March 31, 2015 8:00 AM | Lena LeRay
Owlchemy Labs' survival adventure game Dyscourse has hit the digi-shelves, and it's a game all about choices. Whereas a Telltale Games style adventure might simply tell you that so-and-so will remember how you chose, though, in Dyscourse you get to see the results of your choices in fairly short order. And many of those choices end in death for one or more party members.
In Dyscourse, the player wakes up in the wreckage of a plane crash on a deserted island. After falling in with a group of other survivors, the player's choices about what to do and who to send out on what tasks have direct, easily understandable consequences for the group's survival and rescue in the coming days.
Each day comes in phases. The first thing that happens is that the characters wake up, discuss the current situation, and come up with two possibilities for what to do next. The player's choices influence who will do what, and the group splits up to pursue both goals. The player then gets to play out the task that they and whoever is with them are on, making choices that affect its outcome. Hopefully no one dies. After that, the characters regroup at camp and discuss how the day's events went for both groups, giving the player a chance to find out how the other group fared. If there's food to ration and/or eat, that gets taken care of. Finally, right before bed, the player gets a chance to talk to some or all of the other characters.
The impact of player choices on the flow of the game can't really be understated. If the player does something that gets someone injured, they'll be less capable the next day, less able to contribute to the survival of all. Dallying to do something unimportant in an emergency can directly result in the death of another character. Enacting changes on the environment can make one thing possible at the cost of creating a new danger. If you send the wrong people out to scavenge for something, they'll come back with nothing and a day's work will have been wasted. Every death that occurs can be traced back to either one really bad choice the player made or multiple choices the player made that came together in a bad way.
Talking and listening to the characters ends up being one of the most important aspects of the game. Each character has their own distinct personalities, a fact that becomes apparent within the first few minutes of meeting them. Those personalities can provide clues as to how likely the characters are to succeed at different tasks. Some of the characters may also have personal items that are useful in given situations, but if you don't talk to the characters enough, you might not find out they have them. My favorite moment in my first playthrough of the game is directly related to one NPC's personal item, in fact, and not just because his using it saved my life.
On that note, although the game is about a dire situation with starvation and injury and death, there are still humorous moments. It's not a complete downer of a game. The visual style helps with that, though most of the levity comes out in dialogue and references to other things. There are also some subtle bits of wordplay, like the name of the airline: Dysast Air.
I would recommend Dyscourse to people who enjoy adventure games, branching storylines, and games with replay value. It's not that long; my first playthrough took me just about an hour, including several minutes of padding for looking at all the options and taking notes to write this article. But since the game is so transparent about choice and effect, I already had ideas about how to play the second time when I got off the island with only a cat and one other member of the group.
One thing to be aware of is that the game doesn't support mouse at all, even in the start menu. It works with keyboard or controller only. There are very few time sensitive moments, and those are all dialogue choices with timers on them; even physical conflict is resolved as a puzzle.
Dyscourse is available on Steam for Windows, Mac, and Linux for $14.99. An extra $10 gets the soundtrack, a digital art book, a desktop wallpaper, and a making-of video.