Game review 🎮: Obduction

The MYST series was my introduction to video games as a kid, Riven: the Sequel to MYST was the first game I ever bought with my pocket money. 20+ years later, my taste in video games has evolved substantially and I don’t play adventure-puzzle games anymore. But I still have a soft spot for Cyan Worlds and will play everything they release.

Obduction is a worthy successor to MYST. It contains the trademarks of a Cyan game: spectacular worlds, immersive and clever puzzles, a mysterious story told through journals and notes found while exploring. And there’s still live acting: the few NPCs are live actors captured in film and integrated into the world, instead of rendered 3-D models with motion-capture movements — a nod to the live-action videos in the MYST series. (How often do you see live actors in a video game nowadays?)

It’s also a 21st-century modern video game: The world is fully rendered in 3-D and opened for free-roam, but can be converted into a point&click game in settings. There’s no fast travel, you still have to walk from point to point, but the exploration areas feel tighter with more short-cuts between them, and in free-roam you can toggle between walking and running.

(Technical note: First-person games of any type make me motion sick, so I’m thankful for the point&click settings, where you can even eliminate the movement transitions between “click points”. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to play this at all.)

The puzzles are of course the highlight. Cyan are a genius at integrating puzzles with environment without making them seem contrived, and they knocked it out of the park here. I don’t have the patience to play adventure-puzzle games nowadays, but after a slow start to the pacing (the first 1/3rd of the puzzles are basically about opening routes/shortcuts between exploration areas), I got into the groove, and started feeling the same accomplishment I felt when solving puzzles in MYST and Riven, which lasted for the rest of the game. The puzzles in Obduction required careful observation and some deduction, but they walked that fine line between cheap and obtuse. I barely used a walkthrough, and usually it was to point out a path I didn’t notice earlier, not to solve puzzles.

Cyan are also great at creating breathtaking worlds. Obduction‘s worlds absolutely have that “wow” factor I loved about the Myst Ages, I enjoyed walking about and just admiring the landscapes.

The story was a bit of a letdown. There was a big buildup of expectation at the outset through the trademark journals/notes, and I expected an engrossing drama much like Riven. The climax of the story turned out underwhelming, even though it wrapped up neatly, and there seemed like many loose ends in the journals that weren’t addressed. I get the feeling that Cyan initially wanted the story to be more involved and set up the in-game notes for it, but ran out of resources/time before release and just left them hanging. That was somewhat disappointing.

That said, Obduction is a worthy successor to the MYST series: strong puzzles, amazing worlds, and updated gameplay controls. Cyan are still going strong – may they keep making fantastic games like this.

Cross-posted at We The Players.

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