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Dyscourse is the latest game from Owlchemy Labs, the studio behind Snuggle Truck and Jack Lumber, and more recently the VR game/experience Job Simulator. Dyscourse is what I would call a “modern” adventure game, with the focus placed more on managing relationships and making complex decisions, and less on solving abstract puzzles to proceed. Is Dyscourse worth your time and money? Read on to find out!
(Full disclosure: Owlchemy provided an advance copy of the game to us so we could play it prior to release. We also met Alex, Owlchemy CEO at an Austin gaming get-together last year, where we played an early build.)
Dyscourse is the story of the passengers of Dysast Air flight 404, which crash lands on a desert island and leaves just a handful of survivors. The game centers around one survivor – Rita – who was an artist-slash-barista in her pre-crash life. Rita must contend with the hostile forces of the island, along with the savage impulses of the other desperate survivors in order to have any hope at rescue. Each of the other survivors is weird in their own way – one is a gaming geek, one is an antisocial cubicle drone, one is a conspiracy nut, and the last two are a slightly older couple who farm and travel extensively.
As I mentioned in the introduction, Dyscourse is focused primarily on the difficult decisions facing the survivors. Some of the decisions are very survival focused, and I was reminded of the tension I felt while playing Telltale’s The Walking Dead. In fact, at one point I had to divvy up some very limited food, and I was reminded of a similar scene from “Starved for Help” (episode two of season one).
While superficially Dyscourse reminds me of Telltale’s recent work, very quickly the differences become evident. Where Telltale games tend to railroad you to a particular conclusion, Dyscourse is fine with you choosing your own, distinct path. Even the order in which you decide to undertake certain tasks also matters. Thus, there are a wide variety of different paths to choose from and chances are your first experiences with the game will be different than your friends’.
The effects of your decisions are not always obvious. At first there’s also no way to undo a decision you’ve made, as the game autosaves in a single slot. This caused me a little bit of frustration, as I really want to play games like this the “right” way.
When we first saw Dyscourse at Game On Austin last year, Owlchemy CEO Alex Schwartz was quick to mention that there is no “right” way to play Dyscourse – his advice was to relax and let the story play out. However, if you do end up finishing a run and regretting the way things turn out, an option to replay the game starting from the beginning of any day is unlocked after you get to the end once.
Dyscourse is not a particularly long game if we’re measuring the time for a single playthrough. Most of the games I’ve played have lasted around 60 to 90 minutes or so, and take place across around 10 playable in-game days. However, much like The Stanley Parable, the replayability factor is very high. The branching decision paths in the story, and the funny dialog sprinkled about kept me playing over and over again. A set of achievements tracks the various endings you’ve seen, and who you’ve managed to get out with alive.
Given that the game has so much dialog (the script totals over 120,000 words according to Alex), there is no voice acting in the game. The characters speak a sort of mumbling gibberish instead. There are different loops of “speech” depending on how a character is feeling. Meanwhile, a tropical soundtrack plays in the background. According to Owlchemy Labs, there are 77 different musical tracks in the game!
The art is unique, with long, spindly limbed characters and warm, earthy colors found throughout. The angular art and desert colors remind me of a sort of southwestern/Santa Fe style.
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If you enjoy story-driven games, survival games, or adventure games in general, chances are good you’re going to enjoy Dyscourse. Dyscourse is a game where player choice is respected and put front and center. It’s also a game that manages to be story focused and still have a ton of replayability.