I do not get to play a lot of video games these days. I spend more time reading books than playing video games (and speaking of video games and books, I just read Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin). Unsurprisingly, I found the neo-noir game Disco Elysium really good. Part of the reason is that it is like reading a great book. I can highly recommend it. You do not need to read any further. The point of this post is to recommend the game. Nothing more, nothing less.
I have completed the game (i.e., made it all the way to the end credits), but I am playing the game again to explore additional paths. There is so much content in this game that you are unable to get all out of it in the first sitting. Accordingly, if you like the game, you will definitely get value for your money (especially if you buy it at a discount, which I did). The game encompasses around 1.2 million words (War and Peace has an estimated word count of 600,000 words). Of course, you will not get to read it all, nor do you need to read it all, but there is a lot of content!
In the game, you wake up in a hotel room feeling like shit. On the surface, it is a simple task. You are in town to investigate the death of a hanged man. However, you quickly acknowledge the narrative complexity and have to not only find yourself (and try not to hate yourself, unless that is what you want to do) and decide what person you want to become, but also figure out what is going on in the world of Elysium.
The characters are great and the character development is nothing but amazing. You develop your character and his personality as you please – and your choices have significant implications for your gameplay and the interactions with the NPCs. Accordingly, one of the great features of the game is that you can work on who you are, e.g., level up your traits that define you as a person. There are 24 skills (or traits) in the game within the four categories of Intellect, Psyche, Physique and Motorics. The combination of these different traits will shape the game and how you approach the investigation. In addition, you have not only a health bar but a moral bar, and if just one of the two goes to zero, the game ends. You can embarrass yourself to death when you hit rock bottom.
The game is a point-and-click quest which I do not have a lot of experience with. I have never played cult classics such as Planescape: Torment, and as of late I have been playing more roguelike games (such as Hades, Vampire Survivors and Slay the Spire). Maybe that is why I really enjoyed Disco Elysium. Also, the artwork in the game is great and so is the music by British Sea Power.
Politics is an important part of the game, and it is no surprise that I enjoy political layers and interpretations in games. For example, I loved the take on Ayn Rand in BioShock. You get to explore different ideas/thoughts and consider your views on everything from taxation to feminism in the ‘Thought Cabinet’ (you can call the game a “thought simulator”). You have four main political alignments/ideologies, i.e., communists, facists, moralists and ultraliberals. However, these terms do not mean the same as it would in the “real” world.
In a lot of ways the game is anti-capitalistic art that is not a joke. The character in Disco Elysium feels like a microcosmos of some of the problems some countries face today. A failure that is figthing to figure out why it became a failure and how to deal with it. That is, looking into the past while trying not to let nostalgia get the best of one.
A lot of smart people have written a lot of great articles related to the game. For example, I enjoyed this one that outlines, among other things, how Disco Elysium is structured as a Greek tragedy (and not a Shakespearian tragedy), and this essay on how Disco Elysium is the specific author’s mid-life crisis. Do also check out this article on how the game was made.
Again, I can highly recommend checking out Disco Elysium.