"Back-of-the-box quote right here: It's solid. Less rock, more trash compactor cube."
Rufus has never seen MacGyver
. We know this because his television is actually an optical telescope. But if it weren't for this early reveal, the protagonist of Daedalic's shiny new point-and-clicker could have easily fooled anyone. This is the man, after all, who feigns his own network programming through the concavity of a looking glass.
I say "shiny new" for an adventure that is anything but. Deponia is a big piece of planetary trash, smothered in garbage and full of awful people. The game to which it lends its namesake fares a bit more favorably.
In the case of Deponia, its merit comes almost exclusively from the meritless. The world is a catastrophe of leftovers, a place formed from crumbled refuse and industrial scrap, all soldered and cobbled into something a bit more civilized than your everyday junkyard. What makes Deponia's world work so wonderfully is the extent to which the art assets breathe dryness and grunge into the game's robust but limited environmental scope. What we get is that nice, oily blend between generic junkiness and knickknacky flavor. Houses may all be made of concrete and sheet metal, but the patchwork dartboards, mechanical bulls, and cotton candy calliopes within and around them make for a well-realized setting. When paired with the saturated color palette and cartoony art style, it becomes apparent that much fun was had in ratcheting life to the setting.
This isn't to say Deponia is a happy place. Rufus in particular has his own pocketful of problems with life on such a sour landscape, and has made his escape to the sanitized utopia of Elysium a priority above all else. But that's getting ahead of ourselves, because Rufus really doesn't do much of anything. He doesn't work, doesn't support himself, and he doesn't care for the townsfolk, much in the same way that they don't care for him. He lives in the attic of his ex-girlfriend's two-story, a hodgepodgey home littered with hurtful, emotionally abusive notes bearing threats to clean the dishes and un-sprung guillotines to keep Rufus from entering her bedroom. The disrespect he holds for his best friend Wenzel can be seen early on as the two argue over sidekick logistics. For the denizens of Deponia, Rufus is just an easy dude to hassle.
We don't hate him, though. Definitely not. The journey doesn't work without his own brand of comical irreverence, and indeed, the success of the story lies heavily on his coattails. It's just that Rufus is surrounded by people that are fed up with his wisecracking. If he comes off as any bit temperamental, it's solely on the shoulders of his equally abrasive peers. No one in Deponia is afraid to bite back; it's a negative place full of negative people, where conversations and courtesies only happen when both parties can benefit.
Negativity, however, is definitely a good thing. In a world where everyone suffers from the self-importance of megalomania (it's not just a Rufus exclusive), the collective vitriol is at times infectiously funny. The constant need for every character to one-up the next guy makes for some sharp, if not mean-spirited dialogue. To be sure, Deponia's tone is more derisive than anything else. But when the majority of the game preys on its characters' stupidity, the comedy can often feel stagnant. Rarely unfunny, but certainly stagnant. The same could be said for the overall pacing of Rufus' journey, which regularly takes meandering detours for the sake of cracking jokes. As players, we don't get a good sense of where the game is even going until the end of the first act (the longest of the three), and while Deponia eventually settles into a thoughtfully balanced rhythm of slapstick flair and narrative importance, the story feels very petite next to the confidence of the comedy. Attempts are made to dangle carrots from sticks, but more often than not are those treats out of eyeshot.
Much of what can be said about the game's pacing can be attributed to the ways in which the gameplay facilitates it. In practice, Deponia doesn't play any differently than your textbook graphic adventure. You point. You click. You point and click again when your infallible ideas don't line up with what the game wants you to do, even though you're totally being smart and aren't being awarded for it. The joys of the genre come from troubleshooting your own limitations and unifying yourself with the in-game logic, to the point where crosschecking the puzzles with your inventory will always, in due time and thought, reap a satisfying solution.
Deponia is certainly not without these moments of cleverness, where you and the world meet eye to eye on how exactly this kitten will help Rufus escape from his jail cell, or how to rig up a makeshift slingshot with pebbles and banister ornaments. Then again, moments don't stretch millenniums, and Deponia simply does not have enough rewarding instances to fill its eight hour girth. While the puzzles themselves are always nonsensical and strange in all the right ways, the game does a poor job of communicating objectives to the player, which oftentimes results in a lopsided, back-and-forth scurry between set pieces and the inventory screen. The first act in particular suffers from a disorganized grab bag of puzzles that begin and end without much recognition from the actual flow of events, creating an uncomfortable amount of uncertainty in where your efforts should be directed. Compounding this issue is just how obtuse the in-game puzzles can be. As much as I wanted to unconditionally love the carrier pigeon post office and the fetishistic mail robot at the front desk, I couldn't help but wonder if the puzzles within were at all solvable without a walkthrough. After going back to parse out the in-game hints, it continued to amaze me how uncontextualized the answers actually were.
But hey, fetishistic robot. Let that be the buzzword to hang onto.
Deponia muscles by with all sorts of similar quirk. It's the type of game where everything is meant to be funny, successful or otherwise, and while you won't be hand-stitching your love handles at every little quip, there's enough solid writing here to keep the smiles upright. Unfortunately, the dialogue is potholed with translation errors, misspellings, missing audio files, mismatched voice samples, miss this, miss that. I stumbled upon an entire sentence in its full German glory, and am A-okay with letting myself believe that Rufus can ethnically telecommunicate with the inanimate. Anything seems possible after witnessing the sentience of his toothbrush, and that's just in the first scene of the game.
Daedalic's got a goodie on their hands. The mishmash of doofy banter and lofty production values on all aesthetic fronts make Deponia an easy sell for anyone looking for their next graphic adventure go-to. Despite some unfortunate pacing hiccups and esoteric puzzling, what we're left with is a joyous little journey for the dumpster-diving faithful. Back-of-the-box quote right here: It's solid. Less rock, more trash compactor cube. Do Rufus' ego a favor and indulge him.