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Disco Elysium lets you be Sherlock in flares

(Image credit: ZA/UM)

I've only just managed to get this dead man down from the tree. First I had to get past the stench, no easy feat since the body's been there a week, and then sever the industrial rope he was hanging from. My partner suggested getting help. Pfff.

I waved him away and shot through the rope in a rare display of competence. On my other save, where I created a character with less impressive physical stats, I can't even get close to the body without vomiting and instead have to psych myself up by going away to think about it for half an hour.

(Image credit: ZA/UM)

Disco Elysium will let you play the kind of detective you want. Its selection of stats and skills can mimic a variety of "copotypes" like the master of deduction, or the Columbo who always has just one more question, or the one who "just get these flashes", or who talks to dead people, and so on. Replaying its opening days I've been a tough guy who takes no nonsense and an unhinged sensitive who at one point began taking off his clothes to get a better sense of the air. "It's a technique of mine," I tried to explain to horrified onlookers as I unzipped my fly.

No matter what flavor of gumshoe you create though, your character is always a boozehound with amnesia, the one genre staple that remains true in every playthrough. You're always a loser who woke up on the floor missing a shoe. 

Disco Elysium encourages you to play to your skillset by giving each skill a voice. In the classic text box where NPCs answer questions a skill like Authority will pop up to suggest that somebody needs to be manhandled, while Inland Empire—which takes subconscious insights and transforms them into dialogues with objects—has given my necktie the ability to suggest inappropriate things. Electro-Chemistry wants me to smoke a discarded cigarette butt while Visual Calculus is telling me the shoe size of footprints in the mud. 

It's a glorious overflow of information. I have to block out irrelevant stuff like I'm telling Watson to shush because I'm on the edge of a breakthrough, for god's sake man just shut up, I'm trying to think here and I can't listen to you and my necktie at once.

(Image credit: ZA/UM)

To get prosaic for a second, all this is folded into a classic top-down RPG. I walk from location to location clicking on objects, picking up clues or just coins, then interrogating every character who will let me climb their dialogue tree. It's Planescape: Torment if instead of being based on Dungeons & Dragons it was more like Life on Mars or China Mieville's novel The City and The City.

The thing about mysteries is that everything hinges on the solution, and if it falls apart at the finish that makes the time spent getting there feel wasted. The opening hours of Disco Elysium give me confidence, though. The writing's perfect for the genre, poetic in a "Raymond Chandler sneaking something profound past his editor" way, and there's a lot of detail to uncover. A side task to explore abandoned shops that might be cursed blew out into something far bigger than I expected.

What's more, playing through the opening a second time with a different loadout was just as interesting, changing the tone like I was watching a reboot with a different director. Now I want to go back a third time as a supergenius who can analyze tire tracks and tell you what car they came from while snapping at my long-suffering sidekick. The game's afoot, even if I've only got one shoe.

Disco Elysium will be out on October 15.

Jody is that guy who will try to convince you to play some indie game you've never heard of with a name like Extreme Meatpunks Forever. He is also on a doomed quest to play every Warhammer game.