Chaos on Deponia
US: Nov 2012
When I reviewed Deponia, I began my analysis of the game with a sort of warning that the modest numerical score at the bottom would probably not make sense given the largely positive things I had to say about the game. So, here we go again. Chaos on Deponia is the not all that suitable title of Deponia’s sequel. And once again, it brings back all the excellent and problematic qualities of the first.
The game picks up immediately where the last one left off. It does give a brief summary of the previous game, so it’s possible to play and enjoy Chaos without having played Deponia. However, the game does reference characters and events from its predecessor, and the overall tone is better established in the first scenes on Deponia’s surface. So, it would be in the player’s best interest to race through the first game before approaching the second. It’s a game that really shouldn’t be played until the first one is completed so consider the rest of this review a spoiler warning for Deponia.
Like the first game, the jokes are funny, the setting is colorful and original, the music is exceptional, and the characters are absurd and charming. Also like the first game, the puzzles are illogical, frustrating, and can only be accomplished when a very stringent procedure is followed. In fact, the puzzles seem even more ludicrous than the last time around. For the truly gifted non-linear thinker, the puzzles pose a great challenge. To someone that just wants to see the funny cartoon play in a bright world, it’s best to keep a spoiler-free walkthrough open in another window.
As a result of Rufus’s stupidity, the personality of Goal (Rufus’s love interest from the upper world, Elysium) winds up split into three separate, interchangeable implants. Rufus has to swap each personality out of Goal’s body to learn more about her mission on Deponia. In order to stop the high council of Elysium’s order to annihilate the planet, she must return to the upper world to report that life on the surface still exists. Rufus’s toxic self-interest stalls the plan at every step. In fact, much of the plot is padded by Rufus doing some incredibly stupid and destructive thing to prolong the group’s efforts. Rufus handles every incoming challenge with the confidence and enthusiasm of a steampunk version Inspector Clouseau—with much the same result.
Much like the first game, Chaos on Deponia is more about taking the scenic route. Opening a door is never as simple as opening a door. Everything just opens more opportunities for more jokes. But since the jokes are funny, that’s okay. That said, the humor leans less toward Bill Hicks and more towards Larry the Cable Guy. The jokes are crass and a few are in poor taste, but they remain funny for the most part and mostly work on the whole. The humor has been enough to sustain the series so far, and the writing always feels fresh.
Unfortunately, many of the great characters from the first game are gone or have reduced screen time. Gizmo, Toni, and Wenzel are all but gone, but the world broadens enough to welcome new characters to take the spotlight. The mellow Bozo, who Rufus keeps calling a pirate, the revolutionary Janosh, whose injury sustained from eating a chili dog has left him with a debilitating speech impediment, and the thugs of the unorganized crime syndicate all liven up the world. It’s also the first time that we see somebody that is inarguably a worse person than Rufus is. That said, Goal’s fiancé, Cletus, who looks and acts like an Elysian Rufus, is tragically underused. His interactions with Rufus have been among the best in the series, and his presence between the first and final scenes is sorely missed.
Once again, most of the game is centered around Goal. She’s the most knowledgeable figure as well as the primary motivation for the hero. Her unconsciousness throughout most of the first game made her flat and her ego-division in the second seems to do little to help flesh her out. Her three personas—Lady Goal, Spunky Goal and Baby Goal—are hard to get attached to at first. None of them particularly like Rufus, and his dogged pursuit of her actually becomes quite creepy after a while. For the first half of the game, she’s boring at best, and at worst, she makes Rufus’s one likable trait, his determination, seem really unsettling. But in the second half of the game, she turns around entirely. When her more aggressive and idealistic personalities dominate her, she actually fits in well with Rufus’s misadventures. In her spunky form, she’s as wantonly destructive as Rufus, and in her baby form, she’s as willfully ignorant as he is. When these two personalities dominate, the leads actually develop some chemistry.
The game also explains much of the political and geographical workings of the world without bogging the experience down with exposition. It would be easy to didactically explain all the magic and whimsy out of Deponia, but developer Daedalic manages to inform the player without wrecking the experience. The game manages to keep a light tone, even while it explains itself a little better. By the end of Chaos on Deponia it’s clearer where everybody stands and what is at stake. It also becomes clear why the “chorus guys” that bridge each chapter celebrate Rufus as a hero.
However, this is all treating Chaos on Deponia as a clever indie cartoon, which it’s not. It’s a game. And as a game, it’s obtuse. There’s a point late in the game where Rufus has to fill a gas container with gasoline and he moans, “this is the least interesting thing I’ve ever put gas in,” which is appropriate because it’s one of the only times the game has an obvious solution to a problem. For instance, there’s a scene in which Rufus has to use a secret knock to get into a room, but he can’t because the beat of a nearby marketplace keeps getting in his head. The solution is to turn the music off from the settings. Clever, but unintuitive.
Then again, that could all be the point. The Deponians are a poor and discarded people. For the poor and neglected, solutions are seldom obvious, and assistance is usually withheld from them. Alternatively, the game takes place from Rufus’s perspective, and Rufus has an innate desire to refuse to do things the obvious way, so to truly take in the world as he sees it, it only makes sense to try to join a crime syndicate by shaving a cat with a swordfish (not making that up). Or, maybe I just suck at adventure games. At any rate, by the time I completed two games in this world, the difficulty no longer posed the problem that it seemed to halfway through the first Deponia.
Chaos on Deponia is too much fun to pass up. It’s clever and somebody clearly had fun making it. Daedalic games deserve credit for their fresh and clever take on the adventure genre. It’s not an easy game to figure out, and it delights in its outlandish logic. By the time I finished with it, I did too.