As a kid, the Choose Your Own Adventure books created by the late R. A. Montgomery were some of my favorite reading material. Once you opened the front cover and began your adventure, you never really knew what direction your choices would take you until you got there. Building on that ability of giving the reader, or player in this case, total control of the direction of the story comes a game from developer Owlchemy Labs called Dyscourse. You take on the role of an art school grad turned barista named Rita who was on a flight to take a much needed vacation when the plane crashes and she ends up stuck on a deserted island with a crew of misfit travelers. How you proceed from here is up to you, but be warned that your decisions could either lead to your rescue, to your party members succumbing to one of the many dangers present on the island or something much, much worse.
Playing as Rita, you become the defacto leader of the group. You will have to make some difficult decisions and not everyone will be happy with your choices.
Gameplay in Dyscourse takes place on an island in the middle of the ocean that initially seems benign but turns out to be nothing of the sort. In order to traverse the trials presented to you, you must talk to and get to know your fellow castaways. The choices that you make in the game are key to the success of your group so allying yourself with those who can help you the most is important. As you get to know your fellow castaways and make critical, interpersonal decisions, the story is dynamically woven and your choices directly author your unique story. During conversations, you will be given a number of different ways to respond and depending on the response that you choose will determine how your cast mates will respond to you and ultimately the direction that your story takes.
You will have mere seconds to decide the fate of your crew mates. Choose wisely.
While most of the interactions that you have with the other inhabitants of the island happens during conversations, there are also timed events that will help to determine the outcome of many of the situations that you are confronted with. When these events happen, time slows down and you will have a few precious seconds (think: The Walking Dead) to choose how you want to respond to the situation at hand. In a hunting situation that I was presented with early in the game, as my hunting party was being charged by a diseased wild boar, I had a split second to decide if I would have one party member distract it with the flash from her camera, have another party member try to hit it with his broken fishing rod or if I myself should try to hit it in the head with a frying pan that I had found earlier. There is no going back once you make your choice and you will have to live with the consequences of your decision through the rest of the game.
The visuals in Dyscourse are probably the most stylized that I have seen this year and are very impressive. The various characters and the island backdrops are all done in what reminds me of a child’s construction paper creations. The character and wild animal designs are reminiscent of paper puppets as they are made up of different color shapes to create their specific designs. The many different locations on the island are done in the same style as the characters and presents a unique environment that you will have to navigate to reach the end. The colors are bright and fun which is in stark contrast to the peril that the island presents yet it is a constant reminder that while your current location may look harmless, there could be danger lurking right below the surface.
The awesome stylized art really makes this game stand out.
There are no voice overs in the game as the narrative is presented to the player in text boxes. When characters do speak, you hear more of a mumbling from them (think: Peanuts cartoons) as the game presents their dialogue. The sound effects are very spot on as thunder rolls during rain storms and the crash of the waves on the islands beaches feels authentic. The soundtrack is an original score by Jason Margaca and is comprised of 77 pieces that you will hear during your play-through. The music is a combination of dread and hopelessness and helps to accentuate the fact that you and your party are in a dire situation at every turn.
You have the choice to respond to your crew mates how you wish in order to solidify alliances that will help you to survive.
Dyscourse is not a long game and my first play-through only took about an hour and a half to complete. However, on my next play-through it only took me about an hour, but by simply choosing a different response at the beginning, I opened up a whole new leg of the story that I didn’t experience on my first play-through. The game has been designed so that 10 different players will end up with 10 very different stories that have been crafted from their individual choices. Boasting over 80,000 words and many hours of content, each time you play-through the game, you will be able to glean more of the overall story and discover more about why the plane crashed and shed more light on the mysterious events on the island.
You start out with five other people but not all of them will make it to the end…or will they?
While many games offer hours and hours of content in one play-through, Dyscourse offers short play-throughs that can be very different from the last. The focus here is more on the story as opposed to action or gun-play. However, I feel that a single play-through should have been a little longer; somewhere in the neighborhood of two to three hours. In a world where games like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us have set the bar very high, it’s going to be hard to justify a one hour game to the gaming public even if additional playthroughs open up different story arcs. Dyscourse is currently available on Steam for $14.99 which is par for the course for most indie titles but it will be up to you to get your money’s worth and play-through it enough times to get the full story.
Trapped once again on a deserted island
Gameplay - 10/10
Challenge - 8/10
Design - 9/10
+ Great visual style
+ Music is some of the best I've heard this year
+ Characters are interesting
- Play-throughs are very short
- QTEs seem dated and uninspired