Disco Elysium: The Final Cut is many things. An example of brilliant writing. A game with a beautiful art style. A point-and-click-ish RPG detective game with deep and thought provoking inner monologues. But Disco Elysium: The Final Cut is definitely not a console game. And this is unfortunate because The Final Cut was released as a console port.
In terms of redesigning a point-and-click game’s controls for gamepads there are many that have done it extremely well. The Divinity series, Pillars of Eternity, and Pathfinder: Kingmaker have all done this extremely well. But Disco Elysium may be among the worst. But before we get into exactly why that is, let’s go over the basics.
The Options Menu
Let’s discuss the size discrepancy in the menu text for a moment. The pause menu text is perfectly huge. The text of the actual options? Not so much. With all that extra screen real estate, it could be twice as big. As for the contents of the options menu, the standard fare is all there. Despite there being a text size slider, there are only three size options and none of them are large enough. And the “hardcore mode” shown at the bottom? What does that actually entail? Who knows because there isn’t anything that tells you.
The Controls Menu
I noted that the controls are a bit of a disaster and the lack of remapping or even control scheme options makes them even worse.
The Controls In-Game
When you enter a scene in Disco Elysium, you’re presented with a bunch of interaction dots. To interact with them, you have to walk near-ish the dot. What near-ish means depends entirely upon the object because the required distance for interaction seems to vary from object to object and good luck determining if you’re near enough because objects don’t highlight automatically as they do in most games when you’re near enough to interact. No, Disco Elysium makes even pressing a button a game of trial and error. Usually error.
The other glaring issue with the controls is how finicky they are and how precise they require you to be. You select objects by rotating the right stick until you hopefully highlight it. But that highlight is not “sticky” in the slightest so upon taking your thumb off the stick to press X to interact, you’ve probably accidentally deselected the item and you have to do the whole process two or three more times. You repeat this process with every single thing you must interact with.
Despite there only being three size options, the text is actually OK. While it will be too small for many and bigger is always better, it’s clear that the developers thought about how legible it would be on PC versus console.
Shown above is the text at its largest size. Still too small but the fact that there’s always a background makes it far more legible than it would be otherwise.
And just for good measure, the above image is the text at its smallest option.
There’s also sometimes text in pop-up form that displays your thoughts, I guess? While it, too, is too small the background helps it be a bit more legible.
My biggest issue with the text is more of a cognitive/ UI design choice issue.
Everything I’ve learned from playing hundreds of video games tells me that in the above image, the text with the box behind it is the selected text, the white option is an option that will continue the dialogue, and the red text either has consequences or ends the dialogue. In my mind, this is a completely logical understanding of dialogue selection. But I think we’ve already realized that logical design choices weren’t always made here. The box doesn’t really mean anything, the white is the selected text, and the red is default for any unselected text (slightly darker red is the color for dialogue choices you’ve already selected, enjoy squinting at that). Because this dialogue selection system is in contrast to basically every other dialogue selection system ever, I’m continually choosing the wrong option. One time I chose the wrong option and died and had to start all over again.
Disco Elysium makes me feel dumb. And I know, this is a thinking person’s game, high-brow video game entertainment. Fine. I have two graduate degrees, I’m a pretty intelligent person unless you make me do math. I can figure out most games. But this game makes me feel dumb due to the complete lack of any kind of tutorial and the fact that there is nothing intuitive about any of this game’s systems. I spent ten minutes at the start of the game stuck in my hotel room because I couldn’t figure out how the buttons worked. And then there’s the “thought cabinet.” What the hell is a thought cabinet?
There are tiny little text options with equally tiny “problems” and you press X to “internalize.” What does that even mean? I internalized three thoughts and nothing happened. And then there is a long list of grayed out thoughts and n indication as to whether those are upcoming thoughts or missed opportunities. If you’re going to introduce terms and mechanics that are uncommon in games, at least give players a hint as to what the word means. I’m sure I could figure this out through trial and error but considering that I made one wrong dialogue selection and had to start all over again, I’m not inclined to try things.
Another big cognitive barrier in this game is this ring-style selection for…inner monologues, I guess? They’re all color coded but there’s no way to know what the colors mean. Some are purple, some are yellow, some are teal, etc. Now, if you scroll back up to the “thought catalogue” image, you’ll see colors under each of the traits. Teal for INT, purple for PSY, pink for FYS (which means physique which again, logic would tell you “physique” is PHY but no), and yellow for MOT. I don’t know about you but I don’t see yellow and automatically intuit that yellow means “motorics.” I don’t even know what “motorics” means if I’m being honest. The problem with this is that a lot of these interactions have consequences, so if you’re about to begin one in which you have a low value, it’s smart to save. I didn’t assign points to motorics because I didn’t know what they were, so if my check fails in the interaction, I might suffer negative consequences. Or who knows, I might die because I accidentally selected the wrong option. My point here is that some sort of indication of what the color means would be helpful as a reminder to stop and save before starting the event.
For a game as celebrated as Disco Elysium was when it came out on PC in 2019, it’s a shame that it’s seemingly not designed for anyone to actually play. The controls on console are horrendous and there is cognitive barrier after cognitive barrier which something as simple as a basic tutorial would go a long way in solving. From my time with it, Disco Elysium feels a lot like The Great Gatsby or Moby Dick—everyone claims to love them but nobody actually understands them. The console port of Disco Elysium: The Final Cut is a mess and needs a lot of work to even be playable, let alone accessible.