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What NOT To Do When Turning a Game Into a Movie

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For a long time, many game companies have tried to get their games turned into movies, often unsuccessfully. Despite the dubious results, the idea is still a popular one. Rainmaker had been planning on making a Ratchet and Clank movie for a long time, and it seemed like a pretty solid setup too. While some games have very little that could be used to make a film, the Ratchet and Clank series has a whole load of advantages: unique weapons, interstellar space travel, robots, diabolical villains and a crime-fighting duo composed of a talking cat/fox-like creature named Ratchet and his clever robotic sidekick Clank. This sci-fi action adventure game could work incredibly well as a film, seeming practically foolproof with its built-in kids-to-early-teens demographic, thanks to the games. They had the funding, the resources, and an entire series rich in humor to work off of, with more than enough creativity and action to pack into a film. Unfortunately, it all went horribly wrong. Ratchet and Clank flopped hard at the box office, having a $20 million budget, yet barely making back over half of that. To explore why this happened, I’m going to pick out what not to do when making a game into a movie, using Ratchet and Clank as my prime example.

1) Don’t Sand Your Characters Down Around the Edges

When turning a game into a film certain changes must be made now and then, which is understandable. At the same time not all changes made are necessary or even good. An example of this is the characters’ personalities. In an attempt to try and make the movie more appealing Rainmaker made the terrible mistake of dumbing down their characters. I’ll use Ratchet as a primary example of this. Ratchet’s personality has developed over the course of the series significantly. He’s been shown to be brave and selfless in combat and is not only relatable but also very likable due to his sarcastic nature and ability to dish out insults to villains he faces. He is also flawed, having a tendency to take things personally and get mad, but usually comes out on top and does the right thing. That’s the Ratchet the fans know of from the games. The Ratchet we see in the movie, however, doesn’t feel like Ratchet. He acts like an adoring fanboy of the Galactic rangers and has the dreamer type of personality, the one where a person constantly dreams about being something bigger and better and never shuts up about it. He doesn’t have the same spark of attitude that made him as entertaining or relatable to the audience and that really harms the connection the audience has with the main character.

In fact, there’s also a strong lack of character development for all the characters. As the story goes on we’re introduced to the Galactic Rangers, a group of space rangers led by Captain Quark consisting of Cora Verlux, Brax Lectrus and Elaris (Elaris is a tech builder, the rest are field operatives). These people protect the galaxy from villains and whatever catastrophe may occur. A man named Drek is planning to tear apart several planets using a weapon called ‘The Deplanetizer’ to build his own and the Galactic rangers need to up their numbers from four rangers to five. Now, the movie centers around Ratchet and Clank going on missions with the galactic rangers but despite this we know very little about them asides from one or two character traits. I understand Ratchet is the main focus but side characters should feel like more than just props in the movie. In fact, the character who seems to get the most development is captain Quark. He’s not the most likable character and its odd seeing him going through a character arch as opposed to someone like oh, I don’t know, the main protagonist?

Anyway, the Galactic rangers don’t want to take Ratchet on due to his many misadventures listed in his bio such as almost destroying the space-time continuum or being in possession of an illegal gravity booster. After being rejected he soon meets Clank, a warbot defect who escaped from the lab of Doctor Nefarious, a mad scientist who is supplying Drek with warbots to help him with his scheme to create the ultimate planet. He explains Drek’s plan to Ratchet and also that the warbots are scheduled to ambush and annihilate the rangers soon. They then save the rangers from the warbots and Quark gives them a position with the rangers, much to his own irritation since Ratchet is unintentionally getting the attention from the media that Quark usually does.

