Deponia – Review
Too often, adventures either fall into the camp of those who look and sound spectacular, but struggle with puzzles and gameplay, or they succeed in the latter while flunking the former. Thankfully there are those adventures which manage to find that all-too-rare alchemy and get pretty much everything right. Deponia is one of those titles. Developed by Daedalic Entertainment, and finally seeing a UK release, Deponia takes Daedalic’s trademarks of surreal humour and gorgeous art style and stamps them firmly into the genre’s forehead, in case we missed them previously.
Deponia takes place on the titular trash planet, which has long been smothered to bursting point in junk, and whose surface is home to several ramshackle towns, cobbled together from recycled bric-a-brac, and giving shelter to many, hard-working inhabitants. Hard-working, however, is not how best to describe the game’s protagonist – the egocentric, serial-slacker, Rufus. This workshy fantasist spends his days mooching off his ex-girlfriend Toni and terrorising the long-suffering townsfolk of Kuvaq with his inventions, while dreaming of a better life. Tired of the mundanity of life in Kuvaq (and of the widely-held notion that he should – horror of horrors – work), Rufus typically dedicates his time (and everyone else’s resources) to planning his escape, hoping to secure an even lazier existence in one of the floating cities in the clouds – Elysium.
We leap into his battered boots as he finalises the preparations for his latest attempt at a life of luxury in the arms of one of Elysium’s Orbit Pixies, but all does not go to plan (screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place), and the disastrous result ends up causing a girl called Goal to fall from one of the cruisers passing overhead. Ever the hero, Rufus sees her as his ticket to the heady, workless wonder of Elysium, and vows to get her home, while, of course, tagging along for the ride. Life is never that easy however, and not only does Goal remain stubbornly unconscious, but some unpleasant characters are on the hunt for her.
The story may well seem like a simple one – and at its heart, it is – but the developers have made it entertaining enough that the ‘boy meets girl’ bones never really protrude rudely through the narrative. Of course, when the girl is unconscious through much of the action and is carted around in ever more amusing ways by a self-obsessed ‘hero’, it tends to lend a satisfyingly perverse twist to the over-familiar theme. And it is this hero who really hammers together the pieces of magic laid out here. Rather than being dashing, charming, selfless, noble, and humble, Rufus is the opposite. With a vengeance. Ordinarily, a character that is so inflated with a sense of self-importance; so lazy, ego driven, deluded, and complanitory would grate, but somehow he manages to be charming and utterly amusing – thankfully. Whether it is his comments on the things and people around him, or everyone’s reactions to him, Rufus is the centre of the wacky humour that underpins the whole game and in him, Daedalic have created a truly engaging anti-hero.
He drives the story along at a leisurely pace and it remains absorbing and entertaining throughout. While it wasn’t complex, by the same token it wasn’t convoluted and, aside from some dragging in the middle section, never became bogged down or took itself seriously; when it eventually wound to a conclusion it was ultimately satisfying – something that can’t often be said for many adventures. Enough tiny threads and questions have been left open for a sequel and, indeed, at the time of writing, Chaos on Deponia is being playtested ahead of an Autumn release in Europe. One criticism would be that even when events would suggest otherwise, there was no real sense of urgency to proceedings and the pace never cranked up and dragged the tension with it – it was very laid back, but in all honesty, this suited the game’s overall tone. The sedate pace, however, serves to give the player ample time to absorb the artwork on display, and such is the lovely nature of Deponia’s visuals, that almost every screen is a piece of artist-envying eye-candy.
The art style has a hand-drawn comic book look, with bold lines and vivid colours; for a dreary junk planet, Deponia has much to offer in the looks department. As we mentioned previously when we previewed the game, the developers underlined influences such as Matt Groening, but for me, it brought to mind the broken down, off-the-wall post-apocalyptic setting of Hewlett and Martin’s lauded Tank Girl, with the rich, crowded feel of Terry Pratchett’s novels thrown in for good measure. The effect is impressive, with the whole thing looking like Steptoe and Son: The Next Generation, but with added colour. Even background details are absorbing and the sheer creativity in the design and attention to detail meant that almost every screen was worth lingering over. The town of Kuvaq is cobbled together in the most inventive fashion, with a broken down, worn futuristic feel to everything that is actually very charming – rather like its most reluctant inhabitant.
