PlayStation Plus Just Added the Darkest Detective RPG
Disco Elysium is a game unlike any other, blending political theory and detective work with lush art and a great sense of humor.
Getting dressed wouldn’t mean risking your life in most games, but most games aren’t Disco Elysium.
One of the first choices you can make in Disco Elysium is whether to grab your tie from the ceiling fan it’s hanging from for reasons you can’t remember. What sounds like a completely unremarkable moment has become one of the game’s most memorable beats, since it’s also the first possible game over. If you fail the ability check to grab your tie, you can have a heart attack and keel over right there.
It’s a great joke and an indication of just how messed up your character is, but it also serves as a signal for what Disco Elysium is not.
Though its aesthetics and mechanics both call back to classic Dungeons & Dragons RPGs, Disco Elysium doesn’t make you into a hero or adventurer. It makes you a trainwreck, in the filthy shoes of an amnesiac detective who can’t even remember his own name at the start of the game.
This is not a man who can be trusted to do the right thing or even a reasonable thing. To be fair, making decisions at all can’t be easy, given how many voices are rattling around in his head. Rather than stats as boring and explicable as Strength or Wisdom, you have Drama, Volition, and Shivers. These fragments of your character’s shattered psyche all have their own personalities, cajoling and bribing you to let them take the lead for a while.
Like your own character, Disco Elysium’s setting of Revachol is also fractured, left to rot after a failed Communist revolution. Fascists, liberal foreign governments, and revolutionaries clinging to their doomed dreams all fight for the scraps of Revachol, as most of its residents just try to get by.
Then there’s you, a cop so incompetent he hasn’t even bothered to examine the body of the man whose murder he’s here to solve. Fortunately, you’re partnered with Kim Kitsuragi, a dutiful lieutenant who apparently has the patience of a saint for putting up with your bullshit. Kim is the one thing that keeps the investigation from stalling out completely, and his deadpan responses to your utter failure are some of the highlights of the game.
Your character’s relationship with Kim exemplifies the delicate balancing act of Disco Elysium. It could easily lean too hard into bleakness and become unplayably dour, or poke too much fun at your decaying detective and feel like nothing more than an edgy joke. Somehow, it rides the line perfectly, treating your case and the fate of Revachol seriously while playing up the sheer absurdity of this amnesiac detective and the situation he’s gotten himself into. Disco Elysium is full of staggering, gut-wrenching moments, largely due to its masterful writing, but it remains as fun to play as any more lighthearted RPG.
Despite its potentially fatal intro, Disco Elysium is not a game that’s that interested in punishing you. You can meet your end while reaching for a tie, or in a few select moments spread throughout the game, but for the most part, failure doesn’t mean starting over. Usually, failing just means things get a bit worse, a bit more desperate, and you need to work even harder to pull yourself back out of the hole you can’t stop digging.
Disco Elysium is about a man coming to terms with who he is, and where he sits in history. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to improve the city of Revachol, or even yourself. Maybe all you can hope for is to face the reality that you’re a broken person in a broken world and do the best you can knowing that. Neither a failed revolution nor a failed dice roll is the end of the world — they just set the stage for what comes next.