Genre: Comedy Adventure
Release Date: August 7, 2012
Platform: Windows (reviewed), Mac
Lots of Baby Steps Add Up to A Big Leap Forward for Daedalic
Daedalic Entertainment is a game developer in Hamburg, Germany. They’ve been around for awhile, and they’ve been producing a steady stream of point-and-click adventure games. For that alone, I give them props. I have, however, been critical of their lackluster American localizations and penchant for illogical puzzles. You may remember I loved the look of A New Beginning, but the game caused me a lot of frustration.
Their newest graphic adventure is an ambitious but lighthearted romp called Deponia. While not perfect, I consider it a significant step in the right direction for Daedalic.
Music and sound are a big deal for me in games, and the Deponia title screen welcomes you with a bold and unapologetic orchestral theme that helps convey the idea that you are headed into a big adventure.
In addition, when you begin a new game, you can make interface/control decisions. I strongly support this move! Giving the player choice is almost always a good thing!
In Deponia you play as Rufus, a rascally tinkerer who lives on a world that is, quite literally, a trash heap. Rufus shares quarters with his ex-girlfriend, and he’s desperate to head out to greener pastures.
The bulk of the game consists of you helping Rufus achieve this goal. To do so, you’ll have to navigate a series of classic third-person adventure game tropes: collecting inventory every chance you get, combining inventory items in clever ways, and using these items to solve puzzles in the environments.
From the very first few scenes, you’ll see that Deponia benefits greatly from lush production values and a high degree of polish. Despite the fact that it takes place in a global trash heap, the screens are alive with color and have a bouncy, lively feel. Incidental animations add a dynamic touch to the scenes.
One of my Big Rules for video games is that a game needs to create an environment that I want to spend time in. Deponia delivers in that department.
Another admirable aspect of the game is the fact that the format is so classic and familiar that it gets out of your way. Very quickly you find yourself focusing on the game, not the interface.
The game’s story is also strong. At first I worried that the single-minded quest of the main character (essentially “Leave!!”) would eventually wear thin. But early in the game you get to eavesdrop on a bit of malfeasance that really perks up your interest. Teasing out the story becomes as important an objective as working your way through the game’s many puzzles.
Deponia is also a step forward for Daedalic in regards to voice acting. There’s a lot of it in the game, and while it doesn’t reach FunCom heights, it’s an improvement over their earlier games.
There are aspects of the game that temper my praise, however. Daedalic hasn’t quite shed itself of all of its old bad habits. The main protagonist, Rufus, is not only a bit of a douchebag, he’s also just a bit…strange. Who knows, maybe you need a more Teutonic sensibility than I have to really appreciate him.
Also, some of the puzzles and events in the game are just a bit too strange as well. A perfect example of this happens during the very first challenge of the game, which is to help Rufus pack his suitcase. Okay, that’s a perfectly good first puzzle. But the designers choose to show you just how much of a slob Rufus is in a decidedly head-scratching way: They animate his toothbrush. That is to say, they make his toothbrush literally run away from him. It hides from him in a dark corner, and then you have to work out how Rufus can succeed in fishing it out.
Now, if one of the nice executives from Daedalic hadn’t actually explained this to me – that the reason that his toothbrushjumps up and runs away from him has something to do with Rufus’s slovenliness – I’m not sure I would have understood that at all. Maybe I’m just simple-minded, but without that explanation I would have just figured the game had taken an early detour into surrealist David Lynch territory*. Even with this clarification, it just seemed…weirdly unnecessary and strange.
Maybe it’ll land better with you, however. Maybe scared toothbrushes won’t annoy you as much as they did me. The fact is, Deponia has a lot to offer:
Deponia may not quite be a home run, but it’s a huge leap forward from a busy and ambitious studio. If they keep improving at this rate, who knows how terrific their next games could be? In the meantime, you could do MUCH worse than spending time in Deponia.
*Not that a David Lynch-themed game wouldn't be awesome