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.