One of the two Detective-em-ups that showed great promise at EGX Rezzed 2018 was in the form of an isometric RPG. This is a genre that doesn’t typically appeal to a mainstream audience, but Disco Elysium utilises the format in the best way possible. The game is being developed by ZA/UM, a company founded in 2015 and based in London with a headquarters in Estonia.
Our demo begins by picking one of four preset characters, but even here the game immediately tests boundaries. The player governs a conversation with an individual known as Ancient Reptilian Brain, who speaks in a tone reminiscent of 80s metal rockers. It’s enjoyable to listen to and it was surprising to hear from developers that this was the actor’s debut.
It is revealed that this colourful character is actually within our characters’ mind: the primal, most basic part of the brain. It slowly unfolds that every part of the character’s skillset, thought process and memories interact with the player directly and actually speak to them. It’s a difficult concept to grasp, especially through writing, but it’s unique and works surprisingly well. The Perception skill, for example, provides you with an alternate choice of dialogue, rather than a logical choice.
It doesn’t make sense, but that’s part of the charm. As in real life, your brain’s processes aren’t always correct and they tempt the player to dabble on the side of insanity. Upon meeting characters you can blurt out politically incorrect statements because of observations made by your Perception. The game nudges you into a mindset that your character is unstable without forcing you to do anything, using humour and charming nonsense to draw you into its absurd world.
Instability aside, the game still operates as an RPG, so there are skill checks. For example, in our playthrough, our troubled detective was so hungover that when he encountered a hanging corpse, he threw up last night’s food and couldn’t go near the corpse without feeling he would do it again. Thus there was the additional task of curing his nausea. However, if the player had initially decided their detective was more hardy and vigilant, they wouldn’t have gone down that path. The success and failure of the skill check both equally immerse the player in the game and bring a personal experience of the detective that only that player is going to have.
So far, the story deftly mixes mystery and instability. The demo is a fantastically wild and enjoyable experience throughout. Although the games’ complicated concept may not make sense, Forge Games strongly recommends you check it out for yourself when it’s released.