Back in the early ’90s you would have found me playing games like Doom and Beyond a Broken Sky, marvelling at the behemoths of gaming. But if I’m honest, what really caught my attention was a game that my housemate at the time had; a game that delivered stunning graphics and a beautiful alien styled magical world. That game was Myst. We played it together, getting completely lost in this world, and were left absolutely stumped by both its puzzles and the little clues that the developers left in for us to find. Never before had I had to write down notes or draw little maps as we played. Never before had I suddenly had to run into my friend’s room at 1am proclaiming that I had worked something out. Now though, here in 2020 we have another game in the same ilk: a game created by the same development team. A game titled Obduction. Get your notepads ready… we are about to dive in.
Obduction first appeared on PC as a VR experience, but unlike many that make the move it works brilliantly as a first-person adventure. The story is very good indeed. You start the game in a small town in Arizona, suddenly spotting blue lights in the sky as a narrator explains what is happening as the world is changed. You are then transported to a strange alien landscape – a world called Hunrath – along with half the Arizonian town. As you explore the new world you find out that this Earth is part of four worlds, and it’s up to you to go out, seek answers and find your way home. The writing and world-building are frankly excellent, with complicated and unique pieces of storytelling that combine scientific ideas with complete and utter fantasy, cleverly and entertainingly immersing you throughout.
You play through Obduction in the first person, moving about the world freely. You don’t collect objects in an inventory or use things like in any normal point and click game, but rather you will click on objects, pull levers and open doors. There is no combat to be had either, but you can run and you can also operate some pieces of machinery, even a train cart at one point. The whole thing initially delivers access to quite a large area, and it’s up to you to find the secrets to open even more of the world, allowing progress through the game. There are a couple of residents of the town that you encounter including the mayor, an engineer and a scientist who are all presented in glorious FMV. It is they who provide you clues on what to do next and how to proceed, because it’s all about solving puzzles.
Throughout the game, you come across certain areas that have locked doors, and the area is closed off so you can’t progress any further. You will be given tasks by the residents of the town, but you won’t find any markers or directional arrows in order to help you complete them. To solve any puzzle – and this method applies to much of the game – you just have to do some research. You have to look at every object; pick it up, twist it around, and look in every crevice. You will need to read every book, all journals, every little piece of paper you find, because the answers will lie in everything around you. For instance, an old projector will hold the answers to some alien machinery; a sticker with a name of a US state, when combined with some number plates stuck on a wall in another location, will open a door. Everything is important in Obduction and you will need that notebook to hand – or at least like in my case take loads of pictures on your phone, documenting everything that seems even the slightest bit important.
As you would expect, things get tricky, especially if you’re not used to this type of exploration game and have seen your detective work get rusty. There are no markers or arrows pointing you in the right direction in Obduction, nor are there really any proper hints or clues as to what you need to find. It’s all up to you – and your patience. That might put many off and the challenge within will determine whether or not you can last the journey required of this 10 hour or so game. Without doubt, it’s a challenge, and I’ll admit there have been points where I have nearly given up, but when you do stumble upon the answer, or solve a testing riddle, it’s a brilliant feeling.
Visually and Obduction works brilliantly. It has a great atmosphere and delivered some creatively genius ideas that you would expect from the minds of those who brought you Myst. The locations are beautifully drawn and there is enough variety in the different worlds to allow you to explore without boredom kicking in – there is a great mixture of interiors and exteriors on show. The rare moments where you meet actual humans are presented in FMV, and this is as mad as it sounds in a game like this – but it works well and has a very nostalgic feel to it. On the sound side, there is a very atmospheric soundtrack that runs throughout, changing with mood as it goes. The sound effects are top-notch as well, as well as some brilliant extras in the form of vinyl on gramophones and audiotapes detailing people’s accounts of when they first encountered the aliens.
Obduction is a game that I have loved playing through; it’s been great to spend some time in this intriguing and beautiful universe. It is very much a different type of game to those we are used to in these modern times, and it harks back to the ’90s well, all while managing to feel modern and new. The game style won’t be for everyone though, and puzzle solving certainly isn’t for all gamers – especially without hints and clues for them to follow. But, if you loved the likes of Myst and Riven back in the day, then Obduction on Xbox One is a must-buy, if only because of the different pace and puzzle solving methods it brings.