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After nearly two years of looking on at my PC gaming friends with sickening envy, Disco Elysium has finally arrived on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. ZA/UM's much-celebrated psychedelic cop thriller is available now on Sony's consoles with a wealth of fresh content and adjustments, but was it worth the wait?
Yes. Yes it was. Having played through the adventure one and a half times now, I can say with confidence that Disco Elysium is one of the smartest, funniest, most genuinely surprising and staggeringly original video games I have ever experienced. Its move to console isn't without its problems, but its world and characters are absolutely worth fighting for - in every sense.
How best to describe Disco Elysium for those of you coming to it for the first time? It's essentially an isometric detective RPG that swaps out combat for puzzle solving and conversations. Think the original Fallout meets The Secret Of Monkey Island... with just a dash of L.A. Noire. If you're the kind of person who loves to play an RPG like Morrowind and see what manner of shit you can get in and out of just by talking, you'll love Disco Elysium. If the idea of a game with no combat or heavy action sounds like a nightmare, I'd urge you to give it a chance. Settle in, adjust to Disco Elysium's unique pace, and allow yourself to be swept up in its melancholy mystery.
The adventure begins with your detective's ancient reptilian brain and limbic system battling with whether or not you should wake up and deal with the aftermath of an apocalyptic night of drinking and disco music, and it's clear from the off Disco Elysium is something new. Like it or not, you'll have to wake them up eventually, staggering around a destroyed motel room as you attempt to to retrieve your clothes, the game's gorgeous painterly aesthetic a fitting representation of your character's fragile dreamlike state. It soon becomes clear that your character has drank so heavily that they have no memory at all. Their past, personality, ideologies, the case they've been sent to solve - all of it just gone, like whisky down a drain. Or raindrops in the ocean. Depends on your outlook.
You quickly learn that you were sent to town to solve the apparent murder and lynching of a mercenary. The how, why, where, and when of it all? That's for you to discover, obviously. As you explore the long-neglected neighbourhoods and complexes of Martinaise and converse with its many characters, you'll slowly unpick the twin mysteries of the grisly crime, and the kind of person your detective used to be. In both cases, there are some heartbreaking answers along the way.
The genius of this move is that it allows you to rebuild your sorry drunk cop from the ground up. As with any RPG, you'll create your own "build", putting points into various attributes. The twist in Disco Elysium is that these skill points go into different areas of your personality, which will in turn affect the kind of things you can say to people as well as how you see the world.
Investing in empathy, for example, might help you recognise that a young drug addict needs you to be kind and protective of them to get a straight answer that could aid the investigation. Alternatively, putting points into electrochemistry will simply encourage the more destructive part of your psyche to insist you ask that same addict where they get their gear and if you can have some. There are pros and cons to all of these areas, naturally. Electrochemistry can be useful for detecting things like certain narcotics, while empathy can lead you to put your trust in the wrong people and make some horrible decisions. As in life, not every thought that intrudes during conversation is particularly helpful, and it'll be up to you to work out when to listen to your brain's advice and when to steer clear.
Depending on where you put your points, you can be a Sherlock Holmes-style supergenius with absolutely zero compassion for other humans, a violent meathead, or a well-meaning but emotional idiot prone to imaginary arguments with inanimate objects. Those are just three options, by the way. No two playthroughs of Disco Elysium will be quite the same. Although the ultimate destination is always inevitable, the journey can be quite different. My first playthrough saw me as a straight-and-narrow cop trying to make up for his past. This new playthrough has me as an abrasive drunk that's more interested in karaoke than pulling down the dead body that's been hanging from a tree for the past week.
Disco Elysium is a very text-heavy adventure, so it's just as well that it's very possibly the best written game of all time. Ninety percent of the time you'll be talking to people, attempting to unravel the true nature of the world and the conflicts within it. How you respond to certain characters will of course have an impact on how others perceive you, and you'll find yourself locked in intense games of cat and mouse as you find ways to tease the truth out of the residents of Martinaise. Approach a character with the wrong information or say the wrong thing, and it can have devastating consequences in both the long and short term. There are typically other ways to access the locations or information you need, of course, but it may lead to you having to sacrifice your ideals... which in turn leads to further consequences.
The good news is that one of The Final Cut's big new additions is full voice acting for every character and aspect of your detective's psyche. Rather than a few brief lines that add a little personality to the world around you, you'll have even more of a sense of what each NPC is really about. Beyond that, some top-shelf performances simply allow the game's phenomenal writing to shine even more, giving Disco Elysium veterans a great excuse to jump in again. As if any were needed.
Speaking of sound, the game's excellent score, written and played by British Sea Power, doesn't so much play over the top of the game as ooze through every filthy crack and hole in Martinaise. It throbs and pulsates with the heavy machinery in the harbour, fizzling through the cold winter air to linger, barely noticeable, in the back of your mind. When combined with the voice acting, writing, and bleak expressionist aesthetic, the end result is what can only be described as a vibe. Martinaise has a tangible energy, a compelling and detailed history that few video game worlds can truly match.
Wandering the streets and piecing together the bigger picture is a delight, especially given that a good portion of the game's side cases and collectibles basically have a 50/50 chance of either helping lead you to a break in the main case or piss off your peers because you've been running around collecting crap in a plastic bag instead of solving an incredibly time-sensitive murder. Over the course of my first playthrough, I investigated reports of a curse, attempted to track down an old set of armour, and helped an old lady in her quest to find a mythical monster. I won't say which of those aided the case and which didn't.
As you can see, then, Disco Elysium: The Final Cut has a lot going for it. Unfortunately, the PlayStation 5 version has some teething problems to work out. It's quite often painfully obvious that this is a game that was designed to be used with a mouse. On PlayStation, the idea is that you use the left stick to walk around and the right to snap to points/objects/characters of interest and interact with them. That's the idea. In reality, it's fairly unresponsive, with many objects requiring you to be stood in just the right place before you can do anything - and even then, you might have to push the button more than once to get things going.
The game's wonderful voice acting also fails to trigger at certain points, which is a huge missed opportunity given the obvious amount of work that went into it. Oh, and there are glitches. From my playthrough, the game's fast travel (a new feature) refused to work when unlocked, and there were one or two crashes, as well as a couple of quests that I couldn't finish because I couldn't interact with the required item at all.
ZA/UM is aware of these issues and is already working on an update to deal with them. What it boils down to, then, is how much you want to play Disco Elysium and how much you think you'll get out of it even with a handful of current issues.
Personally, the glitches I encountered did very little - if anything - to detract from an experience that I have been waiting a very long time to play. Disco Elysium: The Final Cut is a game that had me on the edge of my seat with my knuckles clenched just as often as it made me laugh out loud or well up unexpectedly. It's a game that asks you to make some hard decisions and face challenging realities, all the while reminding us every step of the way that who we are today is much, much more important than the person we were the day before. It is, and I mean this without a whiff of hyperbole, a masterpiece. You need to play this game.
Pros: Outstanding writing, excellent performances, a compelling central mystery, and a fascinating, broken world
Cons: A handful of technical glitches and a bumpy framerate
For fans of: Fallout, Divinity: Original Sin II, L.A. Noire, Oddworld: Abe's Odyssey
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