Adventure Gamers Awards
Rufus is baaack. Though we thought we’d seen the last of him in 2013’s Goodbye Deponia, he’s returned to his old tricks in Deponia Doomsday, the unexpected fourth part of Daedalic’s series that is part-prequel and part-sequel to the original trilogy. This new adventure is Deponia meets Groundhog Day, with Rufus and everyone around him caught in time loops that only a never-ending (anti-)hero can escape. Quirky new characters and familiar faces follow Rufus through the topsy-turvy trash planet Deponia, the sumptuous towers of Elysium, plus a series of in-between, patchwork landscapes. Naturally, space-time and other continuums are disrupted as they go. The wacky puzzles, oddball surprises and pleasing eccentricities kept me smiling through each outlandish twist all the way to the unnerving end.
The first cycle begins innocently enough when Rufus meets fellow tinkerer McChronicle. This engineer-on-the-loose has invented a device that can “avoid accidents after they have happened.” At first this appears fortuitous, because Rufus has caused so many mishaps and blown up so much stuff that the people of his hometown now fear his very presence. You’d think any gadget that could reverse Rufus-inspired fiascos would literally be a lifesaver.
Shattered crystal stemware is the ideal experimental sample for rewinding time, and after multiple attempts, Rufus and McChronicle manage to undo the destruction of some wine glasses. But just as they stop accidentally re-breaking them, a pink elephant appears from out of nowhere to make sure everything stays smashed. Why the glasses are so vital to the future of Deponia, what to do to finally escape the time loop, and who is controlling the pink elephant are some of the factors that become entwined (and re-entwined) in this mad caper through garbage-strewn terrains, peacock-baroque suites, and the cobbled-together environs of Paradox City.
Just as they were in the previous games, the graphics in Deponia Doomsday are elaborately stylized and brightly-hued. The game features a variety of environments, from snowy expanses to celestial towers and surreal carnival rides. Details abound: on Deponia you’ll see rusted walls, lumpy vegetation, Chinese lanterns, and unexploded ordnance. On Elysium you’ll marvel at the golden arches and scrollwork, the futuristic amusements, and the Disney Land atmosphere. I was startled to discover that Rufus was right to pull out all the stops to visit this city-in-the-clouds, as the Elysians are remarkably Rufus-like in their rejection of hard work and responsibility. Background animations bring liveliness to this wide range of locations: body-armored lobsters frolic, clock hands race backwards, and flies buzz among the carcasses. These are supplemented by ambient audio: metals creak, flames crackle, time portals swish, and caddie unicorns fall ker-splat.
An intriguing visual effect occurs when time is rewound (which happens frequently). There’s a pause, and then the view is distorted by waves that recede as Rufus finds himself right back where he started: just getting out of bed, pounding on a window and screaming, or listening to a stranger singing in the shower.
Speaking of singing, the music in Doomsday is unusual – much of it is sung by the cast itself. Usually having characters burst into song functions poorly in games, but here it works charmingly. The famous hobo minstrel is a favorite of mine, so I listened with a huge, silly grin as he sings: “Suck it up princess, no one cares for your tears” and “Huzza, still wond’ring what if.” Pimpy the Clown croons about the terrors of love. Ronny the daisy avatar warbles about extracting fingernails. Maybe we’ll someday see “Deponia the Musical” on Broadway. The sets and stage effects would be eye-opening.
Characters are once again cartoon-like with penciled faces, freakish hairstyles, and eccentric clothing. Rufus wears an aviator cap, a frock coat, and leggings. McChronicle sports a blue jumpsuit, a tinfoil hat and a fishing rod with an hourglass at the end. And he’s not the only new character. There’s Maggot, reminiscent of Spot from The Whispered World, only with gigantic black eyes and a cute little mouth with a single tooth. Yellow Fewlocks swarm throughout the game, displaying their large, muscular bodies, evil tusks and threadbare breeches. You’ll also encounter new platypuses – some you observe as they snooze, some you stick in your coat pocket, some you write into a marriage proposal, and some you metaphorize (don’t ask).
