Disco Elysium originally released to critical acclaim and multiple Game of the Year awards on PC in 2019. Disco Elysium: The Final Cut aims to make it even better, with new Political Vision quests that were cut from the original game, more characters, a new area to explore, and full voice acting for all 300 characters – that’s more than 1.2 million words apparently. As it gradually proliferates across more platforms, starting with PlayStation and Stadia and with a free update for PC, more gamers can (and should) delve into this world.
Disco Elysium follows an amnesiac detective after a rather wild few nights of drinking as he tries to figure out who he is and what he’s done, whilst also solving a murder. It’s set in Martinaise, a poor, nearly forgotten part of a city called Revachol, where a socialist militia is the police and where people that call the actual police are considered snitches. The deep background to this setting and to many of the characters is flabbergasting, the history of Revachol and its political forces is extensive. The world is absolutely fascinating and rich with detail, which is only more impressive when you consider that, depending on how you play, you might not discover much of this background.
Disco Elysium resolves all of its conflicts through dialogue trees and skill checks – there’s no combat whatsoever. The player has a collection of 24 skills split into four categories, with each skill representing a part of the player character’s personality or skills. During conversations and interactions with the environment, these skills will decide not only how you respond and how successful you are when trying to do things, but how you experience everything as well. The Drama skill, for example, not only allows the player to lie more convincingly, but to tell when other people are lying as well. The Encyclopedia skill is your knowledge of the world, so with a high skill level, when a character mentions a detail about the world, you can get an explanation about what it means in the world and the option to go into deeper detail if it’s needed. At lower levels, however, you’ll have less information available to you which could very well result in you missing important details, saying something inflammatory, or just embarrassing yourself.
You’ll need to be careful of that, as embarrassing yourself can result in a game over, sending you back to your most recent save. The player not only has health, but also morale to look after. Early on I kept losing in a conversation because I stumbled into some troubling news for the player character and he’d take two hits to his morale, which gave me a game over screen explaining that he lost his mind and was later found living under a bridge and throwing faeces at passers-by. You’ll take hits to your morale when receiving bad news or failing to do something and you’ll lose health when you get physically hurt (of course), but thankfully you can improve both stats with skills or wearing certain clothes and use consumables to restore them.
Then there are checks on actions, like firing a gun, lying, or analysing a crime scene. These are percentage chances of success, with the chance being higher depending on your skills and other outside factors. These are split into white checks and red checks – if you fail a white check, you can try again later after you’ve increased the relevant skill, but you only get one try at a red check, so you’d best be careful. Checks aren’t necessarily important actions, they can be for anything, like grabbing a tie from a moving fan. They are affected by other elements as well – it’s easier to grab that tie if you turn the fan off first. Thing is, half the fun is finding out what happens when you fail these checks, as it plays out in the game. It doesn’t just fail and move on, you have to witness the failure.
Fail to flirt with someone, you’ll have to cringe/laugh your way through one of the dialogue options for failure, and the response to it. At one point I tried to establish my authority as a police officer over some suspects and failed, and ended up taking my partner’s gun and threatening to shoot myself if they didn’t give in. One of the options actually was to pull the trigger and, yes, it was obviously an instant game over. You can usually improve your chances of passing a check by doing things in the world as well, such as learning information from another source to help accuse somebody of lying to you.
All these systems combine to tell a story that’s at least as dark and mysterious as it is hilarious, and it’s nothing short of remarkable. The main narrative is incredibly deep, keeping its cards close to its chest whilst pointing at a nearby pack of Uno cards to try and distract you, but once revelations started coming in I was on the edge of my seat and hanging on every word. It might not be for the faint of heart, covering extremely mature topics, language, and vivid descriptions of rotting corpses, but its sense of humour and offbeat tone help soften it somewhat. This game probably won’t be for anyone that doesn’t enjoy lots of dialogue either, as that’s pretty much all of the game – The Final Cut’s new voice acting definitely helps in that regard.
It looks great, too. It has a pretty unique art style on the whole, and Martinaise is full of detail and the lighting and shadows are particularly impressive. There also aren’t too many game protagonists who looks quite this run down, nor do they have such glorious moustaches. It even snows occasionally, with the snow settling around the city and eventually melting away.
There have been a few small niggles with the game’s first console release, though these are mostly down to controls and have been addressed in patches. Selecting things and people in the world takes a minute to get used to and always feels mildly inaccurate – though you’ll adjust to it after a while, it feels like the option to select things with a cursor would be better. There’s also a consistent, though small frame rate drop in the Whirling-in-Rags at night when the disco ball lights are on and rarely, a bit of voice acting will be missing somehow. Thankfully the patches have already fixed the few more serious issues I had, such as not being able to interact with a sandcastle (surprisingly important) and a few UI issues in the menus. Other than that there’s the familiar pitfall for isometric games where specific routes through certain areas aren’t always clear.