2) If the Joke Doesn’t Make You Laugh, Don’t Put It In

In this movie, there are a few good jokes pegged at the audience but very few of them actually make us laugh. In a previous game, there was a scene where Captain Quark was thought to have died. In this scene, Ratchet had to host a type of memorial with his crew and talk about how great Quark was. Ratchet clearly struggled to do this and instead of being able to complement Quark on any good features he instead ended up saying he was tall and had a butt shaped chin before awkwardly scampering away from the podium. This is an example of humor that actually works. It’s funny because Ratchet is trying to be nice but can’t find anything good to say and fails so miserably at the speech that he just quits and walks off. These jokes are genuinely funny and kids would be able to get them but the jokes in the movie feel rushed and lazy, like the writers don’t think we’ll notice they’re not trying. I’m sorry but making your guard loudly scream out whatever command he’s given or having your villains laugh like idiots isn’t funny enough to make me want to buy a ticket for your movie. I think I’ll just stay at home and play the game without the awkward cringe jokes, thanks.

3) If There’s a Plot Point That Connects to a Side Character, Use It to Develop Them, Rather Than Push it Aside

There is a very important plot point not mentioned in the film: The next planet Drek plans to strike is Novalis, the home planet of Cora Verlux, one of the galactic rangers. It’s terribly ironic because in the game this is mentioned by Cora but in the film, she just states that the planet is heavily populated. You’d expect an important detail like this that adds more drama to the scene to be included in the cinematic release, not the game (There was a game made of this movie with the same plot). Whether it was lost during editing or cut out since they didn’t like this particular plot line I don’t know, but it seems like a poor decision. The fact that Novalis is Cora’s home planet means this planets safety is made more personal to the viewers since it is the home of one of the characters we know. Or it would be more emotional if we got more character development from Cora but whatever, I just think it’s a wasted opportunity and confusing for those who played the game and watched the movie because then we’re not sure which is canon.

4) Your Villain Can’t Be a Complete Idiot

Ok, so the rangers try to attack the deplanetizer but their weapons systems are disabled due to their captain sabotaging them since Drek convinced Quark it will get Ratchet out of the picture. Ratchet makes a gutsy move and despite his ship having no defense systems he guns it through a fleet of Drek’s ships to the deplanetizer and ejects himself. Ratchet manages to get his way smoothly to the deplanetizer’s control room, no hiccups or problems along the way. He actually gets to the control panel and is right about to deactivate the device when Drek shows up on his floating scooter. Yeah, he rides around on a floating space scooter and I don’t know why. Maybe its supposed to be scary? Man, imagine if more space villains did that. Hey, can we get Darth Vader on some roller blades? Or maybe Lord Zarkon on a skateboard? That’d be sick. Anyway, Drek just happens to show up and shoot Ratchet with a gun that creates a force field around him, immobilizing him just before he can turn on the deplanetizer. Drek then brags about how much of a fool Ratchet is.

Boi.

A SINGLE ranger managed to infiltrate your base, get through a barely guarded control room and almost shut down your machine and you’re BRAGGING? You could argue he was laying in wait for Ratchet to appear so he could blast him but seriously, why not put down a booby trap in the room? Why not have a group of blarg there with those guns ready to shoot Ratchet as soon as he came in? Drek isn’t the sort to get his own hands dirty or throw himself into the way of harm, so him showing up to shoot Ratchet seems very out of character and poor in regard to his plan.

5) Don’t Let Your Protagonist Take the Easy Way Out! Make Them Struggle to Overcome the Problem

If you think that’s bad planning, hold onto your hats babes because we’re about to go from stupid to agonizingly moronic. After capturing Ratchet, a galactic ranger, does Drek kill him? No. Does he put him in a cell? No. He decides he wants Ratchet to live to see his failure in stopping the deplanetizer, so he orders his soldiers to put Ratchet in a spacepod and fire him into space. Yeah. THAT’S his plan. It doesn’t even have a bomb attached to it or anything! Seriously, this could have been done so many different ways to work! If the writers needed Drek to not kill Ratchet then have him find a way to escape the forcefield! Maybe Drek would try to get Ratchet to join his side like how he did with Quark, but Ratchet would instead escape and try to stop the deplanetizer but be too late? I can’t even call this the sort of thing a dramatic cliché villain would do. Making grandiose speeches while the protagonist escapes a convoluted contraption made to kill him, or constantly stalling as you boast is one thing, but this? This is beyond idiotic. The kids who watch this film aren’t stupid and they will catch onto these flaws in the story. If your characters are being idiots to this extent then its going to harm the film, especially considering how lazy it is from a writing perspective. This is another factor that needs to be focused on when making films: Don’t dumb things down or take the easy way out. Your characters need to find a way to overcome their obstacles, not just slip around them! A movie isn’t exciting if they just conveniently get the easy way out.

