Review – Return of the Obra Dinn

Every now and again you pick up a game and instantly hate yourself; angry that it took you so long to have played it. This was the exact result when I played Return of the Obra Dinn. While garnering GotY nominations; I noticed. Earning those GotY awards; I was interested. But when finally deciding to jump aboard the abandoned ghost ship, Obra Dinn, I knew instantly that I had made a mistake in waiting so long.

It has been way more years than I care to count since I sat at my family’s dining room table playing Clue. Piecing together a mystery jigsaw puzzle and attempting to figure out its secrets and riddles. Return to the Obra Dinn immediately took me back to that childhood home and placed me at that exact table.

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Designed and developed by 3909 LLC and Lucas Pope, Return of the Obra Dinn is a follow up to his 2013 indie hit Papers, Please. The game is set aboard the Obra Dinn, an East India Company ghost ship. You play as an agent of the company trying to figure out what has happened aboard her. Investigating the mysterious deaths and disappearances of the crew.

What stands out immediately is the beautiful art style and overall design. I can’t get over how beautiful Return of the Obra Dinn is. The design is a simple monochromatic that instantly gives you vibes of early PC titles, designed with a very modern and current sense of detail. The attention to the negative space is just as breathtaking as the attention to the tapestry itself.

As you investigate and walk around the ship, you will look for clues or answers to put inside your East India Company ledger. Each time you’re near a corpse, you’ll automatically take out your “Memento Mortem” pocket watch and use it to play out a glimpse of how that person met their fate. You’ll jot down names that may be mentioned, the cause of their death or injury, and hopefully by whom. Some answers may be given in future glimpses into the past. Keeping a current and accurate detail of events is incredibly important.

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The use of your pocket watch and your ledger are both simplistic and very intuitive. The game quickly puts you into the situation of having to use both as you piece together all the clues. Immediately showing you the mutiny against the Obra Dinn’s captain and requiring you to use deductive reasoning to truly unravel this and all the other mysteries. Since this is the primary focus of the gameplay, it allows you to really focus on the detective work.

Just as with the visuals, the sound makes excellent use of its negative space. The majority simply being the sound of a ship at sea. Return of the Obra Dinn almost plays as a silent movie. At least until you play back a clip in time. Suddenly the static and motionless tapestry coming to audible life as people shout, giant monsters attack, or cannons fire off. Sound is also used to ramp up to moments. Playing to a slight shake of your watch as you fearfully open new memories adds a certain anxiety to what you may see.

The Return of the Obra Dinn deserves all the talk and accolades it got last year. Each part moves between ingeniously minimalistic and incredibly detailed. It is my childhood boxed puzzle or board game. The one that is always ready to come off the shelf to be played. Just please, take it off the shelf much sooner than I did.



Graphics: 10

A monochromatic mastery. Moving back and forth from minimalistic to incredibly detailed.

Gameplay: 8.5

Simple and intuitive gameplay really lends itself well to allowing you to concentrate on the complexity of the overall puzzle and clues.

Sound: 10

Just as with the visuals, the use of the negative space is as good as the power of the spaces that are filled in.

Fun Factor: 9.0

Not your contemporary fun, that digital entertainment has become, but a return to and a combination of generations.

Final Verdict: 9.0

The Return of the Obra Dinn is available now on PC.

Reviewed on PC.

A copy of The Return of the Obra Dinn was provided by the publisher.