Game Review: Deponia
Over the last few decades, Steampunk has been made popular throughout art, literature, video games and misunderstood teenagers bedrooms. Using an artistic style that combines Victorian architecture, fashion and industrialisation, with scientific and technological advancement that is beyond our present ability, Steampunk envisions a future of technology through the eyes of a particularly creative and liberal Victorian.
H.G Wells’ The Time Machine, a precursor to and major influence on the art style, is a prime example of a Victorian visualisation of future advancements in technology, but Wells used this to raise ideas that included an anxiety of the future, a fear of the power of technology and an acknowledgment of the fact that England was drastically changing before his own eyes (into a population of evil monkey men who didn’t like books). Similarly, H.P Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthuluhu involved characters who were rather conservative in thinking, and confronted them with unimaginable and inconceivable terrors (yes, an octopus dragon does count as an inconceivable terror). This established the simple fact that there is incredible horror in the world, that life is not comfortable always, whilst also anticipating the terror of World War.
Steampunk then, as seen by the origins that influenced it, is quite bogged down by its natural attachment to ideas: and the creativity, abnormality and imagination that is often found in such works certainly does provide an excellent backdrop to a way of thinking. Take the forthcoming Bioshock: Infinite for example, where the floating Steampunk city of Columbia is meant to represent the development of American Exceptionalism (the attitude that America is the best, and all other countries are just smelly).
It is therefore quite rare to discuss without becoming unnecessarily entangled in a web of ludicrous ideas and theories, which in gaming is most beautifully typified by the iconic Final Fantasy 7. That wasn’t meant as a slur, as FF7 remains (and I will defend this to my last Chocobo) the definitive example of Steampunk influenced gaming, where the ideas are not shoved down your throat, and the art style is allowed to develop independently away from cliché (unlike the subsequent Final Fantasy 9). But you can’t help yourself asking ‘why can’t I just enjoy my imagination?’, ‘why do I have to get bogged down in all this thinking nonsense anyway?’ and ‘why can’t I just play a more silly game instead?’. Fortunately, there is an answer, and it is found in Deponia.
Developed by Daedalic Entertainment, Deponia places you on the titular trash planet in the particularly slummish and ramshackle town of Kuvaq. The hero of the story, Rufus, is funnily enough much like the moody blondey Cloud Strife, taking out all his pubescent hormones on the world around him by claiming that no one near understands him (he even sports a teenage bum fluff goatee ). The story begins then, with Rufus trying to escape Deponia through many crazy and imaginative methods fuelled by inventive contraptions in order to reach (impossibly supposedly) the mythical Elysium. Until one day, he sort of succeeds, but ends up on an Organon cruiser (the baddies of the game) and saves an Elysian princess of some kind. She turns out to be the girl of his dreams, and so the narrative of Deponia begins to turn into the story of one boy’s growth into a man (or into a slightly more manly boy).
This all sounds terribly predictable, but this is precisely what is so brilliant about Deponia. It is completely aware of how ridiculous its story and setting is – which is made all the more endearing by the fact it is an Adventure game, a genre reserved for the more serious of narratives. Deponia therefore, involves much clicking, searching, exploring and figuring out in order to advance the story, but much like the classic Adventure Monkey Island, it defies its genre by providing a silly, imaginative and light-hearted story and environment. It is then, for a game of the Adventure format far less banal and droll, by making itself a far more entertaining affair (as noticed by the chorus of bearded folk-singers who narrate Rufus’ story). And this pays off, as the imaginative creativity forms a foundation to the game that makes the whole experience very engaging and capturing. The ‘think-as-you-play’ and explore mechanic that defines most adventure games is made far more compelling when combined with such a vast and vivid visualisation of a world. A major gameplay component in advancing the story, involves using Rufus’ talents as a professional scavenger and mechanic to create new items by combining objects found throughout the planet. The result of this is a sense in the player that the world is your tool box, and so when exploring the densely populated, fully realised trash planet of Deponia, the player is constantly thinking what trinkets, rubbish and nic-nac’s will be of later use to them.
Visually, the cartoonish design of Deponia compliments its imaginative style very nicely, being easy on the eyes and thus more capable of ridiculousness. The town of kuvaq is filled with colourful characters each unique to themselves and fully developed in personality (including one Spaniard with a religious respect for the art of espresso making). It is also a very convincing town made on a planet of trash, with each building retaining a sense of instability and inconsistency that is most noticed by the town’s mayor sleeping abode being located within his desk drawer. The music is also notable for its impressiveness, providing a soundtrack that compliments the ramshackle nature of the town by giving a sense of being built out of trash. It’s almost a bit like that musical Stomp in the way the drums are like garbage cans and the notes are made on glass bottles, but likewise when the action moves to the more wasteland parts of Deponia, the soundtrack changes to a sparse, haunting blues dominated piece of hurt guitar playing.
Deponia is then, a jolly good raucous of a time that combines the brains of an adventure game, with the imagination of Steampunk. It is not without its flaws, with the voice acting proving at times slightly irritating, whilst also having a tendency to rely on classic genre characteristics without a sense of originality. However, from the bold and ridiculous opening music at the title screen, Deponia creates a great sense of joy, and it is this sense of fun that injects a new life and flavour into an old form. Its charming story and tight design provides a refreshing and more optimistic flavour of post-apocalyptia that makes a very encouraging alternative to the pessimism of Fallout.
Available on PC DVD and Steam