Daedalic Entertainment‘s cartoon adventure game Deponia Doomsday shows the pitfalls of time travel and endings.
Deponia Doomsday (PC)
(Germany 2016, developer/publisher: Daedalic Entertainment, platforms: PC, PS4)
Rufus wakes up from a dream that he saved the planet Deponia by sacrificing himself and is forced to blow it up again in the future, but when he meets temporal scientist McChronicle he sees a chance to set things right again with a time travel machine.
Fixing and messing up the future
Time travel stories rarely end well, as different timelines often lead to the same sad state of affairs, making it impossible to fix the future. This becomes evident in the many incidents and accidents Rufus experiences throughout his adventure. Similar to Groundhog Day, he is caught in a time loop, doing everything he can to escape, only to be caught in another bad situation.
The plot constantly jumps from one confusing and ridiculous twist to another, e.g. having multiple versions of people meeting each other. It’s obvious that time travel stories can get out of hand, but if one long exposition follows after another in the finale, it becomes clear that the writers tried too hard to be clever. Considering that there are some touching moments, the story about the impossibility to change the past or future has potential, but is muddled with too much nonsense and slapstick in between.
A hero to hate
Just as with Deponia, Chaos on Deponia, and Goodbye Deponia, Rufus remains a difficult character to like, as his obnoxious way of treating people hasn’t changed. As if the long and rarely funny dialogues weren’t painful enough, having Rufus praise himself in song or babbling other nonsense makes it annoying to listen to him. Condescending comments about current puzzles or tasks doesn’t make the writing any more intelligent. But it’s not only Rufus, with fart jokes and questionable violence against animals being the final nail in the comedy coffin.
More people to dislike
Unfortunately, the other characters don’t fare much better, as even Rufus’ former love interest Goal curses too much and comes across as an annoying know-it-all, while the rest of the cast are forgettable as well. It’s telling that a group of talking peanuts is the highlight of creativity here.
Puzzles are varied and usually give the player the freedom to decide in what order to complete objectives. While it’s usually clear what to do and there aren’t too many locations to visit in each individual chapter, picking up and trying everything with anything or anyone still becomes second nature. There are a few memorable puzzles, e.g. cloning an animal by choosing different traits and forms, but these usually result in trial-and-error tasks, too.
The more one progresses in the story, the more time manipulation becomes important, e.g. changing the past in order to receive an object in the present that might have a use in the future. It’s all rather confusing, with solutions often being obscure and never as memorable as in Day of the Tentacle: Remastered. But what is even more aggravating than repeatedly jumping through time portals in the later sections of the game is time pressure.
Short of time
Being forced to react in a limited amount of time is never a good idea in an adventure game, especially if time is reset and one is thrown back to repeat the same actions, almost becoming mad in the process. This is already a problem at the beginning when one is free to pick up objects only to find out that they’re not part of the current objective, so that some puzzles have to be solved again later, because they don’t fit in the timeline of the current plot strand. Having the same conversations with people can also be aggravating.
There are a few QTE sequences that aren’t too difficult with more time to react than in games like The Walking Dead: Season 1. They add more tension, but they’re also rather superfluous.
Mini games strike back
Mini-games were already annoying in the other Deponia titles, and they’re back with a vengeance once again. Granted, they can be skipped, but considering that most classic point-and-click adventure games are entertaining with inventive object combination solutions instead of just another conundrum taken out of a puzzle magazine, it’s obvious that these only make the game longer than it needs to be, especially if one has to repeat them because of the time loop.
Daedalic is known for great art design, and it’s no different here with lovely drawn cartoon characters and detailed backgrounds, in addition to some well-done cut-scenes. The German voice acting is convincing, too, although Rufus’ singing and fast-talking nonsense is almost unbearable. Ambient music is nice to listen to, but this can’t be said about the terrible songs by Jan-Müller ‘Poki’ Michaelis whose voice is just as grating on the ears as the main character.
Put the game back into the time capsule
Deponia Doomsday is the perfect example of how difficult it can be to imitate LucasArts games, in particular Day of the Tentacle, as its crude humor makes it hard to care for any of the characters. The story has so many silly twists and turns that one soon starts to lose interest in what is going on, which is a shame because the butterfly effect-like repercussions one has to live with show that a lot of thought and heart was put into it. However, having a lead who is not just an anti-hero, but simply a very annoying person who only sees his faults towards the end makes it a long journey to endure.
While the puzzles make good use of the continuity problems in time traveling, they still rely on too much trial-and-error and could have done without time pressure as well as repeated puzzle solving. All in all, the series could have been laid to rest after the third installment, as except for the nice cartoon graphics and good (German) voice acting, one will meet one frustration after another. It’s ironic that the meaninglessness of changing an ending or that some people are not happy with a game is discussed in metafictional comments by the characters themselves, showing just how difficult it is to please fans and critics alike.
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