Building interiors, Kuvaq, the trash mines, and beyond all offer up eye-catching locations, and the quirky charm of the design is what helps allow for the puzzles to become the sneaky, surreal beasts that they are. With such a setting, I hardly expected things to be straightforward – after all, this is Daedalic we’re talking about… the people who managed to make all other asylums seem like palaces of logic thanks to Edna and Harvey: The Breakout – and sure enough, Deponia didn’t disappoint.
The developers have gone for the surreal approach here and thanks to the setting and characters, it works beautifully. With these sort of puzzles there is always a danger that things will get too ridiculous, that the solution will be obscure and even obtuse, but for the most part they cling to the game’s own internal logic train. They range from the usual inventory/environment puzzles, to the big puzzles or mini-games, where you get close up with a tricky problem.
There were several times, however, that I found myself about to embark on the classic adventure fall back of experimental clicking and inventory/environment pinballing when I realised that the developer had placed subtle clues as to the solution – sometimes. Other times I became genuinely stuck – good luck finding a solution online when the game is still only out in German – and it was frustrating, but this is part and parcel of the genre and after a forehead smack, I could usually understand and accept the solution, but on occasions, just not how I was supposed to have arrived at it without dabbling around.
This was especially true for a few of the larger puzzles, which could be bastards. More than once, I found myself clicking away, hoping that I would hit the solution as I had no real idea what was required to achieve the end goal, or if I did, I wasn’t sure how to get there from what was on display. It was only after I had used the convenient skip feature that I was able to go back and reverse engineer the solution to see how it was arrived at. Regular (and I use that term in the loosest possible sense) puzzles range from luring and trapping a runaway toothbrush, to tying up the radio lines to the town’s communications post using a tattle-tailing parrot. Of course, getting the crane to work so that you can scoop up Goal like a toy in a seaside grabber machine was just as amusing, but then so was dropping her just for fun. Overall they are a success and, once again, Daedalic have offered a welcome break from the genre’s more serious kin. No safes to be cracked here.
Navigation is the usual tried and tested point and click fare, with the ‘show all hotspots’ key being present, and interactive objects showing as either things you can examine, pick up (steal), use, or talk to. It is with the inventory, though, that the developers have improved the formula. The player is offered a choice between the old skool ‘click to open’ inventory or the spiffy new mouse wheel mechanic. Just roll your mouse wheel to tug down a themed inventory panel and flick it up to dismiss it. It flows very well and is easy to use, negating the need for repeated clicking and generally making life easier. I hope this is here to stay with future releases.
With the story and visuals doing much to impress, it would have been a safe bet that the game wold fall prey to the common flaw of the genre in the voice acting. However even here, the game shines, with solid performances all round, and no mangled accents or out of place, ill-fitting vocals. Standouts are Rufus himself and the cross-dressing post office receptionist, Lottie, who has more stubble than the average mafia family, and who swings from gruff, irritable male to ball-crushed falsetto in the same sentence. The soundtrack stays on theme and delivers a laid back, understated background of junk-orchestra music one minute and swelling brassy tracks the next and is actually very enjoyable.
In Deponia, Daedalic may well have produced their best title to date. Everything is bang on the money, even the usual genre pitfalls are mostly avoided, and although some puzzles will stop you in your tracks, there is usually a skip option or some sort of hint. Deponia is a quirky, surreal, and beautifully-presented game that is as off-the-wall as it first appears, and proud of it. It is a genuine pleasure to play and besides… any game featuring a squeaky platypus toy is worth more than a second look.Pros
- The hand drawn cartoon art style is stunning
- Inventive backdrops and locations
- Surreal, amusing humour
- Great overall themeing
- Kooky and satisfying puzzles
- Smooth inventory access utilising mouse wheel
- Fitting sounds, vocals and score
- Surly, workshy, egocentric lead character is a hit
- A few puzzles seem to require repeated experimental clicking/inventory pinballing
- I would like to have seen more of Kuvaq
- The need for people to bounce off for much of Rufus's humour means that the middle section is somewhat lacking
Taking a hypodermic of their usual staples, Deadalic have thumped it into the heart of their own genre, delivering a well-rounded, blissful kick of addictive lushness that now begs for a sequel. Offering a quirky, inventive setting, painted in rich detail in the developer's typically beautiful hand-drawn cartoony art style, Deponia is a joy to look at as much as play.
The surreal nature of the game's setting and theme carries through admirably to the characters and puzzles, which fit neatly into the narrative, complimenting the odd humour and kooky style. A few issues with the pace and puzzles aside, Deponia gets very little wrong and can stand confidently at the top of the comic adventure heap.
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