What would you do if a strange seed of light suddenly took you from your home and placed you in a land enclosed by a dome? Would you accept things or would you explore and try to find the mystery at the core of this and many other worlds? That’s what I did in Obduction.
Developer: Cyan Inc.
Publisher: Cyan Inc.
Release Date: August 2016
Played: Full Story (both endings)
Source: Review Copy provided by Publisher
I have something to admit. I never played the full Myst series. I’ve barely played the first one and that’s with the realMyst edition that actually runs on my computer. But from my limited time with the game, I loved the creativity and sheer difficulty of its puzzles. They are absolutely vicious.
So when I sat down to play Obduction, I prepared myself for that same style of hardcore puzzle design, almost resigned to needing a walkthrough to make it through. But that wasn’t the case. It seems I have levelled up my puzzle solving skills enough to make it through Cyan’s latest title. Don’t get me wrong, the game is profoundly difficult, and I had roadblock upon roadblock, but it’s the kind of puzzle that if you pay attention to the environment and explore every inch of the map, you’ll find the clues to solve them.
Which of course means I got stuck on a few puzzles just because I didn’t look hard enough. But nothing beats that inevitable “Eureka!” moment when you figure out the solution.
I really like this kind of puzzle and while Obduction’s riddles can be extremely hard to solve, they’re never impossible. It’s never moon logic, not even obscure assumptions or cases of “try everything with everything,” but a careful study of the worlds you trek through. And yes, I said worlds. It’s Cyan after all, there’s gonna be some Sliders-like world hopping. In fact, this hopping later becomes part of the puzzles themselves. When you hop, you take part of the landscape with you, changing how things look in both worlds, often opening up new paths. It’s my favourite part of the game to be honest.
To suit the player’s style, you can choose one of two modes of play on a new game. Point & Click plays like classic Myst, where you move and explore by clicking on the screen, moving from one “snapshot” of the world to the next—though in this game it’s a fully realised environment. The other option is Free Roaming, where you can run and walk to your leisure, going wherever you so please. This is the style I chose, as I’m not a big fan of first person point & click adventure games. And with how expansive and gorgeous Obduction’s worlds are, I felt it a shame to not be able to turn my camera and look at every bit of it.
Much like Myst, you learn the plot of Obduction slowly, partly through minimal interaction with a couple of NPCs, but mostly through notes scattered around the environment. The good thing is that this encourages exploration, as many important notes are in some hard to find places. The downside is that you can get to the end and make the “wrong” choices just because there wasn’t enough info for you to make an informed opinion. In fact, there is very little evidence in any of the notes to make you realise what the wrong choice is at the end, just a diary by one of the central characters (which is very much hidden away) mentioning her intent to talk someone out of a plan.
The story itself is very straightforward with no twists whatsoever. And as you are alone in the game, just a new arrival abducted from his home at the most inopportune if fortuitous time, there are no character arcs whatsoever. You can interact with a few FMV real-actor NPCs, but they’re one-sided conversations that only tell you what you should do next, instead of conveying more about the world you live in.
Having said so, the plot itself works. I just wish we could’ve had more of these worlds to know. I wanted to know more about the alien cultures. There’s a species they mention communicates with humans through extra-sensory means, as in deep meditation or communion. I wanted to do that. I wanted to meet these aliens and have them tell me of their plight.
Obduction is absolutely gorgeous. Built on the Unreal Engine it’s a game that understands that when you have high-definition, the thing you should do is go for vibrant colours. There are some grayish or brown worlds, but they have colourful accents. For example, the second world I visited, I’ll call it the “blue world,” is dull gray in its architecture, but there are golden and bronze machinery that create a lovely contrast. Aside from that, the native insect-like inhabitants glow with multicoloured lights that are just fantastic.
And then I went to the “green world” and my mouth fell open and I drooled. It was that good.
I mentioned FMV actors. They look phenomenal, I almost believed they were 3D thanks to their clever use through hologram projectors or having them behind bulkhead doors.
The downside is that Obduction is perhaps the biggest resource hog I’ve had to deal with in years. This game did not like me running anything in the background, even Winamp. Also, the “Seed” teleport scenes and those when you hit the dome walls dropped my FPS so low at times that, as a friend said, they should be renamed to FPM, frames per minute. The former take you to another world, so the sequence is, in essence, a very surreal, trippy and visually interesting loading screen, but one that can last a while. And the latter lag because the game is rendering what you’ll find on the other side once you cross over.
At first I thought it was just me, but checking online and with friends I noticed a similar pattern regarding Obduction’s performance.
To make sure one of the later puzzles didn’t take weeks, I had to drop the graphics to medium and low. Obduction still looked absolutely stunning but now my teleportation or warping (or Sliding) took seconds. The puzzle in question is one of my favourites, as it requires sequential warps to find your way through a maze. Pretty ingenious.
Voice acting, what little there is, is very good and all characters sound convincing, which you rarely see in FMV adventure games, where things tend to be on the laughable side of over the top!
Sound design favours ambient and environmental effects, with music used sparingly and I wish it weren’t so. What little you hear is wonderfully atmospheric and often conveyed the reality of the world better than the sound effects ever could. It’s just wonderful.
Obduction is a hardcore adventure game, but never unfair, which I love. The storytelling could have used some polishing as did the overall technical aspect of the game to make it less of a burden on computers running it. But if you do play it, you’ll dig it.
It also taught me a new word: Obduction. It’s not a typo for Abduction. It has a meaning and when you think about it, you realise how clever the name is.
4/5 – Exceptional!