Monday 4 April 2022

Disco Elysium: The Final Cut Review (Switch)

Originality may be somewhat dead in the games industry but every now and then you get something that manages to stitch things together in a unique enough way for it to seem like there is at least still some hope left. Disco Elysium is unlike anything else on Switch and, unless you are a fan of a handful of specific early CRPG Dungeons and Dragons games, probably unlike anything else you have ever played.

If there is a comparison to be made, its closest mirror would probably be Planetscape: Torment. But instead of being set in a fantastical ethereal realm this is a much gritter affair which walks the dark alleys of nihilistic Noir and dystopian societies. It also walks the line between CRPG and point and click adventure and you’ll need to be ready to read a serious amount of text to truly engage with the madness.

Viewed from an isometric perspective, you wake up in a wrecked hotel room (after a long trawl through your subconscious), with no memory about who you are or what you are doing. Gradually, you need to piece together who you are and what is going on. It’s soon revealed you are a police officer investigating a murder and it’s then up to the player to decide how they proceed through the game with numerous morally ambiguous options available.

There isn’t any real time combat in the game with most of the challenge coming from either hitting skill checks or working out how to get around the issue if you haven’t got the required stats. Skill checks are carried out with a traditional dice roll which is affected by a whole host of different areas which range from the obvious such as reflexes and charisma to the more obscure such as being able to tap into the ‘vibe’ of the surroundings.

When you come up to a skill check you will be given a percentage change to see if it will be completable for you. Green checks can be attempted multiple times as you level up and gain more skill, but red checks are one attempt only so will need careful consideration. Your other actions in the game can also add modifiers to the checks. Backing down from a character may result in a minus modifier with them if you must pass an authority check point for instance, while further investigation of crime scenes can give you plus modifiers when talking to people who try and avoid your questions. It does take a while to get used to, but the system works once you get it.

There’s much more going on here than a simple police investigation as well. As well as NPC’s you will often talk to different aspects of your characters own personality. Again, based on your skillset, at certain points elements of your mind or body will engage with you. This takes the form of various reactions to things people say or you find while investigating. It gives the game a weird psychedelic and surreal element so prepare yourself for some pretty high concept experiences as you chat with your central nervous system about the events of the day.

Don’t think you’ll be able to get away with skipping through the text either. You have two health bars, one physical and one which deals with your morale. Picking the wrong choice or failing certain checks can see either of these damaged so you’ll really need to be aware of what’s happening. Letting either bar drop to zero will result in your death so it’s also a good idea to have a supply of healing items on hand as things can sometimes come out of nowhere.

For a game that really seems like it should be on the PC it’s remarkable how well it has transitioned to the Switch. Even on the handheld, the text is readable, and the colours used within the text didn’t give us any colour blind related issues. You have direct control over your characters movement, so the lack of a mouse isn’t an issue and you can press a button to highlight interactable objects. That said, some these objects are quite small so you may need to keep an eye out when playing on the handheld screen. There’s also a checklist of tasks to keep you on track of what to do, which is handy as the game can get a bit obscure about how to progress your objectives at times. It all works remarkably well and once you get the hang of how the levelling system works it’s incredibly engaging.

Overall, Disco Elysium won’t be for everyone, but for those who want to engage with a dark and meticulously structed mystery this is unlike anything else out there. There is a lot of text and a lot of puzzle solving and critical thinking will be asked of the player but immerse yourself here and you may well find this turns out to be one of your favourite games of all time.

Overall 9/10

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