Many characters return from the previous games. One sequence explores the murky motives of Inspector Cletus, and you catch a glimpse into the past of Rufus’s aristocratic love interest, Goal. Goal changes throughout the time cycles. She has aged in one sequence, and her personality ranges from spunky to accepting to angry in the others. This is in sharp contrast to Rufus, who seems pretty much the same yesterday, today and forever. You can click through the frequent dialogs if you wish, but spirited voice-overs bring these characters to life, and well-animated cutscenes show them, often via closeups, in moments of drama, disaster, and derring-do.
Rufus being the same as before will be point of contention for some, but chances are if you’ve stuck with him through three games, you’ll enjoy him again here. The writing is strong and the humor is occasionally salty, though with perhaps more gentle tang than in the earlier games. Absurdities abound, as do pop culture quips and adventure game tributes and riffs on grammar. The pink elephant engages in the wittiest (and silliest) discussion of the verb “to be” since Hamlet’s soliloquy.
The storyline quickly becomes embroiled in temporal loops, with characters in various stages of remembering or forgetting and living or dying. At times I was hanging on to the plot thread by the tips of my fingers. Still, I savored every minute of the intricate circumambulations – though I’m still mulling their meaning. Since the story spreads out through so many time periods, I think you could enjoy it without necessarily playing the original Deponia trilogy first. You will miss nuances from the earlier games, but having Doomsday under your belt will increase your enjoyment as you go on to play the rest of the series.
Like its predecessors, this game uses a point-and-click interface and is viewed from a third-person perspective. Right-clicking elicits descriptions, left-clicking triggers actions, and the scroll button brings up the inventory, while the spacebar reveals all hotspots. Rufus walks quickly and smoothly; skipping to the next screen occurs whenever you double-click on a directional arrow. Though the game doesn’t have a map, journal, or hint system, it’s possible to replay most of the cutscenes via the Bonus section. There are a great many achievements to earn, plus a Bonus screen-searching “Magazines” game – both add an extra layer of challenge for completists.
Puzzles are designed to aid the twisty story and helter-skelter atmosphere, ranging from inventory challenges (items can be combined in inventory) to mini-games (these can be skipped) and a handful of easy Quick Time Events. There’s also a retro team combat sequence against a giant wombat in the pixelated Hall of Mirrors. Though the early-stage challenges are easy, the conundrums become increasingly difficult. Timed puzzles are partly responsible. You may have to experiment with inventory combinations while limited by a stopwatch – if you fail, you start over again. Or you might remove an item from the environment as an animation briefly pauses. On one occasion, access to an object requires guessing that you should keep trying the impossible (I had to check a walkthrough for this one).
This game is clearly aimed at players who enjoy multi-layered puzzles and patient out-of-the-box experimentation. I spent a lot of time stuck, repeating the time loops to see if any small change might break the cycle, then stumbling on the answer via trial-and-error. The Fun Time arcade challenges were also time-consuming because I kept working at them until I’d garnered as many points as possible. On the whole, the gameplay is entertaining and sometimes even chuckle-worthy, though the fun factor would have been perkier if I hadn’t struggled through so many repetitions. I also encountered two glitches where essential dialog wasn’t available – getting past these two spots required using saved games from the Daedalic Support Center.
It took me over 20 hours to reach the finale of Deponia Doomsday – nearly the equivalent of a full day and night of richly offbeat scenes, crackpot schemes, and daft dreamers. As they tumble toward the game’s conclusion, do Rufus and friends manage to stick the landing? Well, yes and no. It isn’t obvious at first how the final moments fit into the overall story arc, and mentally connecting past time cycles is a puzzle in itself. The farewell sequence suggests taking pleasure in the journey rather than the destination, and perhaps making cut-and-dried sense of it isn’t realistic. After all the time-looping and Rufus’s unfailing bounce-back-ability, this wistful ending has something of fingers-crossed-and-a-wink to it. I suspect that events will ultimately come full circle, and that Deponia fans have still not seen the last of Rufus. I hope so, because a future without him just isn’t nearly as much fun.