Disco Elysium - ZA / UM investigative RPG review

Who I am
Aina Martin
Author and references

The impact with good games is always strange, memorable in some way. Shooters tend to get you a good dose of adrenaline, point and click make you squeeze your brain to solve their puzzles, role-playing games capture you for tens of minutes in the creation of your digital alter-ego and Elysium disk is not far behind. From the very first screen, we are captured by what is in effect a painting that vibrates, moves in front of us showing us the beauty in a place that, as we will discover, now seems to be devoid of it. The first dialogues do nothing but bewilder us, confusing us and inexorably leading us into the unique atmosphere that transpires at every moment, worthy of the best noir novel, while our detective will begin to wake up very slowly.

"I am the Law!"

Representing the "Law" a Revachol it is a difficult and exhausting job. We will in fact find ourselves in a crude and ruthless world, which is still facing the consequences of a failed revolution and a foreign occupation. Distrust, violence, drugs, the worst that humanity has to offer is rampant in the streets and we are by no means paladins in shiny armor ready to defend the weak from the oppression of the bad guys. We are part of the rabble that makes up the city, poor and dilapidated, and like every other person we are physically and mentally marked by our past. We too will have to fight to survive, but don't imagine big battles: not having to spend the night on a cold bench in the port area can already be considered a victory. Despite the terrible stories it hides Martinaise, there is still goodness in those streets, and with it also redemption. Our detective is in fact not a good man, nor a good cop. Like the city, he too is falling apart and it is up to us to decide whether to let him continue on this self-destructive spiral or to help him clean up and put himself and his life back in place.

Everything will not be tied to properly "moral" choices, but roles: as we play different dialogues will appear that will direct us more towards the type of policeman (and person) that we want to impersonate. In this, of course, the choice of an archetype helps: as soon as the game has started we will be able to choose our characteristic scores by dividing them between Intellect, Psyche, Physique, Motorics and choose one of the 24 skills to which we assign the first point. The variety of characteristics and abilities is so varied that it is possible to play completely different characters: do you want to be the Sherlock of the situation, reconstructing the scenes with scientific expertise and deducing the events with logic and encyclopedic knowledge? Just put the points on Intellect, Visual Calculus, Logic and Encyclopedia to interact spontaneously with the environment in a mathematical and analytical way. Do you prefer a "Lethal Weapon" or "Tango and Cash" approach, where you first shoot and then question yourself with slaps? Increase physique and agility by spending points on Pain Treshold, Hand-Eye Coordination and Half-Light and no one will question your aim and threats.

The most interesting dialogues will often be with these aspects of ours personality, which will stop the game action to make us observe a scene from their unique point of view, often unlocking new options with other characters or pushing us towards one attitude rather than another. As if characteristics and abilities weren't enough, depending on our interactions we can also develop thoughts that can be equipped in the appropriate slots. These will bring bonuses and / or malus and, once we have thought enough, we will internalize them, making them become fixed. This will either unlock the skill limits or change the modifiers they had given us. By leveling up, we will then be able to unlock new slots for thoughts, remove them or simply improve our skills making our protagonist even more plastic.

"Welcome to Revachol!"

The world in which we will find ourselves immersed in Disco Elysium, primarily the port district of Martinaise, is not simply rich and varied. It is realistic in an extremely raw and mature way, with a past and present story. In fact, we are talking about a poor neighborhood, of corpses left hanging for days on a tree in general indifference, of children who use drugs. All this, while a stormy strike by the dockers rages, with a real mafia corporation pulling the rows of gears. Corruption, racism, innocence and goodness: Revachol has room for all shades of the human soul. Each district will in fact have its own characters, numerous and picturesque. One of the characteristics common to many RPGs is to create a crowd of background characters, almost always anonymous, which simply serve to make the screens a little more alive and animated. This is only partially true for Disco Elysium: with the exception of large gatherings of people present in a club or at a strike (and therefore intent on doing something), we will be able to talk to anyone, and everyone we meet will leave us an impression. , a memory or an idea.

The more we stroll through the streets of Revachol, the more we will feel like we are in a novel, thanks to one magnificent visual and textual combination. The beautiful and evocative drawings of the landscapes will become brutally raw when we turn to the city of Revachol and its victims, as well as the narration, capable of making us imagine both the morning breeze and the rampant squalor. Disco Elysium has incredible storytelling power, thanks to this artistic and literary union. Strangely, this is both a strength and a weakness: such sophistication in the lexicon makes the game and its narrative far from those who are not prepared in English. In fact, a localization is missing and, with its different registers and the slang that changes according to the scene, we are well beyond the school level. On the other hand, this allows the title to capture us differently in every single screen: talking to the nice lady in a wheelchair at the motel entrance the dubbing will be sweet, the dialogue kind and a light music in the background will complete the scene. . Quite the opposite if instead we turn the corner and meet a grumpy hooligan, who will not miss an opportunity to insult us in an incomprehensible slang. An incredible result for those who love to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of a novel, a film or a game.

(Almost) all the time in the world

Describing Disco Elysium as a simple role-playing game is somewhat reductive. Most of the time, we are actually struggling with point and click, walking around the setting, solving situations and interacting with characters and objects to move forward. The structure on which these interactions are based, however, is the role-playing one: we have skills and dice rolls able to decide, randomly and in a different way between one attempt and another, the outcomes of our actions and our deductions. However, most of the shots will be "White Checks", as they are called in the game, which we can easily try again by increasing the skill required or talking to the right person who can advise us adequately. This translates into an absence of frustrating mechanisms and will indeed entice us not to reload in case of failure, thus also taking on the negative results.

As some characters will remind us, we can always take a walk instead of investigating the main mission. Time, in fact, always seems on our side thanks to rhythms that practically follow the real ones, with the minutes passing slowly but without ever stopping. We could literally waste a day chatting with passers-by, having war stories told by a veteran, or exploring abandoned buildings to deny (or confirm) the existence of a ghost. There always seems to be time for everything but, sooner or later, the night will come and we will have to find a place to rest and recover our strength for the next day of (almost) work.

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