Anyway, Novalis is destroyed by the deplanetizer and the mission has been failed. We have a brief moment where we get to see the rangers reactions as they realize they failed their mission. Even Quark, being the traitor, is transfixed by the sight of Novalis being shattered. Ratchet curls up inside the ejected space pod as if floats through space, clearly upset by what has just occurred. Now, this scene is important but what could potentially come after it even more so. Unfortunately, the writers can’t seem to stop throwing good opportunities out the window. It’s a shame because this is a perfect set up. Instead of showing Ratchet having to return to the Galactic Rangers and see their reactions to being betrayed by Quark as well as Ratchet’s failure, the film decides to just show Ratchet back on his home planet Veldin moping around. This is a HUGE missed opportunity that could really help enrich the storytelling and character development of the Galactic rangers all at once.

6) Don’t Leave Out Facts That Make Us Interested in the Supporting Cast

Novalis is Cora’s home planet so the failure of this mission would be all the more devastating to her. Despite spending so much time around the Galactic rangers they’ve been given very little character development. This would be a perfect chance to show more of who Cora Verlux is in a time of crisis. Her home planet has just been destroyed, the mission has been a complete catastrophe, her captain betrayed her team and now the person who was just seconds away from stopping the total annihilation of her planet before being caught is now standing right in front of her. There was so much that could have been done with this scene. How would Cora have reacted? Would a part of her blame Ratchet and blow up at him? Would she just carry on with a grim sense of acceptance? Would she instead offer support to him and show maturity? How would the other rangers react to this? Unfortunately, we have no idea because this concept was never explored. It’s really quite disappointing because Ratchet and Clank is a series full of rich possibilities for a film but all of them are being squandered in the writer’s attempts to pander to kids by dumbing everything down from the plot to the characters.

7) Dumbing Down the Story is a Bad Idea

Some may argue that this is supposed to be a kids film and doesn’t need a moment like that to hammer in the consequences. At the same time though there are some sections in certain Ratchet and Clank games where something was lost or a mission was failed. In these segments it wasn’t just brushed over either, it was fully addressed. If you want a good example of this you could look at Ratchet and Clank: a Crack in Time. This was a Ratchet and Clank game in particular that reveals a lot of important backstory for Ratchet and also had a stronger emphasis on the emotional bond between Ratchet and Clank. If the games were like that, why would the movie need to be any different? It’s a tragic case of trying to make the movie more appealing but instead having the total opposite effect.

When Ratchet returns home to Veldin to work at his previous job as a mechanic and Clank goes after Ratchet to try to convince him to join up with the rangers again. Ratchet argues he messed up the mission and needs to take the blame for not stopping Drek. Clank, on the other hand, points out that if Ratchet wants to really hold himself accountable he should try to fix the problem, not run away from it. The story does actually make a very good point: Ratchet needs to confront these problems and take responsibility for what happened, not just sit around and let blame hold him back from doing anything even though it was mostly Quark’s fault but hey, whatever.

The Galactic rangers show up and talk about another planet that is going to be destroyed, this time not by Drek but by Doctor Nefarious, who was working with Drek but then turned him into a sheep and shot him into space so he could take over the plan (yeah, I said sheep) and blow up a planet causing a chain reaction due to that planets particular atmosphere that would blow up an entire solar system. Nefarious doesn’t actually have a reason for doing this aside from being a mad scientist but it’s kind of an anticlimactic finale. Like, that’s it? He’s just doing it for laughs? Okay.

