Chaos on Deponia is turning out to be one of the most unique games I’ve ever had to write a review for. As the sequel to Deponia, it provides yet another adventurous, light-hearted romp through a colorful, cartoony world filled with odd technology, unique characters and a plot apparently fit for a trilogy. It’s been seeing high ranking reviews all over the net, but particularly in the German market where the game originated. It’s gorgeous, crafted with lovely animation and generally seems to be a labor of love with quite a number of fans. All of this just makes it all the more awkward for me to come out and admit, before the review even gets truly underway… I really didn’t like this game. In fact, I hated it.
Okay, hold on, keep reading this review because I actually did not tell you all you need to know with that last statement. In fact – I’m trying to make lemons into lemonade here – by the time this review is done, you may well want to go out and buy this game, and the first in the trilogy along with it. Because even though I hated this game, there’s still a lot to be said in its favor. An incredible amount, as a matter of fact. Like I said, this is going to be a pretty unique review for me.
First, let’s start with the essentials. This is a point-and-click adventure in the style of the old Sierra adventure games – Leisure Suit Larry, King’s Quest, and so on. Not ringing any bells because you’re not that old? Okay, think more along the lines of what Telltale Games usually puts out. You pick up items, you combine them, you figure out the often obscure logic being used to get you past whatever challenge is ahead of you at the moment. So in terms of gameplay you’re dealing with a lot of puzzles and mini-games – light-hearted stuff, appealing more to a thinker than anyone who’s big on action.
With the fundamentals of the genre established, let’s talk story. Chaos on Deponia is part two of a planned adventure game trilogy where you play as Rufus, a rough around the edges individual who’s helping out a beautiful woman named Goal who literally fell to earth (well, fell to Deponia anyway). Despite falling onto a trash-planet, it turns out that Goal is in high demand by an evil faction of – as the Chaos on Deponia’s rapid synopsis communicated to me – ‘metal-beard-wearing’ people who seek to acquire her to prevent others from learning about their nefarious plans. The fast summary here is: zany story, rascally characters, big on humor, light on taking itself seriously but still providing some dramatic moments here and there.
Now I’ve only discussed the direction this package is going in so far, but let me say: Chaos on Deponia is an absolutely beautiful game. As someone who really has a thing for animation, I love the visuals supplied. Nice, bright, painstakingly crafted worlds. Colorful, so much color it’s actually kind of confusing on the eyes – if you play this game you’ll find yourself having to really focus and scan around to take in all the details of each and every scene you find yourself in. The fact is, this is a beautiful game in terms of both static graphics and fluid animation, and the good people at Daedalic Entertainment really did a fantastic job on all things visual with this game.
The sound is quite good too. Lots of quality voice acting in here, which is always a nice touch. It’s hard for me to talk up the audio only because I’m so in love with the visuals, and I’m always more of a ‘sight’ than a ‘sound’ guy. That said, I really can’t find much to complain about with this game in terms of audio. The environment effects, the music, the voices… it’s pretty much what you’d hope to find in an adventure game. It does a good job of drawing you in and keeping your focus on the world the creators attempted to build here. I’ve heard that there are some altogether minor bugs that can hamper the gameplay experience, but I encountered no such things – it ran fine, and I found it pretty easy to glide into the game, waltzing my way from puzzle to puzzle.
You’ll probably notice by now that I am sincerely praising Chaos on Deponia – gorgeous graphics, solid audio which may make the whole “I hated it” thing seem a bid odd in retrospect, so let me get back to that particular fly in the ointment. The problem comes down to humor. I recall a line from Norm Macdonald that went roughly like this: “If someone sings and you don’t like their singing, you just feel sorry for them. If someone acts and you don’t like their acting, you’ll probably find it fun to watch. But if someone tries to be funny, and fails, you’ll hate them. There’s something about failing at comedy that provokes a visceral reaction.” I’ve found that to be true, and sadly, it’s the case here. This isn’t a knock against Chaos on Deponia, really, and probably says more about me than it does about Daedalic Entertainment’s writers. To make what’s probably an unpopular point, they proudly mention on their website that their game’s humor is in the style of “Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett and Matt Groening”, and – pardon me for quite possibly offending you right now – but I can’t stand Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett. In fact, why pull punches – I hate their writing. Offensively flawed characters with so much dry wit sloshing around in their worlds that I keep hoping it all ends in armageddon. Quickly.
That was my experience with Chaos on Deponia. Marveling at all the beauty and technical skill that went into their game, and whenever they tried to be funny – which was very, very often – I ended up sitting there with those piercing glare and a scowl on my face. I kept on playing, thinking it would get better. Surprise! It did not. From the cutesy partly live-action intro movie to the characters’ personalities to the cute commentary about the various items and puzzles in the game, I just could not get into any of it – and I don’t really feel like trying to dance around this fact by describing the merry antics of Rufus and company in glowing but very impersonal terms in some attempt to be faux-balanced. This game is attempting to appeal to a certain sense of humor, and it happens to be a sense that I not only lack, but am violently allergic to. Unlike many games, the story and humor aren’t really easy to divorce from the rest of the product – it IS the product for Chaos on Deponia, the essential component and characteristic. Which means, sadly, I cannot stand the game’s heart and soul.
But that’s me! You know what I find funny? Foul-mouthed talking food items and infuriated anthropomorphic gumball machines! Maybe my sense of humor is broken. Maybe people just like different things. Take whatever view on aesthetics you like, but I know for a fact that a lot of people love this game. The germans are crazy for it, heaping 90s and 95s on it in their reviews and giving them all kinds of gold-colored awards that Daedalic Entertainment proudly displays on their Steam store page like the trophy wall it’s become. It’s part of a trilogy, and you don’t really see unpopular trilogies made outside of Star Wars and hardcore pornography. What I’m trying to say here is that there’s so much going on for this game that my honest and true hate for the humor and the writing shouldn’t really be a speedbump for you, personally. Hell, the fact that I hate it yet can still recognize how much it has going on for it should encourage you to take a look. If it were any other kind of game – an FPS, a racing game, even a more intricate kind of puzzle game – I’d be able to downplay the story and find a way to enjoy everything else. But it’s not. It’s an adventure game, the one kind of game where the story and writing becomes essential. And even THEN, if it were a game where humor was incidental, I’d be able to ignore that part – but no, the humor is central. It’s supposed to be a funny game.
And I hate it. Can’t stand it. That’s just the way it is. I cannot stand the beautiful, well-made game. That’s where we are in this review, and there’s just no going any further.
Let me end this review with a bit of advice. If you’ve never checked out this series before, you should know that there’s a demo for the original Deponia up on Steam – so be sure to check that out and judge for yourself whether this kind of game not only appeals to you, but will actually make you laugh. Godspeed, friend, and I hope you enjoy it. This is a game that deserves to be liked. I’ll leave someone else to the task of actually enjoying it.