Disco Elysium The Final Cut (Nintendo Switch)

Disco Elysium, a video game based off a table top role playing game, is complex, dark, confronting, sad – and at times pretentious – but you know what? I love it.

The game opens with main character Harrier “Harry” du Bois (we only learn his name as the game progresses, however) waking in a disheveled room at The Whistling Rag Inn hotel room, hungover and with no memory of what came before. He’s also stark naked and hungover.

Du Bois has no idea who he is or what he does and the first few moments task you with finding your missing shoe (a broken window is a clue to its whereabouts), and getting dressed. As the game progresses, du Bois learns he is a detective in the Revachol police – and his gun and badge are also missing – and he must solve the mystery surrounding the body hanging from a tree in the vacant land behind The Whistling Rag Inn set amid political turmoil in a dystopian city ravaged by a war decades earlier.

The game was first released in 2020 and the The Final Cut brings fully voiced characters and a wealth of additional content and it’s a game that will polarise gamers with its unique lead character skill set, heavy dialogue and frequent internal monologues where du Boir debates with his own psyche on his place in the world.

Played from a top-down isometric perspective and set in the poor district of Martinaise in the city of Revachol, du Bois meets Lieutenant Kim Kitsuragi – perhaps the stand out character in the game for me – who informs him they have been assigned to investigate the hanging man. What follows is exploration, investigation and discussion – often at times quite deep and confronting – of Martinaise as du Bois battles with himself to solve the case and the political machinations working behind the scenes to protect those responsible for the crime.

My first game ended rather prematurely, without much investigation, after du Bois struggled mentally with the hard time he was getting from a drug-addict, foul-mouth youth called Cuno, who was playing in the yard where the hanging took place. Du Bois’s morale took a massive hit and he just gave up on life. Fade to black. Reload last save point.

I learned quickly that saving often is the key here as I died two or three more times in the next hour or so, once after kicking a furnace in a building and suffering a heart attack.

At its heart, Disco Elysium is all about asking the right questions of people and knowing when to push further and when to back off. There’s no combat and the topics are confronting, dealing with subjects like sex, drugs and racism. At times it’s an uncomfortable ride.

The interrogations of inhabitants can get quite complex, too, and I think that is what hooked me: Random thoughts reveal loose threads that can be pulled to slowly reveal the truth about what happened in Martinaise.

There’s also a lot to unpack, too, as you delve deeper & deeper into the story: I think I’ve got about 10 active quests at the moment, many of them picked up from side characters, ranging from opening the door to an apartment for a shady union boss (no questions asked) and buying a pair of label pants from the foul mouthed kid to finding the missing husband of a woman and who called the police about the hanging.

Handily, your journal logs every task you’ve picked up and and certain things can only happen on certain days, such as the controls to the dock that crosses the river won’t be fixed until Wednesday.

After 9pm every night, Harry can also go back to his hotel room to sleep (or he can continue investigating the city) – provided he has paid the manager of the hotel the required amount of money for the night earlier in the day. Money can be found on the streets or gained by recycling bottles at one of the local stores.

Disco Elysium has an interesting – and rather complex – skill tree and depending on the direction conversations go, a different thought process or skill might suddenly jump into the conversation. Key skills like intellect, psyche, physique and motorics have sub-skills that can often steer a line of questioning, sometimes not always with a good outcome. I did find the skill tree complex but the more I played, the more I was drawn into the world of Disco Elysium.

Visually, Disco Elysium has a real painterly graphic style to it, which is quite stunning at times. It also has a great soundtrack with specific tracks kicking in depending on the location you are visiting.

Technically, I noticed the odd slow from time to time while exploring Martinaise – I’m sure the poor wee Switch is bound to be pushed to the limits with Disco Elysium – but it was nothing major and when I started playing load times between locations were extremely long but a recent update has cut load times dramatically, almost instantaneous in some cases.

I loved Disco Elysium and I am being drawn more and more into the adventures of troubled detective Harrier “Harry” du Bois and Kit Kitsuragi, who is a calming and measured voice in all the chaos. Yes, it’s pretentious at times & perhaps a little too clever for its own good at others, but I loved it. It’s perfect for the Switch, too.

Something just clicked with me over Disco Elysium and if you asked me what it was exactly, I’m not really sure I could put my finger on it but I think it’s a number of factors combined. I’m really just adoring the intriguing story line, a lead character who has flaws, and how what appears to be a simple conversation can suddenly lead you deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole.

Disco Elysium is one of the most intriguing and fascinating games I have played in a very, very long time.

Nintendo 2DS XL: Big screens & ditch the 3D

Nintendo 2DS XL ($229)

Nintendo’s new 2DS XL could be the best version of its handheld that I’ve ever used.

The 2DX XL plays 3DS and DS games (although it won’t display 3DS games in 3D, of course)  and also comes with a 4Gb microSD card, which handily means you don’t have to buy one like you had to with previous DS models.

