Junk in the Trunk
HIGH The introduction does a wonderful job of establishing the world and main character.
LOW Everything about the platypus bataka fight.
WTF Why am I not using this invisibility thing all the time?
Chaos on Deponia is the middle chapter of a planned trilogy of adventure games concerning a planet covered in trash. Its predecessor, Deponia, had beautiful art and animations, stodgy design, and Rufus—perhaps the least likable protagonist in the history of gaming. Chaos maintains the first game's strengths and fitfully improves on some of its weaknesses. Unfortunately, Deponia's biggest problems are ones that can't be solved without blowing everything up and starting over.
Although it's part of a trilogy, players who missed the first game can start this one without much worry. Chaos on Deponia kicks off with a solid recap followed by a playable introduction that serves to establish Rufus's habit of causing mayhem wherever he goes, with supporting characters supplying criticism all the while. It's a very effective intro, and the only thing wrong with here is the main character himself.
In Deponia, Rufus was incredibly self-centered and unlikable, and he only gets worse through the length of Chaos. In the course of the game, he murders an innocent gondolier to achieve a minor goal and kills baby dolphins to complete a similarly silly task. One puzzle requires him to choose dialogue that won't cause him to laugh uncontrollably at another character's speech impediment. He strips an impoverished poet of all his meager worldly goods, and tricks a starving man into exchanging an umbrella for "food" that's actually an old boot. As for that umbrella, Rufus uses it to get his girlfriend Goal struck by lightning.
This brings me to the second problem with Chaos on Deponia: Goal. She spent most of the first game knocked out because of a damaged brain implant, which allowed men to fight over her unconscious body in ways that were incredibly creepy. Naturally, the upshot of Chaos's introduction is to shake things up by causing more damage to her still-damaged brain implant. This time, however, instead of spending the whole game unconscious, she gets split into multiple personalities.
Although Rufus hopes that one of these personalities is Goal's "shapely butt," she has actually been divided into aspects called "Lady" (snooty and mean), "Spunky" (nasty and violent), and "Baby" (nice and stupid). While this does afford the developers the opportunity to make some low-aiming jokes based on tired gender stereotypes, the damaged brain implant angle makes this game somewhat like a retread of the first.
Improved construction offsets some of that feeling. Chaos on Deponia mostly takes place in the Floating Black Market, a sprawling town that bustles with activity and has even more character than the first game's lovely zones. A fast-travel feature alleviates some of the irritation that accompanied the larger areas in Deponia, although the game would still be significantly improved by a run function. More importantly, most of the quests in this first major portion of the game follow a logical flow that makes sense.
That's not to say that Chaos has a perfect design. Some quests require figuring out complicated and tedious dialogue segments. The game also has its fair share of the bizarre problem-solving that got adventure games banished to the hinterlands in America years back. One particularly irritating puzzle required me to turn off the game's music, breaking the fourth wall in a way that the rest of the game didn't really support.
Chaos on Deponia's worst offense, however, is "platypus bataka," a fighting minigame that must be won in order to satisfy "Spunky" Goal. The fight is poorly balanced, difficult to read, and lacks the crisp controls that its timing seems to demand. An associated "Simon says" minigame is supposed to alleviate many of these faults, but in the version of the game I got, this was hopelessly bugged and unplayable. As with many of the harder puzzles in Chaos on Deponia, it's possible to skip platypus bataka, but that's no excuse for design and execution this shoddy.
Chaos on Deponia has enough charm to salve the wounds of its worst design flaws (a delightful quest to hatch a team of platypus guardians is a great example) but there's no getting around its narrative problems. Rufus is a repulsive human being, and Goal seems to exist only to serve as a target for his puerile fantasies. I enjoyed playing Chaos on Deponia, and loved looking at it. With each word that came out of Rufus's mouth, however, I hoped ever more fervently that the game's villains would just hurry up and blow the whole thing to bits.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on a home-built PC running Windows 7, equipped with Intel i7 processor, 8 GB RAM, and a single Radeon 6800 HD-series graphics card. Approximately nine hours of play was devoted to single-player mode and the game was completed.
Parents: As of press time, this game has not been rated by the ESRB. The game contains violence—including fistfights, the killing of small animals, and murder—scatological humor, alcohol use, sexism (seriously everywhere) and ableism. If I gave out ESRB ratings I would hand it a "T," but I wouldn't get it for my children.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: All of Chaos on Deponia's speech is subtitled, but there is one critical sound cue. At the risk of spoiling a contender for "Stupidest Puzzle of 2012," I am going to describe it for you. At one point in the game, Rufus will complain that he can't remember something because of some catchy music. The music he's talking about is the game's soundtrack. If you haven't already, you must silence that.
Currently Sparky works as a scientist in Rhode Island, and works gaming in between experiments and literature reviews. As a writer, he hopes to develop a critical voice that contributes to a more sophisticated and interesting culture of discourse about games. He is still waiting for a console port of Betrayal at Krondor.