Chaos on Deponia – Review
With Lucasarts recently sold to Disney, one could be forgiven for wondering what will happen to the realm of point-and-clicks, with the future of beloved franchises like Monkey Island up in the air for the foreseeable future. Those in the know will rightly tell you there’s nothing to worry about, as Daedalic Entertainment have long since taken the reins of the genre and provided titles that deserve to be as iconic as its nineties counterparts, if not more-so. Of particular note is Deponia, the first in a trilogy surrounding Rufus, a lazy, egotistical jerk who doesn’t think things through and leaves disaster wherever he walks – a character I found oddly relatable – and his attempts to reach the titular trash-filled planet that our editor, Lorna, sang the praises of earlier this year. When the dust had settled on another of Rufus’ (mis)adventures, I was ecstatic to discover that, rather than being the awkward middle child to the trilogy, Chaos on Deponia could potentially be crowned as the series’ Empire Strikes Back.
Those familiar with the original may join Rufus in taking umbrage at the tutorial that opens this second chapter, especially as it’s nigh-identical to the original, save for the anti-hero’s complaints and the presence of a more reluctant guide. However, this ignores the writing, which openly lampshades this repetition and deftly reinforces Rufus’ character as he repeatedly insists he already knows everything he’s being told despite all evidence to the contrary. It’s a subtly skilful way to bring old players up to speed and clue newbies in, and this is reinforced by the summary of the previous game that immediately follows, complete with exaggeration, black-and-white live-action film clips and a Rufus-composed theme as he attempts to explain what’s happened to a confused Goal.
Backtracking to how Rufus and Goal are reunited, we discover he appears to have learnt little from the previous title’s escapades, accidentally killing a bird and setting a house on fire as its owner is placated by Doc’s insistence that our protagonist has changed for the better, has become more responsible and is not, as the befuddled grandmother insists, a ‘brutal thug’. For new players it’s a brilliant insight into the man they’ll be commanding for the next few hours, and for fans of the first it’s a nice reassurance that not much has changed.
Typically, Rufus is once again attempting to escape Deponia and reach Elysium for what he perceives to be a better life, and yet again causes a trail of destruction that almost ends in decapitation, and instead ends in Goal once again estranged from her fiancé and suffering from a broken memory implant. Tasked with buying new memory cartridges to restore her mind so that she can return to Elysium and warn the Council of Elders that Deponia is inhabited and thus preventing its destruction, Rufus faces a dilemma of his own: does he buy the expensive cartridges he was specifically told to buy, or the cheaper ones that come with a free lollipop?
The adage of “you get what you pay for” rings true, as the memory transfer malfunctions and Goal’s personality and memories are spread across three cartridges, each containing a specific facet of her inner being. Rather than a cliché division into id, ego and superego, her traits and flaws are instead packaged into three distinct versions of her personality; her naivety and optimism are condensed into the excitable and somewhat gullible ‘Baby’ Goal, her aggression, adventurousness and smart-alec taunts compose ‘Spunky’ Goal, and her snobbish and more civilised aspects become ‘Lady Goal’. In order to bring them back together, regain the ascension codes and save Deponia from destruction, Rufus must woo each version of Goal and coerce them into forming a cohesive whole once again. To do so, he must make use of a remote allowing him to swap what version of Goal is occupying her body at a button press, and swapping between each iteration of her personality becomes paramount to completing the myriad of tasks that lay ahead on the path to Deponia’s potential salvation.
Those more cynically minded may claim Chaos on Deponia is sexist, and this is an unfortunate accusation that rings hollow in context. While characters do make remarks that may cause you to ponder, they’re only ever made by those shown and proven to be less than reputable, and their comments are used to show them up in a more negative light and to be condemned and laughed at rather than reinforced – comedy and subtext come from exposing their flaws over those of anyone they potentially belittle.