Anyway, the story ends the way we think it will. Ratchet and Clank save the day, Quark apologizes for his actions and faces the consequences, Dr.Nefarious is stopped and the deplanetizer incinerates Drek. Ratchet goes back to Veldin to work as a mechanic with Clank as his friend, and the duo swear that next time trouble rears its ugly head they’ll drop the omni-wrench, pick up a blaster and take down some diabolical villains. I could give you more details on the ending but there isn’t anything much of interest to even discuss. I personally felt pretty disappointed in this film. Rainmaker had a great set up but squandered it on trying to pander to kids and focusing too much on moving the plot to let us enjoy the film. I personally love Ratchet and Clank. It’s a great series with incredible potential for a film but now I doubt it’ll have another hit in the cinema. While I may not have enjoyed how Ratchet and Clank performed on the big screen, I know that with the right script and right crew they could easily be a blockbuster film.

Katie Soden is a games design student/author who has a tendency to cry over cartoon characters and watch cat videos as opposed to doing important things, like eating or sleeping or keeping on track with assignments. Despite her tendency to forget how to function as a human being and general laziness she still occasionally updates her blog and makes an attempt at having an online presence.

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Games

Junked: Coming Back to Life in ‘Detroit: Become Human’

Quantic Dream’s games have always leaned into horror, even if the chief genre might not be. Detroit: Become Human is no exception.

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Detroit Become Human

Quantic Dream‘s games have always leaned into horror, even if the chief genre might be something else entirely. Detroit: Become Human is no exception, with much of the game revolving around our android protagonists finding themselves in one horrendous situation after another. The most terrifying of all, though, is Markus’ trip to a junkyard afterlife.

After being shot in the head during an altercation, Markus looks to be dead. Since player characters could indeed die in previous Quantic Dream games, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for him to have been killed off either. What awaits Markus on the other side of consciousness, however, is one of the most horrific struggles for survival ever waged.

As Markus awakens in a junkyard for discarded androids, he finds himself immobilized and terrified. Played by Jesse Williams (the sort of chiseled hollywood hunk that only seems to exist on network TV), Markus’ destroyed facade is all the more horrendous for the juxtaposition to his previous appearance.

Detroit Become Human

As the player embodies Markus, they are thrust into a nightmare realm of discarded android dreams. Like a metallic graveyard, filled with the shambling dead, the junkyard is a place so nightmarish it nearly defies explanation. Add to this the stress of Markus’ shattered form, and you begin to get a knack for just how unsettling this chapter of Detroit: Become Human truly is.

While not everyone is a fan of Quantic Dream’s trademark QTE-filled gameplay, it is used to maximum effect here, as the player is truly transposed into Markus’ desperate situation by the control scheme. You begin by alternating L1 and R1 to slowly drag Markus’ shattered body across the tumultuous landscape. The long presses and holds of each button help to relay the pain and effort of Markus’ struggle for survival.

It only gets more horrific from there, as Markus must tear off body parts from other fallen androids in order to rebuild himself. The legs must come first, as mobility is key in a place like this, but with the added moral complications of the other androids begging you not to harvest them for parts, the struggle takes on a nasty new dimension.

Detroit Become Human

A particularly stirring, and disturbing, moment sees Markus moving between two closely stacked piles of android remains. Like sidling between two close-together buildings, Markus shuffles his way through, sidelong, as dozens of hands reach out for his help, and the cries of the dying paralyze his senses.

As mentioned above, the control scheme really embodies the horror of what you’re being forced to do in order to survive here. Whether tilting the analog stick to pop out an eye or tapping the X button consecutively to wrench a limb free, the act of becoming a self-made Frankenstein’s monster is not a pleasant process to endure.

The rain-drenched landscape and lonely darkness of the junkyard only add to the chilling horror of this world. Science fiction is often at its best when it shows us a pristine utopia, before turning it over to show us the horrific consequences that come as a result. Here Detroit: Become Human soars, showing us a world where machines can save us from destroying our bodies with manual labor and android doctors never make a mistake.

It’s a world where androids do the dirty work of the US military and undertake the home care of the elderly, freeing us from the sights we’d rather not see. The trade-off, though, is grisly, and the discarded robot graveyard is just one of the first inklings of how ugly this future can be when one looks too closely.

