Disco Elysium (Switch) Review
The main things I think about when playing Disco Elysium are a) how much fun they must have had writing this and b) how brave they were to write so much and keep going on faith that it would result in something worthwhile. There is so much writing or speaking if you choose to let the avalanche of spoken lines of this Final Cut version wash over you. In some ways, this game bathes in the soup of language, but it never feels gratuitous. It always feels essential, part of an enfolding aspect that draws you into Disco Elysium’s world.
Every character is deep and verbose, ready to engage and wax lyrical even if they at first seem closed. They are puzzles to unlock, dive into and rummage around, pulling at the threads of their psyche and ego to complete missions or, more likely, deepen the mystery and confusion. The notion of success is turned on its head with Disco Elysium, where failure itself can be desirable and pushing your poor character to the edge of sanity, and physical stability might even be necessary.
If you’ve not heard of it, Disco Elysium has you playing as an amnesiac detective within a world already ravaged by a long history of conflict, prejudice & ideological disputes. Elysium is a deep, complex world that is at first confusing and eventually only slightly less so, but there is a pleasure to be had in immersing yourself and letting it drown you.
Although an RPG on paper, Disco Elysium is staunchly untraditional, employing strange skill checks, ability trees and unique mechanics, such as thoughts uncovered via dialogue being internalised and eventually maturing into permanent benefits. You constantly feel unsure about whether you are making the ‘right’ choices, which is part of the harsh beauty of this title.
Everything feels like a fictional product, a world within someone’s fractured mind. NPCs don’t seem real, as they hang around the same spots for in-game days, repeating their responses and limited animations. Despite this, there is gravity to this world, which elicits a desire to investigate and help its citizens. Even if the vessel you control to do so is broken and drug dependent.
At a practical level, gameplay consists of moving through isometric environments, looking for things to examine or interact with, and many long conversations with NPCs. Time only passes in the world when you are talking to people, so there is no pressure in that regard, and many threads remain open for hours of gameplay, creating a deep meandering of open quests that feed into each other eventually. Or not.
Again, the beauty of this game is how untraditional progress is and how the concept of success is questioned via internal missions that are whimsical, laughable and often highly objectionable. This is a game where you can lose morale – one of the two health systems in Disco Elysium – simply by having a thought, and where you can recover it by finding your other shoe!
The writing is witty and sharp, to the point where I regularly smiled as I saw a reply option and just had to choose it to see what would happen. The added benefit of this version’s voice acting is that you can hear the weariness in this world, not only in response to your hungover detective but to the exhausting act of living in Revachol itself. I found the addition of the vocal performances to be something I didn’t realise was so vital after playing through most of the game on PC before this updated version. The vocal performances are all strange, almost not quite right, but they fit perfectly with the game’s tone, and some of them are worth listening to in their entirety, which adds longevity to your playtime.
If there is a shining light at all in this world, it is Kim Kitsuragi, your in-game partner, who serves as an anchor for you to desultorily hang on to until you start to resemble a cogent thinking being (or not). Kim’s wry humour and observations, as well as his nonchalant acceptance, is so well written and executed across the game that his place as one of gaming’s greatest companions is firmly cemented.
The Switch version does away with the click-to-move controls of PC and instead allows you to move your character with the thumb-stick and flick around with the other one to interact with objects and thoughts. Pressing A makes you walk automatically over and interact. Things get a little complicated with the different menus, such as inventory, skills and internal thoughts, but overall it’s a good port and is certainly very playable. Text size is small, even on the largest possible font, yet I rarely felt like I was squinting and often allowed the spoken lines to play out while I listened and only skimmed ahead a little. Things only become a little uncertain when you look at tiny interactive objects in the world, but you can zoom the camera in and out at will or press a button to highlight any interactive objects in view.
Performance-wise, I did not notice any slowdown other than for a tiny moment when auto-saving kicks in, but it’s usually during a lull in the gameplay anyway and hardly affects the flow of things. Load times before a recent patch were quite lengthy but are now very fast, accommodating gameplay that sees you needing to move between interior and exterior locations to follow leads. This, along with the fact that we’ve got the full upgraded version on Switch, shows a willingness to support the product and improve upon the experience.
Disco Elysium is strange, ground-breaking, and incredibly funny. No combat, not really an RPG, but something boldly new. A cacophony of internal personalities resting on the membrane of consciousness.
+ Incredible, interesting world
+ Brilliant writing
+ Laugh out loud funny
- Some compromises for console/portability
- Strangeness may put you off