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Game Review: Disco Elysium

Play an alcoholic rockstar cop or a moralist sorry cop or a socialist hobo cop in Disco Elysium, a novelistic adventure game that reinvents storytelling in gaming.

Play an alcoholic rock-star cop or a moralist sorry cop or a socialist hobo cop in Disco Elysium, a novelistic adventure game that reinvents storytelling in gaming. Imagine Divinity: Original Sin on a shroom trip and you’ll have the scent of it. Elysium is elusive yet seductive, disgusting yet entrancing, and malformed yet beautiful. It is all of us at once, a social commentary that accounts for the implausible, a miracle of narrative fiction, and better than most (if not all) modern lit. Its moments of pretention are counterbalanced by its guttural urges and sweet fleeting feelings. It is the darkness and sadness of humanity, an episode of Black Mirror meets Dishonored, a suggestion of what’s to come and a reminder of what preceded it.

A standard cop game has shoot-outs-a-plenty. Not so with Disco Elysium. Wander between misbegotten scenes like Guybrush Threepwood and have aimless conversations. Pick from a long string of options that either make your character seem quirky or jaw-droppingly insane. Let the warmth swell in your heart until you see the beauty in the madness.

Like a D&D game, Disco Elysium offers you skill checks and dice rolls. You level up weird qualities that have unclear advantages. Your character can dwell on thoughts to unlock new abilities or enhance his own derangement. You’re supposed to be solving a mystery, but your body is a sack of crap, and your head is swimming with substances. Good thing you’ve got your partner, Kim, by your side to keep you straight. That is if he or anyone else in this punctured city can be trusted.

Who’s to say you’ll have the same experience I did? All roads lead to mystery in Revechol, but your choices set the tone. Will you recover your badge and gun? Will you help cryptid hunters find the truth? Will you allow local tweakers to turn a church into a discotheque? The plot points are optional, but the consequences have weight. Here we have a story game that accomplishes its narrative ambitions. No more “so-and-so will remember that” without any payoff. This game has real stakes, real heart, and not just 2D platitudes about darkness and light.

Your mind speaks to you in Disco Elysium, but you can shut it off if you like. Be an analytical cop running visual calculus. Be a sexist cop with a feminist streak. Be a capitalistic fascist union scab. Revel in your own misery, misdeeds, or your inability to change the past. Disco Elysium’s message is about the weight of consequence, the inescapability of the past, present, and future, but it also provides a sly smile. Who says disco’s really dead? The spirit’s still alive, baby.

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