Chaos on Deponia
(Germany 2012, developer/publisher: Daedalic Entertainment, platform: PC)
Rufus’ journey to the promised land (Elysium) is still far from over as he has to put together his dream robot girl’s split personality after an unfortunate operation gone wrong and somehow escape the clutches of the evil Organon invaders who threaten to destroy Deponia.
Characters are a-changing…SORT OF
Rufus is still a controversial character with his egoistic remarks and self-centred actions, but at least there are some moments in which he realizes it and many more in which he is ridiculed as being quite stupid. This makes him more likeable, the same goes for the relationship between him and Goal. What makes it especially interesting is that with her split personality he becomes a more vulnerable character and shows more of his weaker attributes. Of course there’s something more between the two, and this time it’s also much more convincing than in the first part.
A bigger game world also means more NPCs, and some are so well-crafted that they seem a bit more than the typical stereotypes players so often meet in the comic adventure genre, just to have some funny lines. It’s true there are better ones around, as in What Makes You Tick and not everyone is as memorable as in Guybrush’s old adventures, but it’s a bigger step forward than in the first game.
Story and humor of different tastes
The story itself isn’t anything to write home about, and it only becomes interesting after quite some playtime, as most of it is spent by solving puzzles and interacting with the crazy inhabitants of Deponia, so nothing really new there. Except for a few touching scenes between Rufus and Goal which are unfortunately too few and far in between to make the story stick out from many other comic adventures. It’s a shame, because Jan-Müller Michaelis showed with his former games Edna: The Breakout and Harvey’s New Eyes that he can write very funny dialogues and still retain a serious tone. Would this have happened a bit more here, the story wouldn’t come across as so trivial. Fingers crossed then that the final part of the trilogy achieves this, as some scenes allude to more mature themes.
Humor is again a point to debate: There are far more slapstick scenes and some dialogues are genuinely funny, even if some animals have to suffer. Yes, animals don’t live very long where Rufus goes. Without taking away any of the surprise, but the opening could be one of the funniest and most controversial scenes in the history of comic adventures, which involves a small bird and Rufus’ inability to get a hammer. The rest of the game offers quite a few other violent scenes against animals (whoever of the USK gave this a 6+ rating, should be feathered him or herself, also considering how some other “comic” subject matters are handled) which never top this scene, but which are pretty unique to watch.
Good unclean fun…NOT
(Comic) cruelty against animals aside, there are some scenes in which the script completely misses the mark and simply isn’t funny: Rufus calling out for a man to inform him that his wife has cancer, or him making a comment about homeless people having to eat shoes and speak a certain slang. Those are few, but they are completely unnecessary and nearly destroy the compassion one could feel for this character. It’s one thing to use satire, slapstick and puns, but quite another to just be rude and crude for offending people for fun’s sake.
Lost in the big town
Like the first game, the major part of playtime is spent in one town, though this one is much bigger and consists of different districts. The Swimming Black Market is beautiful to look at and it’s easy to get lost with so many twists and turns in the streets. Fortunately there’s usually a map, not in every screen, but in most. Still as only districts can be travelled to by it, it can become quite troublesome to reach individual places, so remembering where key points are is essential to progress.
Of course the big location is a playground for old-school adventure gamers. So many people to talk to, so many objects to pick up and so many puzzles to solve. It becomes even more open-world when more islands are added, though this is much later in the game, and then only specific spots can be visited, so it’s not an endless sea of screens to click through.
It can become extremely difficult to keep track on what to do as, unlike most recent adventure games, the solutions to the tasks at hand are usually not in the same screen or the next. Fortunately there are quite a few hints hidden in dialogues or comments. The only problem is that some are rather obscure and it soon becomes the same trial-and-error method so many people averse to the obscure nature of puzzle solving in adventure games like to avoid.
Puzzles around every corner
What makes the puzzle design even more complicated but also refreshing is how Rufus has to handle the split personalities of Goal. First he has to win over each one which requires different approaches and chains of puzzles to solve. Then he has to switch between them in order to perform specific tasks. It’s quite an original concept as Goal can’t be controlled directly like in so many “co-op” situations used other games, but by convincing her to play her part nonentheless, which also leads to quite some funny scenes.
There is not only more variety in puzzle design, but the solutions themselves are sometimes quite ingenious. Like the old LucasArts games, there is a thin line between the obvious and the downright who’d-have-thought-this-would-ever-work, and though it doesn’t always work, there are more than a few memorable puzzles.
Return of the mini…games, if you want them or not
A return to Deponia also means a return to mini games, and there are a lot, a whole lot. Maybe it’s just me, but if I want to play a collection of mini games, I get something for the Wii. If I want to solve logic puzzles, I get Professor Layton (with a much more likeable character), so these tasks are simply time-wasters. For some, they might be time-sinkers as they make the game longer. But in a way, it would have been much better to think of more inventory-based puzzles or simply use a comic cutscene than going through all these segments (which again can be skipped).
It’s like a (cartoon) movie!
Graphics and soundtrack remain untouched and are of a high quality. It’s like watching a (sometimes nasty) cartoon, only with better voice acting, at least in the German version. Again I haven’t played the English one, and this time it would be quite a challenge for the localization as there are more songs (of varying quality) and one scene in which Rufus has to overcome the problem that one character has an dialect which always makes him laugh, resulting in a dead end, if he can’t get around it somehow. This again shows some interesting puzzle design, even if making fun of the dialect can be a bit annoying later on.
Music can again become quite repetitive, but there are some scenes in which it suddenly changes to melancholic tunes, and these are simply the best storytelling moments in the saga so far, maybe alluding to a much more mature third part in which the relationship between Rufus and Goal but also his connection to Deponia will be put to the test.
An improved update and a worthy sequel
Chaos on Deponia might not be the most sophisticated in storytelling or subtlety. Humor will definitely not be to everyone’s taste and crosses the line a bit too often, but the puzzle design makes up for its shortcomings. Now if only the last part of the trilogy can make the main character more likeable without falling back on clichés (read: Dickensian Scrooge-becoming-goodness-personified), then the promise of comic adventures revived after the LucasArts years can be fulfilled.
As a game on its own, it works much better than the first part, as it has a longer playtime of over 10 hours, more places to visit (even if the location at the beginning can become a bit too familiar and tiresome) and more interesting characters to talk to.. It’s not groundbreaking or innovative in any way and is definitely not the best adventure game of the year or in years, but what Deponia tried to be, Chaos On Deponia nearly achieves: a love letter to graphic adventures of old in new, modern (punk) clothes.