DISCO ELYSIUM feels like an imaginary videogame, the sort of game nostalgically described in hushed whispers by the protagonist in a cyberpunk novel; a game too lunatic, too distinct, too arty to actually be willed into the world. Yet, here we are.
However, when one spells out the basics of what DISCO ELYSIUM is, it sounds like an indistinct late 90s videogame: you’re an alcoholic cop investigating a brutal murder in a cesspool of a town populated by colorful, often distasteful weirdos, navigating around via an isometric RPG interface with walls and walls of text.
In reality, DISCO ELYSIUM’s real roots are in text adventures, in heading north, south, east or west, in finding the right responses to someone’s dialogue fragment. This is a game you read more than you watch or interface with. Not to belittle the complexity of the game’s systems — which are intentionally obtuse, complicated, and a fresh take on RPG levelling — but this game is first and foremost a vehicle to deliver writers’ words, and they’re some of the most enigmatically twisted and idiosyncratic words to describe the game’s unique, but also familiar, world.
Fundamentally, DISCO ELYSIUM is about introspection, identity, and masculine reckoning with a hostile world. Or maybe it’s not, and that’s just what I encountered in my initial play-through. Either way, it is an extremely dense, extraordinarily complexly detailed world, strikingly portrayed by Aleksander Rostov, one that feels a bit like HALF-LIFE 2 via cult-favorite adventure game series SYBERIA. In other words: bombed-out Eastern Europe.
If there’s one fault with DISCO ELYSIUM it’s that it is buggy, but I suppose that comes with the territory. Save early, save often. Otherwise, this is an astounding interactive experience, a game that will be talked about in hushed whispers in the years to come.