The quasi-messianic character of Markus is only one facet of this troubled world, and while some of Detroit: Become Human may lack in subtlety, it manages to create an effective, evocative look at what could be our own future one day. This sequence is just one striking example.

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Game Reviews

‘Shovel Knight: King of Cards’ and ‘Showdown’ Review: Really Spoiling Us

It’s a Yacht Club Games overdose this holiday, as the Kings of Kickstarter are back with two new entries in the Shovel Knight franchise.

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It’s a Yacht Club Games overdose this holiday season, as the Kings of Kickstarter are back with, not just one, but two new entries in the Shovel Knight franchise. Not content with just releasing another new character’s twist on the original formula, Yacht Club have also developed their own fighting game in the Shovel Knight universe. It’s to the developer’s credit that two simultaneous releases can be of this quality, but valid questions can also be asked as to whether the original formula has gotten stale, and whether Showdown’s new concept does the series justice. Fear not, for both questions will be answered in this bumper, two-for-one review!

Shovel Knight: King of Cards

King of Cards is the latest re-tread of Shovel Knight, and this time the emperor’s new clothes are the regal duds of King Knight, who is on a quest to become the greatest player in the kingdom of the card game Joustus… without really having to beat that many people at it. After the stoically heroic Shovel Knight, the dastardly cunning Plague Knight, and the broodingly enigmatic Spectre Knight, King of Cards’ protagonist embodies an enjoyable dose of pompous entitlement. His quest isn’t all that noble, and he really can’t be bothered to do a lot of hard graft to reach his goal. Thanks to the typically witty script, King Knight shines as a loathsome oik who doesn’t pay attention to any advice he’s given, and would rather have a fight, or cheat, than actually get better at Joustus.

Shovel Knight
This a late-game bout of Joustus, which shows how complex it can get.

Joustus might not really be all that important to King Knight, but it adds an entirely new element to the traditional Shovel Kinght gameplay. Those players who are a sucker for a built-in card games (myself included) will find a lot to enjoy when stepping away from all the platforming and fighting to engage in a round of Joustus. The game is played by placing cards, one at a time, onto a grid with the goal of having more of your cards placed on top of gems than your opponent.

All cards contain abilities and can be used to shove opposing cards out of the way (and off the gems), with advanced cards used to blow up, slam or recruit those of the other player. It all starts off simple enough, but can get really brain-taxing as the story progresses, and grows to be a real highlight of the game – and one of the better card-games-within-a-game I’ve played. Cheat cards can be bought to give you a leg up for trickier opponents, especially as the winner of each game gets to take one (or three if you control all gems at the end of the round) card from the loser.  

Shovel Knight
Platforming at its satisfying best. Y’know, without actually touching the platforms.

Outside of Joustus, King of Cards will feel pleasingly familiar to fans of the series. As in previous entries, the levels all share the same look and gimmicks as the original Shovel Knight, but are reshaped to adapt to the new abilities of King Knight. He has a shoulder barge attack that launches him forward, across gaps if need be, and will send him into a spin on contact with enemies or certain types of walls and blocks. This spin move acts very much in the same way as Shovel Knight’s shovel pogo attack, and allows King Knight to bounce around levels with impressive finesse. Anyone who’s played Shovel Knight before knows the drill now – try and clear every screen by chaining together as many bounce attacks as you can. It’s the law.

Shovel Knight
Familiar foes return, but the way you deal with them is the same!

It also wouldn’t be a Shovel Knight game if there weren’t a ton of unlockable moves and buffs. Amongst the best unlocks for King Knight are a Tazmanian Devil-esque tornado spin that allows him to climb walls and smash up enemies, a hammer that produce hearts with each wallop for precious HP, throwable suicide bomber mice, and the ability to stand still and have a big ol’ cry to regain HP. Something we can all relate to.

The world map returns, and is in its best guise in King of Cards. Levels are now a lot shorter than you’d expect – there’s typically only one checkpoint in the non-boss levels – but there are a lot more of them, and a large number have secret exits to find. They’re interspersed with the multiple opportunities to play Joustus, and with the seemingly random appearances of traditional Shovel Knight bosses who show up, Hammer Bros. style, on the map to block your progress. It makes for a really tight campaign that’s filled with a ton of variety.

