Games of the Year 2019: Disco Elysium is about outliving History

December 30, 2019
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Over the festive break we’ll be running through our top 20 picks of the year’s best games, leading up to the reveal of Eurogamer’s game of the year on New Year’s Eve. You can find all the pieces published to date here – and thanks for joining us throughout the year!

A hard-boiled, wild-eyed cousin of Planescape Torment, Disco Elysium is a game about defeat. Specifically it’s about the defeat of the political Left, set on the run-down waterfront of a quasi-European metropolis that once played host to a communist revolution. Revachol was a city built “to resolve History”, you’re told early on, where “the terrible questions of our time will be answered”. Five decades down the line, those answers are writ large in the bullet holes from mass executions, the bigoted orphans roaming the mouldy tenements and the craters left by the neoliberal governments that brought Revachol’s revolution to heel.

It’s certainly a painful game to contemplate if, say, you recently voted Labour, but Disco Elysium’s atmosphere of despair should cling to anybody who has ever sought a better life for themselves, regardless of their politics. Early in the story, you dream of your own corpse dangling from a tree in the scattered light of a disco ball. Through blackened, bubbling lips, the body proceeds to damn you for this world’s dreadful plight. “You failed,” it croaks, against the melancholy lilt of a distant guitar. “You failed me. You failed Elysium. Four point six billion people – and you failed every single one of them.” Coughed up by the past your character is desperately trying to forget, the accusation is ludicrous but horribly convincing: it reflects the demented self-aggrandisements of both severe depression and video games. You aren’t just an amnesiac has-been detective, after all, drinking and drugging himself into a not-so-early grave. You’re the Player. If any single individual bears responsibility for the state of this universe, it’s surely you.

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