Mechanically, Deponia can best be compared to Monkey Island 2. Narratively, Deponia is on another planet.
The player takes control of Rufus, a malcontent loafer sponging off his ex-girlfriend. He resides on Deponia, a planet covered entirely in garbage. His dream is to escape the dump of a planet and reach Elysium, a far away civilization that is harkened as paradisaical and pristine. The plot of the game centres on Rufus’ ill-devised plan to escape Deponia and the consequences that ensue.
Deponia adheres to the fundamental point-and-click adventure game formula laid out by the Lucasarts of oh-so-many years ago. Progression is largely tethered to your ability to find items, pick them up, and unholster them at the appropriate time. Much like Monkey Island 2, there is a good mix between linear puzzles and open-ended exploration.
The game also happily embraces the refinements to the formula that arose in the post-Monkey Island era: mix-and-match verbs are done away with in favour of a two button interface; character death is impossible; and the game is fully voice acted.
Although Deponia touts many of the laurels of its genre, it is also burdened by many of the shortcomings endemic to adventure games.
The solutions to many of the puzzles in Deponia are irrational. Much like the banana-metronome string of puzzles in Monkey Island 2 or, well, pretty much every puzzle in Sam and Max Hit the Road, many of the puzzles in Deponia are tethered to arcane adventure game logic. In each of these cases, the player is intended to submerge themselves in the wacky and irreverent rules of the game’s world. But when things are so wacky and irreverent, it’s hard to discern if there are any rules at all.
This inevitably leads to the drudgery of rubbing every item in one’s inventory against every item in the environment until something works – the greatest adventure game faux pas.
It’s especially frustrating in Deponia because the player is handed a number of seemingly invaluable and versatile tools in the early acts of the game that the lead character refuses to use properly. A blowtorch that he fears might start a fire. A lockpick that he can’t open any locks with. Knockout gas and tranquilizers that we won’t use on the numerous people standing in his way.
It’s a maddening situation. A player feels sated when they use a mundane item to overcome a harrowing obstacle, but they quickly grow frustrated when a useful item sits and rots in their inventory.
Still, there are many solid puzzles in Deponia. I particularly had fun enacting Rufus’ ridiculous escape plan in the first act of the game and assembling the communication device later on. Daedalic Entertainment even had the good sense to make certain puzzles – specifically ones that are more or less minigames – skippable without consequence.
The mixed bag of puzzles is buoyed by the setting of the game. The junkyard planet of Deponia is both visually and narratively engaging. The artists have done a great job of making the architecture of Deponia appear patchwork and cluttered without impeding the player’s ability to navigate the world. Characters are crisp and well designed, possessing an animated film quality.
The writers have also done a great job handling the lore of Deponia. There aren’t any awkward exposition dumps by a disembodied narrator; the game organically trickles down pieces of lore through characters, events, and items as the player progresses through the game. It’s surprisingly well done, and keeps the relationship between Deponia and Elysium mysterious well into the game.
The voice acting adds to this sense of immersion, but it does suffer from a few hiccups. Rufus himself is well-voiced, coming off as a snarky Guybrush Threepwood. The remainder of the cast is inconsistent, ranging from good to phoned in. The belaboured Mexican accent on the bartender particularly irked me.
There were also a few moments where lines of dialogue were nonsensical or poorly executed, moments I’d attribute to the game being translated from German. It’s a forgivable caveat, given the infrequency of the problem and the low budget of the title.
Needless to say, Deponia is a widely uneven experience. The puzzles swing in quality from ingenious to infuriating on a whim, and the calibre of voice acting varies from character to character. Still, the intriguing plot and the richness of the game’s setting are enough to propel the player onward.
If you’re looking for an adventure game in the classic Lucasarts tradition, you could do much worse.