The floor is literally lava!

It seems almost arbitrary to say, but if you like Shovel Knight and you’re not tired of the standard gameplay, there’s so much to enjoy with King of Cards. He’s probably not the most fun character to play as (for me, that’d be Spectre Knight), but his game is easily the most diverse. He’s just such an enjoyably unlikeable idiot that you’ll constantly be playing with a smile on your face, bopping along to the classic Shovel Knight chiptunes, pogoing around levels and pausing for the occasional game of cards. Who could ask for more?

Shovel Knight Showdown

Who likes Shovel Knight boss fights? Everyone does, right? How about fighting three of them at once in an amalgamation of Smash Bros. and Towerfall? It’s as chaotic as you’re imagining, and seems like a total no-brainer as a second genre for Yacht Club to transpose their blue, spade-loving hero into.

What seemed like an obviously smart move doesn’t necessarily play out in an ideal way. The one-on-one fights in Showdown are as tightly-contested and entertaining as ever, but the multi-man rumbles are absolute mayhem. There are a few different stipulations applied to fights, and these typically involve simply whittling down your opponents’ lives, or depleting their health bar to briefly kill them off and steal any gems they’ve collected from around the level, with the winner being the first to an assigned number.

Shovel Knight
I found it best to just try to escape in every multi-man level.

Standard fights are more enjoyable, as the simplicity of smacking seven shades of snot out of the competitors keeps things manageable amongst the cacophony of onscreen visual noise. The gem-collecting levels, especially with multiple opponents, are frankly a bit of a mess that I rarely found enjoyable.

Perhaps I’m just not very good at Shovel Knight boss fights, but the game felt overly difficult even on the normal setting. Playing story mode often sees your chosen character up against three opponents on the same team, and when it comes to collecting gems from around the level, they’ve got way more of the space covered and you barely get a chance to breathe with them swarming you from the word go. It’s basically an exercise in getting wailed on while you try to run away and scramble for gems, and it’s just not that fun.

If the whole game were 1v1 I’d have more fun, but it’d be a bit pointless and unsubstantial.

What does add a layer of fun to the game is the chance to play as the complete ‘Knight’ roster of Shovel Knight characters, and the best part of Showdown is learning new moves and trying to find your ‘main’. Perhaps, with more time to sit down and learn the move sets in the practice mode, the game would feel more rewarding than if you just jump in and try to slog through the chaotic story mode like I did.

With a four-player battle mode as the only other gameplay option, Showdown was clearly never meant to be anything other than a brief little curio to give fans of the series’ boss fights an overdose of what they love, but as a complete experience I found it lacking in both modes and reasons to keep plugging away at the arcade fighter-style story mode. It turns out that the boss fights in Shovel Knight are more fun at the end of a platforming level rather than in the middle of enclosed space filled with flashing lights, random effects, environmental hazards, and three bastards all chasing you down. If you can handle all that stress, you’ll have a much better time than I did.

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Game Reviews

‘Disco Elysium’: A Thought-Provoking Mystery

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Disco Elysium Review

For the most part, the majority of games are easy to classify, but from time to time a game is released that defies conventional rules and resists simple categorization. Disco Elysium is just such a game. On the surface of it, it’s a topdown, isometric RPG of the oldest of old schools. It draws upon long-established systems, structures, and mechanics that make it comfortably familiar. However, beneath that patina of tradition lies something completely unexpected and utterly unique.

Developed by the small, independent studio ZA/UM, with a story penned by Estonian novelist, Robert Kurvitz, and a painstakingly detailed world crafted by artist Aleksander Rostov, Disco Elysium stands apart from most RPGs in that it is startlingly realistic whilst simultaneously being grimly fantastical. Set on an isolated archipelago in the wake of a failed communist revolution, the game casts players as a detective sent to solve the murder of a man found hanging in the backyard of a rundown boarding house/cafe. It’s a simple setup made all the more complex by the fact that the player character is suffering from a severe bout of alcohol and drug-induced amnesia. The mystery that needs to be solved concerns piecing together exactly who the player character is, as much as it involves reconstructing the chain of events that resulted in a brutal death.

