“Hard shell. Dangerous content. Unpredictable side effects.” – one of Rufus’s many self-descriptions.
When we last left our hero, Rufus, he was attempting to flee the trash-ridden planet in pursuit of his newly met dream girl, Goal. Without spoiling Deponia, things were moderately wrapped up, and Rufus seemed to be leaving the conclusion in the hands of fate. Seemed to be. When Chaos on Deponia, begins, Rufus is back in action and rocketing himself toward the upper land, and Goal’s home, Elysium, but things take an unsurprising turn for the worse.
Some of those finer points may be fudged, but I started this point-and-click trilogy with Chaos on Deponia, the second title in the series. Despite having an overarching and continuous story, each game is a standalone entry that can be played without committing to the others. If you’d like to begin with Chaos (but really, it’s so good, you might as well play all three), the game will give you a tutorial and brief recap of the first game’s events, presented as a beautiful ballad sung by a hobo-bard. Soon after, you’ll be re-immersed in Rufus’s clumsy hijinks, which are focused this time around on fixing Goal’s brain implant (damaged by those same hijinks) and reuniting three parts of her personality which have split as a result.
This goal (aha!) will take you through a visually stunning Deponia, which should not be a surprise considering the graphics of its predecessor. Each scene in Chaos on Deponia is also lovingly crafted, with excessive attention to even the tiniest details. Scenes are so packed with colorful backgrounds, characters, and distractions that it’s easy to overlook interactive areas as you study the teeming figure picture (wimmelbilder) before you. Thankfully, your mouse icon will include a hand and/or eyeball (or ping-pong ball with a dot, as Rufus believes it to be) when over an important item or area, preventing this from being a classic point-and-click-and-click-and-click-and-click game.
In addition to the stunningly crisp visuals, players will be treated to a hilarious, light-hearted, and expertly voiced continuation of Rufus’s story. Although the Deponia series began as a German trilogy, the localization team and English voice cast have created a first-class experience that feels authentic for the English speaker. From Rufus’s mocking of a robotic dog—”All I hear is ‘mimimimi—nerdy ramblings—mimimimi,’” to the many self-references as a game, “What are you waiting for?” – “The multiple choice box…shh, here it comes now,” (dialogue box appears), chatting with characters and exploring in Chaos on Deponia is always rewarding, whether you’re learning something crucial or extraneous. One of my favorite interactions is one such aside, when you go back to chat with the “Shop-O-Mat 2000,” a robotic shopkeeper that has obviously trapped his creator inside his glass head. Rufus has a lengthy conversation with the Shop-O-Mat, first wondering where the actual shop owner must be and later for-shaming his memory for running out on his wife—whom the Shop-O-Mat has been consoling since his “disappearance.” All the while, the trapped shop owner pounds on the Shop-O-Mat’s glass head, and eventually, Rufus simply goes back to browsing and on his way.
When you’re not distracting yourself by talking to the colorful inhabitants of Deponia (which you can do for quite awhile, rest assured), there are, of course, puzzles to solve. Chaos on Deponia is full of unique items to collect (or steal, as Rufus is a bit of a kleptomaniac) and combine together into new uses. Although no adventure game is complete without its share of over-the-top, inexplicably intricate puzzles, Chaos on Deponia falls comfortably in the mid-range of difficulty: puzzles require enough steps and solutions to make you feel accomplished, but nothing so unthinkable that you’ll get fed up. Characters will casually offer hints during conversations that are subtle, but not esoteric. When the bartender mentioned that salt gums up the works, but not as badly as “sugar in the generator,” of course I went outside and poured sugar in the generator, which led to a few new items used in later solutions.
With such engaging characters and puzzles, you’ll be rushing all over the Floating Black Market to take in everything there is to see and do. Well, not rushing—for a modern-day adventure game, Rufus walks surprisingly slow, and cannot be sped up in any way. Double-clicking on an exit or entrance to an area will take you to that screen immediately, but walking within a scene is tedious. Unlike Rufus’s walking animation, you can skip NPCs’ actions—but you might not realize this until you’ve clicked through enough one-off “hints” that the game tells you. Finally, although Chaos on Deponia is a standalone game and does a great job of allowing new players to start with it, there are some references to the first game that are not explained for the newcomer. “Toni” is mentioned numerous times, who I’ve inferred is Rufus’s ex-girlfriend—but only because of the slanderous comments; not because the game told me.
I would consider that last fault merely an incentive to go back and play Deponia, though. Chaos on Deponia is a hilarious, smooth, and nearly perfect adventuring experience from its very first moments, and a worthy continuation of Rufus’s unfortunate, but optimistic, journey. The Golden Age of adventure games may have passed with LucasArts and Sierra’s entries, but if games like this keep appearing, we could be in for a Renaissance.