The RPG genre is capable of nigh endless possibilities. There is no limit to the kinds of stories a developer can tell, and the player choices can lead to all kinds of emergent gameplay. If the designers put in the effort, it is possible for players to have unique experiences due to all the variables and options.
Disco Elysium uses the CRPG framework and adventure game elements to weave a very unusual tale set in the ceaselessly bleak city of Revochol. The player is cast as Harry, a defective detective who wakes up one morning after the mother of all benders. Having lost his memory from the wild night; he will not only have to solve a murder, but also try to remember who he is.
Every action Harry can take is at the mercy of the roll of the dice, but so is the game’s functionality. Disco Elysium: The Final Cut is a tragic conversion of a highly creative and intriguing adventure game featuring a huge cast of degenerates. This had a lot of potential of being a bonafide classic on PlayStation 4, but the released product is in utter shambles.
Disco Elysium: The Final Cut
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 (reviewed), PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, iOS, Google Stadia
Release Date: March 30, 2021
Price: $39.99 USD
Just by how Disco Elysium: The Final Cut boots up there are signs of trouble. The load times to get to the title screen and the file load are abnormally long; a tell tale sign of a poorly optimized game made with the Unity engine. The load times in general will be a constant irritant because of how frequent Harry and Lt. Kitsuragi will be entering and exiting various interiors and exteriors.
The tedious downtime from all the load screens ruin the pacing and mood of what could have been a very gripping and immersive mystery. Disco Elysium taxes even a beefy PlayStation 4 Pro, and though it is a low-spec indie game, the lack of resource budgeting makes the console run loud and hot from being in an almost constant state of having to load data.
Regretfully, Disco Elysium may not load everything properly. Sometimes critical interactables fail to load into Revochol, rendering progress impossible. This bug is very consistent across a wide cross section of PlayStation 4 users. The lucky ones are those who don’t get their save file corrupted.
Voice acting sometimes won’t load, and you’ll be forced to squint to read the microscopic text. This is preferable to getting locked into a conversation with no way to back out or reload, since the start screen is inaccessible while in a dialogue. It is one of the many bugs that may or may not have been patched as of this review. At this time of writing, we’re up to patch 1.7.
There are many instances of sputtering and frame skipping when beginning dialogues. The overall presentation is far too rough to get thoroughly immersed when things get interesting. It’s too bad, because Disco Elysium does legitimately have a fascinating and detailed world.
Like most CRPGs, Disco Elysium relies on pre-rendered background art to realize the setting. Unlike most pre-rendered backdrops, Disco Elysium‘s world is very expressive and painterly. The artists infused lots of grit, wear, and tear into every piece of Revochol. Places are decrepit and run down; just barely on the verge of needing to be demolished.
The art style is unlike anything seen in any game before it. Brush strokes are chaotic and boldly deliberate; always confidently applied. The messy illustrative aesthetics go a long way in setting the dystopian world. It is as if it was once beautiful, but decay and corruption ravaged the culture and soul of the city and its people who all look sickly and diseased.
Revochol is populated by weirdos, degenerates, perverts, addicts, and many classes of people who follow different political views. Most of the gameplay revolves around the protagonist engaging in conversations or questioning NPCs for information. This is where much of the role playing takes place and the player can craft Harry’s personality.
Even though he does have a legitimate past, like in Planescape: Torment, Harry’s amnesia serves as a vehicle for building the kind of man he is. There are hundreds-if not thousands of dialogue options to choose from, to gradually define who Harry is. Want to be a degenerate feminist? Disco Elysium provides the path.
Players who desire to be a psychotic drunk who beats kids will also get their kicks. Disco Elysium impressively is extremely flexible with the range of role playing options afforded. What makes this CRPG distinct from other role playing games is how it approaches stats.
Each of Harry’s stats function like a character who is also a voice in his head. Even certain aspects of his circulatory system, brain, and physiology are personified with their own personality; each one fighting over what Harry should or shouldn’t do. This is probably the most genius part of Disco Elysium, and how it can fully immerse the player into the role of a man who is broken beyond repair.
Players should also not be put off by the sad state of the protagonist, since he can become a functioning and reasonable authority figure. No matter what, the ideals you aim for will be challenged by the designers, and the situations they devise are worth considering.
For the most part, Disco Elysium does try to take shots at all ideologies and political stances… At first. The premise is left-wing, but only because the philosophical basis of the conflict is inherently based around Marxist ideas and concepts. This is a story about class struggle after all, and the player is cast as an authority figure.
While the developers do seem to try to depict all the bad sides of every political spectrum, they do also play devil’s advocate… Except for fascism. The writers do go great lengths to consider the merits of all philosophies except for anyone who cares about capitalism. As a result, Harry is forced to say the most inane things should anyone roleplay as an anti-socialist.
All actions and some dialogue is determined by a skill check and a dice roll. There is almost no limit to the kinds of shenanigans Harry and Kim can get into, so long as Harry can pass or fail a skill check. What Disco Elysium does differently from other RPGs is that failure is not just an option, but sometimes the preferred outcome.
Failure is a major theme of the story, and it coats the buggy, unstable, and greasy veneer of the experience. By having failure incorporated into the RPG mechanics in such a way takes a little getting used to; because for the most part, we have all been conditioned to want to win.
Failing an action won’t always result in health or morale loss. Sometimes it means the investigation will go in a new direction, and Harry may get new objectives. This design increase the replay value in a big way by making most playthroughs have tons of options and possibilities.
Since Disco Elysium was ported from the PC, there was an attempt to make the controls work for a console controller. The developers barely tried, and left almost no options. Walking around with the left stick is fine, but interacting with anything requires to cycle through highlighted objects with the right stick.
The controls should have been designed where Harry can interact with the closest object to him. Instead, not only must players cycle to the desired highlighted interaction, but then must wait for Harry to auto-pathfind himself to the scripted location. This is made worse by a bug in the game that only registers inputs 50% of the time.
There is a good game in Disco Elysium: The Final Cut, but in its current state is barely functional; prone to soft locks and loss of progress. During the development of this review there had been seven updates to salvage the game, and many more are to come. It is still common to encounter game ending bugs that can make it impossible to complete.
There is a lot to like about Disco Elysium. Its unorthodox and detailed world is beautifully rendered, and the characters are excellently voiced. There is a ton of style that makes it appealing, but none of it matters if the current build is broken and unplayable.
Disco Elysium: The Final Cut was reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro using a review code provided by ZA/UM. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.