Arriving at conclusions to both conundrums requires navigating complex webs of social and political intrigue. Along the way, players will encounter union bosses, disgruntled workers, war veterans, and all manner of extraordinary and mundane citizens just trying to go about their daily lives in a place that seems designed to thwart their ambitions at every turn. More than that though, players will be required to engage in continuous internal dialogues that involve the protagonist gradually putting themselves back together. The result is character customization in a quite literal sense of the word. Rather than the standard array of physical options that most games of this type present players with, the options are entirely psychological. Player actions and choices determine the overall structure of the internal workings of their character. Whether they decide to be a high-minded idealist trying to better themselves and the world around them in whatever way they can or opt to descend into anarchic, hedonistic self-obliteration such choices determine exactly who and what their version of the character is.

The foundation of stats and skills that are usually inert background components that all RPGs are based on is firmly in place. However, rather than being a numerical bedrock upon which all gameplay is based, Disco Elysium takes those sets of modifiers and statistics and makes them an active part of character progression and world development. As you progress through the game, skills points can be used for a variety of purposes. They can be used to upgrade core character stats, of which there a total of twenty-four covering a whole range of mental, physical, and social attributes, that govern player’s ability to immediately interact with the game world. However, they can also be used to learn or forget particular thoughts These thoughts develop depending on how players decide to approach situations and solve problems and can unlock semi-permanent bonuses and even penalties.

Disco Elysium Review

Much as in reality, the things the character is capable of are largely dependent on their frame of mind. If players opt to make a character that is brash and uncouth then they will find it difficult to subtly manipulate interactions to their benefit or arrive at unobtrusive solutions to various situations. On the other hand, if they elect to play a character that is more thoughtful and introspective, or cunning rather than crass, then they will find it difficult to emerge unscathed from more physical challenges. It’s an interpretation of character development and player progress that feels much more organic than in any other game of this sort. This is probably where Disco Elysium does the most to stand out from other such titles. Such a flexible approach to progress is hopefully something that other companies will emulate going forward, as it allows the character to develop a true personality that goes a step beyond the mathematically-oriented, incremental statistical increases that are usually the norm.

Disco Elysium Review

The ways in which player action, character interaction, and game reaction combine together is probably the closest it is possible to get to a truly curated dungeon master-guided play experience in an RPG. There is such a wide and unpredictable variety of moment-to-moment options that players can never be certain what exactly is going to happen next. This sense of improvisational unpredictability is a quintessential element of any RPG, but it is often lost in translation from tabletop rules to computer game mechanics. This pitfall is avoided thanks to the fact that the world of Disco Elysium was conceptualized as a tabletop game but doesn’t actually exist as one yet. As such the developers were able to implement systems without the expectation of adhering to pre-existing mechanics. This expectation has often been the downfall of many such games in the past, such as the much-maligned Sword Coast Legends which was lambasted for its apparent butchery of the 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons ruleset. It will be interesting to see if Larian Studios can avoid similar problems with Baldur’s Gate 3.

Disco Elysium Review

As intriguing and unconventional as Disco Elysium is, and no matter how deserving it is of the accolades it won at 2019’s Game Awards, it’s hard to recommend it as something to play if you’re looking for fun. It’s relentlessly grim even when it’s trying to be funny, and its stream of consciousness style makes even the most basic of interactions a minefield of potential disturbing possibilities. With its biting combination of continental existentialist ennui, pseudo-Lovecraftian undercurrents, and socio-political critique it isn’t a game that you play for the sheer joy of it, but rather for the esoteric and unusual experience that it offers. That being said, in a market that’s full to bursting point with crowd-pleasing blockbusters and oftentimes strictly by-the-book sequels or carbon copy titles, it can be incredibly rewarding to delve into a game as intricate and nuanced as Disco Elysium.

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