Review – Obduction (Xbox One)
I have been a big fan of developer, Cyan, for many years now. I’ve been playing their games ever since Myst was released in 1993. The strange and mostly empty worlds captivated me instantly, as did the mystery as to what had happened to the two strangers trapped within a couple books who were begging for my assistance. It was a new gaming experience for me, as Myst provided almost no hand holding whatsoever and forced the player to rely purely on thorough exploration, puzzle solving skills, and keen observations. Staying true to their style, Cyan released Obduction back in 2016 for the PC, but I wasn’t able to get to it at the time. Now that it’s being ported to the Xbox One, I couldn’t pass up the chance to see what new adventure awaited me.
You start off in Obduction with, well, an abduction. You are wandering through a campground when you see strange bright lights in the sky, all while listening to a recorded message from a stranger describing the same kind of event. Before you know it, the light fills everything and the world as you knew it is gone. Well, most of it anyway. You’ll wake up to find that a large chunk of a town called Hunrath, has been taken and placed within an alien world. It seems empty aside from a few holographic messages from previous citizens. You’ll eventually meet the town’s seemingly only other survivor and he’ll task you with some pretty unusual requests. That’s about as much direction as you’ll get in this game.
The story is decent, but it’s not as deep and fleshed out as I would’ve liked. It’s just intriguing enough to keep you wanting to continue on. Most of what you’ll discover will come from journals, papers, and the infrequent holographic message. This is pretty standard for these types of games, aside for the holograms of course. Little remnants of the past are left lying about for you to gaze upon, but there isn’t much beyond that.
You really only get insight into two people out of the whole town. I would’ve loved to have been able to learn more about each of the inhabitants of Hunrath that lived there before my arrival. There are some brief mentions of other people, but nothing of any substance. I feel like this takes away some of the significance of the others being gone, since there was nothing for me to make an emotional attachment to.
Like other Cyan games, Obduction gives you almost no clear idea of what to do. You’re simply dropped into an unknown land with nothing but your wits and curiosity to push you forward. Exploration is key here. Along your journey you’ll encounter numerous puzzles, ranging from simple number coded locks to full on labyrinths. You will need to observe and make note of everything you find. Often times the answers are tucked away in journals or scraps of paper lying about. Not every time though. There are certain puzzles that can only be solved with calculated logic, thinking outside the box, or lots of trial and error. I relied heavily on the latter for the two big ending puzzles.
Aside from the normal frustrations of trying to solve complicated puzzles with almost nothing to go off of (which is the norm for these games), there are a few other factors that aggravated me. These games require you to look at everything around you to find something that stands out so you can hopefully discover a clue or glean some knowledge on how things work in that world. That’s all well and good, until the developers litter their environments with tons of random eye-catching items as part of a Kickstarter bonus.
That’s right, one of the perks of donating a certain amount of money to their Kickstarter campaign was to have a special item placed in the game just for you. That’s great for the backers, but not so much for those of us that are trying to scour the world to solve the mystery. Analyzing stray teddy bears and trinkets over and over hoping to find some clue, is not my definition of fun. Especially when so many objects mean absolutely nothing.
Then there’s my biggest gripe, the loading times. Thankfully, there aren’t too many moments where you’ll be stopped in your tracks while the next area loads, but there are a few. The same cannot be said for transporting. Whenever you use a device to transport you to another area, you’ll be stuck with a loading screen that ranges anywhere from fifteen seconds (rare) to over a minute (way too common). You won’t encounter too many of these teleportation machines in the first half of the game, but the second half is filled with them and it grinds the flow of the game to a halt.
The pacing is my other big issue with Obduction. The first half moves swiftly and smoothly as the enigma deepens, you solve puzzles, and unlock other areas to explore. Then the second half introduces the transportation devices which take forever to load, as I just mentioned. You’ll also have to backtrack ridiculous lengths across each area in order to solve certain puzzles. The world of Obduction is pretty fair sized, especially when compared to Cyan’s earlier games like Myst and Riven, so traversing across these lands countless times becomes a chore. Don’t get me started on how unnecessarily long it takes to get through the Gauntlet and the Maze sections towards the end of the game due to these factors.
Even while backtracking through the same areas over and over, you can’t help but admire just how gorgeous Obduction is. There are several different worlds that interconnect and each of them have their own distinct look. They made fantastic use of the Unreal Engine, which gives depth to the textures and beautiful lighting effects. The world feels alive, even though there’s hardly anyone in it. There are occasional framerate dips, mainly when entering a new area, and it does tend to hitch a bit when you’re running. However, after a while, you’ll stop noticing the hitching since you’ll be so focused on trying to find clues and new paths.
The sound design is fantastic for the most part. There are a few actors in this game who each deliver genuine performances. There isn’t an overabundance of music in Obduction, but that plays well to the feeling of being in a largely desolate world. The music that is present fits each area well, although at times it gets really loud for seemingly no reason. When investigating some ruins, I kept thinking something big was going to happen because the music crescendoed to a near epic scale, but nothing happened. Those moments were a bit offputting, but luckily very scarce.
All in all, I really did enjoy my time with Obduction, even if there were a few issues that hampered the experience. It’s beautiful, fascinating, and creative. Although, the second half definitely slows down a lot due to huge backtracking sections and long loading times. The perplexing conundrum you find yourself in will keep you digging for answers. Mind you, not every question is answered, but most of the important ones are. If you’ve played a Cyan game before, you know what you’re getting yourself into. If you like exploration puzzle games that spoon feed you tips and help, then you probably won’t care for this game. However, if you love a curious mystery in a bizarre and beautiful world where all of the answers must be earned, then Obduction might be right up your alley.
The various worlds are beautiful and make great use of the Unreal Engine. It does suffer from occasional framerate drops and hitching when running.
Like most explorative puzzle games, you’ll mainly walk, run, and interact with objects. Many of the puzzles are on the somewhat easy side, but there are a few that are significantly harder. Transporting between areas is painfully slow.
The acting is very strong and believable. There isn’t much music, but that plays well to the desolate alien world you’re in. The music that is there is wonderful, but it gets very loud for no apparent reason in certain areas.
Obduction starts off strong with a compelling mystery and bizarrely beautiful worlds. However, it gets bogged down by the cumbersome gameplay mechanics and long loading times in later puzzles.
Final Verdict: 7.0
Obduction is available now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
Reviewed on Xbox One.
A copy of Obduction was provided by the publisher.