Something’s rotten with Deponia, and it’s not the garbage-crusted surface of its eponymous setting. Rather, it’s Rufus, the befringed anti-hero attempting to ditch the planet through a liberal application of pointing, clicking and rockets.
He’s an absolute dick. And not a funny dick like JC Denton or an endearingly efficient dick like Renegade Commander Shepard, but a straight-up soaring shitehawk, a greedy, manipulative cretin whose terminal unlikeability serves only to block any attempt to care about him, his story or anything that happens in Deponia’s six-and-a-bit hours. He’s awful, but we’ll come back to him later.
For now, let’s talk shop. Behind the impressively bold, hand-drawn art style lies a fairly by-the-numbers point and click. That means plenty of finding the right thing to use on the other thing, minigames that skirt between short and sweet and trial-and-error, and hugely roundabout methods of completing what initially sounds like a simple task. Making a cup of coffee out of gunpowder, chilli peppers and battery acid isn’t the most exhilarating job in the world (especially when it takes around two hours, perhaps the longest individual sequence in the game, and includes a hell of a lot of backtracking through a large central hub), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If anything, Deponia’s outside-the-box approach to puzzling solutions make it a suitably challenging, thoughtful affair.
Weirdly, however, there are occasional moments where senseless or arbitrary restrictions can put on the mental brakes. One puzzle requires you perform a meditation ritual by staring at the horizon; this can’t be initiated anywhere except at a fixed, predetermined point, despite the horizon being visible from literally everywhere on the map with the interaction prompt readily available. Meanwhile, a lockpick that can crack open a prison cell becomes useless in the face of an impenetrable car door. There’s nothing here as wantonly stupid as, say, the infamous cat hair tape moustache, but these quirks – not the puzzles themselves – will likely have you alt-tabbing to a walkthrough.
The closing act is better. SS-lite baddies (who, despite being wholly evil, are still a more welcome sight than Rufus) finally make their play, a development that lends itself to some surprisingly enjoyable light stealth elements and a greater sense of threat than some missing espresso “ingredients”. The downside is, well, you have to sit through three acts of the leading man to get to it.
Rufus’ superhuman feats of idiocy and selfishness create such a disconnect with any sane player that you effectively stop wanting to proceed, partly to deny him a win out of spite and partly because his manner of thought creates some deeply uncomfortable puzzle solutions. Why should I drug my ex-girlfriend, a character who does infinitely more for me than I’ll ever deserve, so I can steal from her? There’s even a conversation near the end where progression is impossible until you select the most hateful, borderline psychotic dialogue option, even when more moderate or outright contradictory phrases can be chosen seconds beforehand. Then, after putting words in your mouth, Deponia has the gall to have a character point out how nasty they were. I’m not expecting a great deal of choice, especially not in an adventure game, but to have such a despicable bastard as the protagonist – forcing the player to enable him – is irritating at best and bad writing at worst.
He’s not the only tedious cast member, not that it’s any consolation. The starting town of Kuvaq is full of unsympathetic morons, the majority of whom are met whilst arguing over who gets to take an unconscious girl back to their house. Female characters in general are the given the short end of a rather unpleasant stick, never appearing unless they’re whinging, naked, targeted for drugging, or asking the mighty Rufus for help.
Overt sexism alone would be enough for me to advise against approaching Deponia without protective gloves and a heavy discount. Yet, even with decent puzzling, slick presentation and a strong finish, it’s still a comedy game which isn’t funny and an adventure game where you kind of wish you weren’t having one.