The very first indication of what awaits in Deponia is found in the game’s opening theme song, which may very well be the best videogame theme song of all time. It’s a Firefly-esque ode to life on the junk world known as Deponia – hence the title – whose inhabitants eke out a hardscrabble existence salvaging trash and searching for new sources of fresh water. It’s funny, and it sets a tone that holds up over the entirety of the game.
Deponia is a purebred point-and-click adventure that follows the misadventures of Rufus, a dreamer, an inventor, a visionary – and a jerk. And make no mistake, he’s not a misunderstood scoundrel who does his best but always seems to end up on the wrong side of the right thing. He’s selfish, egomaniacal and a legitimate, all-around dick. He has no qualms at all about putting the screws to his best (and likely only) friend, and considers his long-suffering (and now former) girlfriend’s insistence that he get a job and do the dishes once in awhile to be utterly unreasonable. His only goal in life is to escape his dirty, dreary life and make his way to the distant realm of Elysium, a land of milk and honey that floats high in the sky above his home.
The opening segment of Deponia is dedicated to Rufus’ latest scheme to reach Elysium, and while the outcome is all too predictable, I laughed like a fool at the payoff anyway. It’s not what you’d call sophisticated humor – think Wile E. Coyote meets Homer Simpson and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how it plays out – but the presentation is so well done that it works anyway. Deponia’s production values are absolutely top-notch, with sharp, highly-detailed backdrops, voice acting better than some mainstream triple-A releases, great music and cutscenes that would blow a typical Saturday morning cartoon out of the water. When it comes to making adventures, the Germans don’t screw around.
Unfortunately, after getting off to a strong start, Deponia sags rather dramatically in the second half of the lengthy opening chapter, when the oddly-named and inconveniently-cybernetic Goal is introduced to the action. She’s a beautiful Elysian female who may well be Rufus’ ticket to the good life, but before any of that can happen he must first revive her and then prove his “claim” to her with the town’s mayor. It lacks direction and is weighed down with frustratingly obtuse puzzles, and although I may not be the sharpest cookie I have no idea how some of these puzzles could be solved without a walkthrough. It drags narratively too, as the priority shifts from sharp storytelling to confounding players with an overload of tough brainteasers. The story thankfully picks up again in the second and third chapters, which pass much more enjoyably with better pacing and far more reasonable puzzles.
The game suffers from a few technical issues, most of which relate to the translation from the game’s original German. There are occasional spots of odd or awkward terminology, one line of subtitled text appears in German rather than English and the subtitles don’t appear at all in a multiple choice puzzle in the second chapter, forcing you to either guess your way through it or, again, rely on a walkthrough. It doesn’t do much to fill out its fiction, either. The role of the Organon, a sort of half-robotic military organization-slash-secret police that seems to serve the people of Elyisum, is never clearly explained, nor is the exact nature of Goal’s brain implant, which is really just a cheap way to bring her in and out of the action as needed. While these threads may be explained in a sequel – and yes, the conclusion leaves that door wide open – the lack of a resolution after so much obvious build-up is a little disappointing.
But in spite of those missteps, Deponia is a success. It brings absolutely nothing new to the genre, but it’s legitimately funny, brilliantly produced and, aside from some slogging in the middle, moves quickly and smoothly from start to finish. It’s not quite great, but it’s awfully good.
Bottom Line: It’s slapstick and lowbrow, and the pacing goes off the rails for awhile, but Deponia is another solid adventure from Daedalic.
Recommendation: Fans of old-school adventures should snap it up. The rest of you should probably find a walkthrough first.[rating=4]