Rating : 6/10
We all have days where we wish time would reverse and allow us to have a second go to make things right. This is the sentiment at the heart of Deponia Doomsday, the fourth instalment in the point-and-click adventure series from developers Daedalic Entertainment. Indeed, Doomsday is more a retelling, or reimagining, of the original trilogy’s events rather than a continuation of the story that concluded in Goodbye Deponia.
Therefore, now that it’s also out on Switch, this may be a good starting point for newcomers to the series who don’t want to commit to an entire trilogy. However, while brimming with personality and expressive visuals, the game stumbles over some frustrating puzzle design and mixed writing that oscillates between knee-slapping hilarity and eye-rolling juvenility.
Opening with a brief synopsis of the original three games, Doomsday then cuts to a prologue of an older, gruffer Rufus, being voiced by none other than David Hayter. Deponia is now an arctic wasteland that has been overrun by mutants known as Fewlocks, and Rufus is on a mission to blow it all up. It’s a neat intro that gets a lot of good material out of Rufus’ “jaded vigilante” impression, while also teaching the point-and-click essentials that the Deponia games have always been cemented in.
Following that, Rufus wakes up on Deponia from a dream that seems to contain the events of the original trilogy. He then stumbles into a time-travelling scientist who helps Rufus reverse time to save a pyramid of glasses from being shattered by a pink elephant. And from there, the story just gets weirder and weirder. The kooky science-fiction tone that has defined the Deponia games blends well with the timey-wimey story elements, leading to some eccentric scenarios where neither the objectives nor the stakes are taken too seriously.
The characters also accentuate the wacky world of Deponia Doomsday. Side characters such as a homeless boy who hides an alter-ego whenever he wears a beard or a lovey-dovey couple who can’t agree on the perfect curtain décor endeared me towards the silly side of the game. Rufus was a slightly tougher sell for me. His tendency to always look for the funny side, regardless of the situation or the people he’s affecting, can paint him as unsympathetic. He definitely has good lines, and I’ve seen way more unlikeable protagonists in videogames, but I experienced a noticeable detachment to his well-being as he dodges consequences and never stops with his crass remarks.
In fact, that’s how I feel about the game’s humour in general. As we all know, humour is incredibly subjective, so your tolerance of Doomsday’s writing will largely be determined by your appreciation of crude, surreal jokes. For me, this was a mixed bag. I laughed out loud whenever the game made a clever fourth wall break or shifted the tone dramatically towards an overly serious disposition. And it was easy to get swept up in the bizarre story moments, of which there are plenty. But given the onslaught of jokes and quips and references, there are just as many that fall flat. There isn’t anything offensive in the humour, but I do wish the writers spent more time polishing the material so that more of the lines stuck the landing rather than just being another loud, obnoxious sound.
Deponia Doomsday makes no attempt to escape from deeply rooted point-and-click adventure staples. The gameplay is based around exploring environments to find objects and conversing with NPCs to uncover solutions for puzzles. Sound familiar? There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with sticking so close to this formula, and the game does seem proud of carrying the traditions of this celebrated genre. The environments are gorgeous cartoon-inspired drawings often blanketed in details and atmosphere. And the satisfaction of using my knowledge of an area to determine a logical solution to a roadblock was immensely gratifying.
It’s a shame then that Doomsday also adheres to the trappings of classic adventure game design. There was often too much trial and error involved in finding the correct item for a puzzle when logic wasn’t enough to pull me through. Therefore, my impatience with some of the really out-of-the-box solutions grew with my temptation to flick over to a guide. The game is not the worst offender of this kind of design, and common sense combined with thorough investigation did get me through a lot of the game, but a hint system or a notebook to organise my discoveries would have been handy.
And then there are some puzzles which feel like they were intended for players to look up how to complete them. Whenever I close my eyes, I can still see the infuriating section where Rufus has to guide a lizard through an air vent using a laser pointer (it’s 32 moves, by the way). These moments thankfully don’t take up a large portion of the playtime, but they kill the enjoyment of the well-designed organic puzzles and tested my willpower to keep on playing.
That’s Deponia Doomsday’s most baffling quality. For every joke that hits, surreal moment that entrances, or puzzle solution that delights, there are immature lines of dialogue and archaic adventure game tropes which other contemporaries in the genre have already ironed out. For fans of the series, chances are you have already played this game and enjoyed an extra dozen hours of Rufus messing around with time while sticking closely to point-and-click traditions. For newcomers, Deponia Doomsday may be a solid introduction to the series, but only if your taste in videogame genre and humour aligns with what the game delivers.
For me, I can’t help but feel like Deponia Doomsday needed to reset time just once more to undo some of its irritating writing and design so that the good qualities could shine through even brighter.
Spends most of his time micromanaging stats in JRPGs, but inevitably just goes with the “optimal” choice anyway