Much like the first game, Chaos on Deponia isn’t afraid of walking a tightrope with its humour, and though it occasionally goes into territory some may choose to find uncomfortable, it expertly pirouettes that line, meaning that failed attempts at humour are so rare I couldn’t even name you a single moment that didn’t hit its mark, let alone count them on a single hand. This second chapter of the Deponia story widens its range of comic targets, and though it enters territories some may find a lot darker than the original, there’s barely a moment when the stellar writing isn’t making you snigger or causing a brilliant moment of introspection or deconstruction.
This is bolstered by one of the more amazing casts I’ve ever had the pleasure to play with, featuring a fast-food vendor looking for sacrifices for the Lord of Darkness in the basement, the mystic Seer who insists you’re going to steal his bananas, even if you don’t want to, an eloquent cyber-mutt called Clever-Byte with a laugh rivalling any aristocrat, and another cheeky self-insertion by series creator Jan Müller-Michaelis (or ‘Poki’, if you’d prefer) as a tone-deaf gondolier.
Many sequels tend to bring in the majority of the supporting cast from the original and make do from there, but Chaos strikes gold by only utilising characters from the tail-end of the previous title then letting rip with a title heaving with new, distinct personalities that all conspire to steal the scene away from Rufus. Lorna mentioned in her review of Deponia that the middle section of the game felt slightly lacking due to a lack of people for Rufus to bounce off of, and this was one of the few flaws the game had that the sequel fixed; there are now so many characters to interact with that Rufus’ shtick never stagnates.
The story is also a marked improvement on the first, not because it makes any massive strides in narrative, but because it serves as a massive deconstruction of Rufus, Goal, and what both parties need to surpass in order to be together. Where part one was much more about Rufus wanting Goal because of his desires to reach Elysium, Goal’s presence in the sequel as a conscious participant in the proceedings gives their various dynamics plenty of time to shine; the romantic sub-plot doesn’t overshadow the main story thread, but intertwines with it in such a way that one influences and affects the other and both ebb and flow together naturally. By the time the credits roll, both Rufus and Goal become far more three-dimensionally-written, with Goal receiving the deepest and strongest characterisation of the series, despite being unconscious for most of the first entry in the trilogy. Even Rufus – though still as stubborn and egotistical as ever – becomes far more sympathetic and likeable throughout his latest adventure, thanks to the introspection he’s forced to undertake and the path the story leads.
Chaos on Deponia is a much darker tale too, and this isn’t just because of the humour; there’s far more violence and foul language perpetuated throughout your time on the titular planet. It’s a comfortable transition – if Deponia was dipping toes in the pool then Chaos is comfortably swimming laps. The only real flaw I can accredit to Chaos’ writing is that once again the ending feels a bit weak on the ground; all immediate issues are solved, but there’s still a lot left hanging for the final part, and one particular moment felt more like a pandering cop-out that happened because it could, not because it should.
Chaos does much to surpass its predecessor thanks to the improved story and script behind it, but it’s not a fell swoop as the array of puzzles leave a little to be desired. On the whole, the mix isn’t incredibly strong, with several attempts to deviate from the typical formula of point and click puzzles ultimately falling flat. One early example requires you to move from the regular genre affair to one that requires quick reflexes and little room for failure, lest you wish to see and hear the same cut-scene of Rufus getting belted in the knackers and his rationalisation for losing time and again. This is compounded by the counterpart puzzle being bugged at the time of reviewing – causing it to become impossible to solve or even attempt – though luckily it’s optional.
The worst offender is a very late-game puzzle that requires you to hunt down and destroy a submarine; you’ll know how to do it very quickly, but actually pulling it off takes far longer than it has any right to and your progress can be completely hindered by the erratic movement of the sub that can (and frequently will) escape from being cornered and cause either another few minutes of playing catch-up or you sighing and reluctantly clicking the reset button. Its inclusion comes across as an anomaly and it took so long to complete in spite of the AI that it actively hindered the pace instead of ramping it up, and I actually found myself taking an extended break afterwards to relax before I felt calm enough to continue.
