A point and click from one of the finest developers within the genre, Chaos on Deponia is an accomplished and amusing (mis)adventure that once again places you in the rather worn boots of the hapless tinkerer Rufus. It is clear from the off that this sequel has been given the most thorough of spit-shines, but somewhat fittingly this hasn’t led to an absolutely flawless presentation.
The whimsical nature of the game is immediately established in what may be the greatest, most self-aware tutorial I have ever seen. Self-referential comedy can often be somewhat painful, but the writing and characterisation ensures that even those new to the series will appreciate the humour. This is followed by the introductory puzzle of the game. Another fantastic sequence that introduces Rufus as the inadvertent and sometimes unaware harbinger of harm that he is and shows off just how compelling and clever the game can be when the puzzles are set within the isolation of one room.
Once given the freedom of Deponia, however, things get slightly more frustrating. Never to the point of ruining the game, but some solutions require thinking that’s slightly too obtuse and treks across the map that are slightly too convoluted. It is a tough thing to criticise the game for, as the size and variety of locations is certainly commendable, but there are times when you will find yourself with seemingly innumerable loose ends and little-to-no inkling as to which ones can be tied together. The fast-travel system and the always appreciated ‘double click to skip the transition animation between one place and the next’ mitigates much of the tedium of walking from screen to screen and highlighting every clickable item by pressing the Spacebar is invaluable when it comes to item discovery, but at times the game’s pacing suffers notably.
Another pacing misstep revolves around the android turn love interest of the series (Goal) who’s been split into three distinct personalities (baby, lady and spunky) by a Rufus-related incident. Fixing her in order to save Deponia serves as the main motivation of the game, and it works well to a point. The problem is that the dialogue trees for each of the three personalities are damn near identical. Their responses differ, but not enough to negate the feeling of repetition. At times the trio-personality nature of Goal is used well, knowing which one will be willing to do what you need them to is a rather unique puzzle element after all, but I can guarantee that you will find yourself clicking through some of her/their dialogue.
One can’t mention dialogue without commending the sound design of the game. The voice overs are incredibly accomplished, which will come as little surprise to those familiar with the work of Daedalic Entertainment. Similarly, with the exception of the occasional typo and some moments where I suspect the nuance of the native German was lost in translation, the ‘script’ is entertaining and well crafted. The game’s soundtrack is equally impressive, with the jaunty, comedic musical scenes that punctuate each ‘act’ adding much to the game’s already incredibly distinctive tone.
As one would expect, this tone is echoed, and in part defined, by the art style. Colourful, relatively varied and filled with characters verging on the anatomically absurd, it is less visually impressive than The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav but equally compelling. Characters sometimes walk rather strangely when exiting a room, but the vast majority of the animation is damn near flawless.
Generally, the game’s puzzles manage to hit the sweet spot in terms of difficulty – hard enough to require considerable thought but clear enough that you have some vague idea of what the solution may be almost instantly – but you should be warned that occasionally the game is overwhelmed by its thematic frivolity. I appreciate novel solutions that go beyond the scope of the usual in-game item collection and combining, but sometimes the clues directing you to these actions are far too subtle and the answer will disappointingly come through exhausting every other possibility. Mini-games break up the more traditional search and solve gameplay well and are, unlike the cutscenes, skippable should they prove too challenging or fail to appeal to the point and click traditionalist within you.
From platypus poetry to straight bananas the game forces an appreciative smile on your face and, with the exception of a few moments of frustration, only ever removes it to make way for a small but satisfying chuckle. Much of the humour relies on Rufus himself, a slightly arrogant but lovably cheeky optimist who seems to inadvertently cause more suffering with each ‘problem’ he solves, but one can’t dismiss the impact of the accompanying characters or the absurdity of the world itself. High-stakes Rock Paper Scissors, a shady ‘Unorganised Crime’ syndicate and a gondola fit for the most safety conscious of travellers are just a select few of the unusual, undeniably compelling aspects your adventure will include.
That not every joke lands is unsurprising, but the moments of poignancy that cut through the whimsical narrative are. I won’t delve into specifics, but there are certain piercing lines of dialogue where one can’t help but sympathise with the much maligned protagonist. The game itself almost glosses over these moments with Rufus’ innate wit and silliness, but that only makes them all the more effecting. Sure, the plot itself isn’t that strong as an overall concept, it plays out rather predictably despite being filled with surprising elements, but it manages to keep the points and clicks coming and allows the distinctive, quirky flavour of Deponia to seize the fore.
Chaos on Deponia is strong on many fronts and has proven that the series was worthy of serialisation. It may stumble occasionally, but much like Rufus it emerges from its self-wrought wreckage with a cheeky smile, an amusing quip and your heart.