trying to put a tie on. It’s harrowing.

Not many games have the desire to start your character at their absolute lowest point. Immediately exposing the audience to their vulnerabilities and none of their strengths. So often, we see games that begin with a character who has everything, only to lose it all and have to reclaim it.
In games, we often play as Kings, Queens, Legendary Explorers, skilled Martial Artists, and Grade A Students. But your character is none of those things, he doesn’t know his own name or remember that he’s actually a policeman on the force. When someone calls him one during conversations, he thinks they’re playing a practical joke on him.
How can he be a Police Officer without a badge or a gun? Unless…he lost them. And surely he’d remember his badge number or some of his previous cases or his training. Yet he doesn’t.
It starts to become more and more obvious you’re dealing with someone with serious issues. And even as a player, you’ll start to question who he really is and what on Earth you’ve got yourself in for.
The way Studio ZA/UM have handled these very difficult, challenging issues, though, is a testament to the game’s brilliant writing and fractured setting. This game will get under the skin, hit hard, and fill you with conflicted emotion. And you’ll find it almost impossible to resist.
That’s what surprised me most about Disco Elysium. I found myself laughing at the game’s biting wit at first, really impressed and blown away by just how detailed, thorough, and exploratory the writing is. But as I learned more about the character and the plot took darker twists, I found myself laughing less and at times, even became a bit uncomfortable and unnerved.
Disco Elysium will flip like a light switch as it tackles more powerful, poignant issues that really give you cause for reflection and consideration. And as your character starts to spiral into further uncertainty, coping with what’s real and what isn’t, it really starts to put you on the spot like no RPG ever has.

There’s no getting around the fact that your officer has the worst reputation among his peers. He has no respect from potential witnesses, and can scarcely recognise his own face. It’s a horrifying prospect that is really brought to the centre stage.

It’s down to you whether you try to change that perception, do your job the old fashioned way, and try to be good at it, or take other, less orthodox approaches which might help you find a breakthrough much quicker or tell a whole other story altogether.

Fortunately, you do have all the tools to do just that. You can set off certain strands of thought through the menus which let you digest certain pieces of information which might be needed to perform an action or converse with a certain character. Later on you can learn about some of your old cases, determining how they played out, ultimately shaping your character’s profile and backstory. There’s also sub-characters to converse with, to help you learn more about your plight and how to move forward.

It’s a question of how you use these resources and what you do with them. Which is why I feel Disco Elysium is a game that really tailors itself to you and becomes the game you want it to be, as opposed to just feeling like a game with several blanket responses with only a small set of outcomes.

Add to that, Disco Elysium is such a powerful game. One that every RPG fan needs to play. Rarely have I felt such a spectrum of emotion having just moved from Point A to Point B, but there’s always something to study, and some things can elicit deeper reactions than others, which in turn can tell you more about yourself or indeed others around you.

You’ll want to explore everything and then, when it’s over, you’ll want to do it all over again to see what other choices you could have made and what that does to the story. In Disco Elysium, your character simultaneously feels alive and scratching at clawing at death’s door and it’s the most stunning thing I’ve played in years.

Disco Elysium is now available on PC. Coming Soon to Consoles 

Reviewed on PC, supplied by PR Agency.

About the author

Jay Jones

Jay is a massive football fan - Manchester Utd in case you were wondering - and lover of gaming. He'll play just about anything, but his vice is definitely Ultimate Team.
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