If the weak puzzles fall limply to the floor, the best puzzles hit you like a hay-maker. Swapping between the different versions of Goal allows for some master-strokes in puzzle design, with other highlights including subduing the aforementioned gondolier to learn how to seduce Spunky Goal, using the Seer’s relationship advice to find out the lottery numbers, drugging yourself with a cucumber to learn how to outwit the Shopomat Robot (it’s medicinal!) to a fourth-wall breaking wonder that demands you turn off the music at a key moment in order to progress. While there are some very strong puzzles scattered throughout this adventure, the weaker ones stop Chaos from reaching its true potential and outclassing its predecessing chapter. It should be mentioned that, more often than not, all the clues you need are subtly hinted within dialogue or the environment, and that you can skip some of the trickier challenges in exchange for the satisfaction and achievements you would have earned through finishing them.
One of the most incredible things about the original Deponia was its beautiful art-style, which often had to be seen to be believed; the amount of detail contained within single screen-shots were almost proof-positive of the concept of “a picture tells a thousand words”, and Chaos is no different. Every environment is chock-full of loving detail and tons of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them moments, whether they’re important to a puzzle, just for gawping at or leaving subtle hints to past and future Daedalic epics. I also found the music to be more enjoyable and catchier this time around; admittedly I found that Poki’s between-act songs were less memorable than those in Deponia (which I still find myself singing from time to time), though that hasn’t stopped me firing Chaos up several times since completion just to hear his renditions again.
With every point-and-click comes the question of replayability, and though it shouldn’t necessarily be a concern considering the length of this title (it took me eleven hours to finish) and its place in the middle of a trilogy, there’s still content for players to hunt down should they wish to start the title anew. For one, there are plenty of achievements for players to find and unlock – I only managed nineteen of thirty-four in my play-through – with many of them requiring you to use items and the environments in ways you wouldn’t traditionally think of. Second, there are plenty of jigsaw pieces hidden around each location that require expert pixel-hunting prowess to discover as they don’t show up when you use the space-bar to reveal all hotspots, allowing you to compile a picture of Goal in the bonus menu. Third, completing Chaos allows you to watch a video of the Deponia staff whaling on a few abandoned cars, so if you want to see the key players in the title’s construction and some windows smashed with a sledgehammer you can’t go too wrong.
I’ll admit I was nervous before playing Chaos on Deponia; its predecessor did so much right that the odds were stacked heavily against anything that dared to follow. Chaos proves that you should never bet against Daedalic, as they’ve once again provided a stunning adventure that you’d be foolish not to pick up and indulge yourself in. Get yourself both instalments of the Deponia series, sit down, throw yourself into its world, and you’ll understand why I’m yet another convert singing the praises of Daedalic and restlessly counting down the days until the final instalment of the trilogy arrives.Pros
- Absolutely stunning art style packed to bursting with detail
- Amazing story that simultaneously deconstructs and celebrates the romantic sub-plot and our heroes
- Frequently hilarious script that'll keep you grinning from beginning to end
- Stellar voice-acting that helps bring to life one of the best casts around
- Catchy soundtrack that will inevitably become an ear-worm to some
- Achievements and jigsaw pieces provide plenty of extra content and Easter eggs for those who explore the world of Deponia more extensively
- Learns from and fixes the (few) flaws of the original
- Some amazing puzzles that expertly play around with the boundaries of the world
- Some obtuse puzzles with one pace-killer worthy of rage-quitting (though trickier puzzles can be skipped)
- Slightly lacklustre ending that may feel like a cop-out to some
What's with the weird obsession with platypus?
After Deponia made its ascent to the top of the comic adventure heap, Chaos on Deponia had a lot to prove, and instead of faltering like a Disney straight-to-DVD sequel, Daedalic have instead provided a second part so full of quality that, unlike its protagonist, it throws off the shackles of the junk below and flies full-pelt to the upper echelons where it deserves to make its home.
You may have to play Deponia first to truly appreciate everything this sequel does, but once the debris of another adventure has been cleared away, you're left with a title that could have gone wrong in so many ways, but has instead learnt from what little flaws the original had, built on it and provided a second part that'll leave you wanting to learn German just to shorten the gap to the end of the trilogy.
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