Compared with my original version 3DS, the 2DSXL model has some subtle design tweaks, too, which keeping the much-loved clam shell design. Besides the bigger screens, the power button is now on the front edge rather than on top next to the screen; the start and select buttons are physical buttons and the microSD slot and stylus are now located at the front, rather than the back, of unit. The 2DS XL also has new shoulder buttons and a small joystick-like button above the face buttons.

The design is more rounded than the angular edges of the original 3DS, too, with a really nice aesthetic and it really does look smart. It comes in two colour variants: Black and blue, and orange and white. It also has a nice ribbed finish on the top surface when the unit is closed, giving it a more top-end feel to it. If I had to be picky, sometimes I had trouble turning it on as the power button is almost flush to the body of the unit – and I chew my finger nails!

The big selling point for the 2DXL is that with the ability to play games from previous Nintendo DS handhelds, it has a huge back catalogue of games, and it was really nice being able to play 3DS games like Luigi’s Mansion 2 and New Super Mario Bros. 2 and maybe it’s because I’ve got ageing eyesight, but I found the games much more enjoyable in 2D rather than 3D.

Battery life seems pretty good, giving me around 3 to seven hours of activity, depending on-screen brightness and how demanding the game I was playing was. Of course, if you have the brightness all the way up then your battery life will be dramatically less.

Bottom line: Should you buy the Nintendo 2DS XL? If you already own a 3DS and like playing your games in 3D, then probably not. That said, if you’re a gamer that can take or leave 3D and wants a cheaper handheld that can play a humongous back library of 3DS and DS titles, then Nintendo’s latest handheld is hard to beat, although a price point of around $200 would have made it even better value.

How Mike Bithell’s Volume has made me play my PS Vita more

Fourteen days into 2016 and reckon I’ve already played my PS Vita more this year than I did for much of last year.

I put that down to two things: a) Going on holiday, so my Vita was a nice portable way to replay some of my favourites like Gravity Rush and TxK and b) I bought Mike Bithell’s (@mikeBithell on Twitter) Volume, which came out on the Vita on January 6. I’ve played my PS Vita more because of Volume.

I can’t express enough joy at what a great game Volume is, not only because of its addictive qualities but that it’s also one of PlayStation’s Cross-play buys, which means if you buy it on PS Vita you automatically get to download it for free on the PS4 (and vice versa).

Grab+3840x2160+Friday+May+29+2015+16_17_37The premis of Volume is simple enough: You take the role of burglar Tom who uncovers a plot involving a military coup and device called the Volume. Using the Volume to simulate high-profile heists, Tom must guide his avatar around industrial environments, avoiding patrolling guards, sentry turrets and dogs while collecting gems. The simulations are broadcast to the internet using the Volume, eventually leading to a stand-off between Tom and the evil Gisborne, who has taken over control of England.

Grab+3840x2160+Friday+May+29+2015+16_25_33Volume is very Metal Gear Solid-esque, with an isometric third-person, top-down perspective, in that stealth and creeping around to avoid detection is to the fore. Get spotted by a patrolling guards (each has a vision cone indicating its field of vision), you have to re-start the level. Each level short – some take less than a minute to complete – but they’re so addictive that you’ll find yourself saying “Just one more. Just one more”.

Bithell is a British indie developer who also make the cutesy game Thomas was Alone, which I like a lot, and Volume has all the trademarks of another hit for Bithell and his team. I initially purchased it for my Vita – and being able to play it on my PS4 for no cost is an added bonus – and if I had any gripe it was the size of the text on the PS Vita version: It’s just too small for my ageing eyes.

So, I tweeted that to Bithell, and guess what? He got back to me shortly after, admitting the text was a little small and he would look at fixing things in a patch. In a simple thing like replying to my tweet, Bithell has proven to me that he’s a developer who cares about his fans and those that pay for his games. That’s something I admire in a developer. Thank, you, Mike.

I’m hoping that 2016 is the year that I play my PS Vita more. It’s a fantastic handheld console but I feel disappointed that Sony have pretty much abandoned it by not supporting it like it should have with first party titles, and left any game development up to third parties.

That said, maybe that’s not a bad thing: Sony is clearly focused on the PS4 and PlayStation VR so perhaps doesn’t want to develop for the Vita half-heartedly. It’s sad, though, that the company hasn’t shown the console more love.

Putting Volume aside (briefly), there are some pretty nice games coming out this year. Games I’m looking forward to include Uncharted 4, Deus Ex Mankind Divided, Horizon Zero Dawn, Firewatch, Hitman, Quantum Break, Dishonoured 2, Crackdown 3, Mass Effect Andromeda and Unrave.

Sure, some have already been delayed already and I suspect many some of them won’t make 2016 but it’s a pretty great line up already, don’t you think? It’s a great time to be a video gamer.

What are you looking forward to this year?