Deponia Doomsday Reviewed: The End?
This is a spoiler-free review.
Formulas exist for a reason. Even though we can clearly see the formula, the specific ingredients put forth in the same way as last time to create the desired effect, it will work every time. But only if the formula works well over time; if it tires out easily, the formula won't work. Cop shows, cooking, mathematics, video games; there’s something comfortable about knowing what you’re getting into. New inventions can be far more exciting, but more often than not they either fail or just become the new formula.
Deponia Doomsday executes the comedic point-and-click adventure game formula to such a genuinely heartfelt level that, while there are some flaws in the execution (likely due to the tight development schedule), the game delivers just what fans wanted: more Deponia.
The Formula Works!
Generally speaking, Deponia Doomsday will fall into a usual category for point-and-click games: a great new installment for fans of the series or the genre as a whole, but not much for anyone else. The gameplay, the style of humor, and most of the characters are all formulaic, familiar although still new. You can take that to be a good thing or a bad thing. At this point, if three makes a pattern, the world itself is a formula: Deponia is an endearing cesspool of tomfoolery that breeds some good laughs, some decent challenges, and a whole lot of classic point-and-click progression gameplay.
A great portion of the success of a point-and-click game relies on good writing and overall worldbuilding; the other half of the formula being the entertaining mini-games, the hand-crafted animation style, and of course the pointing and the clicking. With Lead Writer and general Deponia Overlord Jan “Poki” Müller-Michaelis helming the fourth (and probably final) title, the oddball humor from the previous titles runs throughout, while the story is probably the most compelling of them all as an overarching tie-off of the previous trilogy.
Unfortunately, a good amount of what is framed as humor (the Lotto/Lotti scene) will turn off a lot of people due to its insensitive and very non-PC nature. But, for others, the trainwreck that is Rufus encompasses many things, and it’s a lark to widen your eyes at some of the things he says. It can even be uncomfortable to choose which horrendous perspective to speak from. The humor feels very much in the same vein as Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm, or reality TV: a comedy of tragedies, where the point isn’t to say something awful, but to see how awful someone can be.
Do we need a heroic protagonist?
Rufus has always been a rather refreshing hero, and by that I mean he’s a terrible hero. Rufus is stupid, cowardly, sexist, lazy, and a general muck-up. And not in a cool way either, he’s a seriously frustrating blockhead.
He’s a kind of anti-anti-hero where you don’t wind up cheering for him, you root against him. But he’s still such a goof about it all that it becomes the best part of his character: not hoping for bad things to happen to him, but waiting for him to inflict a comedy of errors on his friends and fellow Deponians.
The junky feel of the world of Deponia always lent a rich setting to the series, presenting a sea of trash that had depth and variety as to what was interactive. Sometimes it was the key to the puzzle, just as often it was just a cheap opportunity for a groaner of a joke (I don’t say that disparagingly). It was easy to get lost in the heaps of garbage. While Deponia Doomsday keeps the aesthetic, the focus on time traveling hones a lot of the content down to very limited objectives.
For much of the time, the usual range of choice is as pleasantly wide as the other Deponia games, without being overwhelming or letting you lose track of your objective. Although Daedalic was unable to bring back Michael Benrad, the background artist for the previous games, the animation style is still one of the strongest elements of Deponia Doomsday (David Hayter’s cameo being a close second). The music charms in the same vein: sung interludes are as catchy as they are funny, and the both the soundtrack and in-game musicality bring out a tone just as weird and compelling as the rest of the design.
While Daedalic Entertainment first conceived Deponia as a trilogy, the addended Deponia Doomsday was thought of as Deponia 4 (you can read more about Deponia Doomsday behind the scenes in our interview with the game’s Producer, Tom Kersten). This installment feels much less like a continuation of the series, but instead serves as a nice little narrative bubble lovingly wrapped around the three previous games as a way of messing with the structure of the world, and messing with the fans who wanted more. Time travel never went wrong in the past, how could Rufus possibly screw this up?