It is impossible to talk about Obduction without mentioning Cyan’s earlier games, specifically Myst. Myst was one of the first real blockbuster games for PC – it defined a kind of high-end graphical point-and-click adventure genre which attracted many imitators. Unfortunately, Cyan somewhat lost it’s way and ended up creating contrived lackluster sequels. The time was right for someone to make a Myst clone in a fully interactive engine, such as the Unreal engine. Luckily for us, Cyan wasn’t completely dead yet and was able to raise enough money on kickstarter to create that highly interactive clone of Myst, they call it “Obduction”.
As always, Cyan is able to produce some of the best visuals in the genre. Some of the scenes in this game are absolutely breathtaking. Most areas have a little bit of steampunk mixed in as a staple of Cyan’s puzzles. Afterall, mechanical and physical objects can be naturally understood and lends hints to figuring out how puzzles work.
Interestingly, multiple artists from The Witness began working on Obduction after Witness had shipped. It’s no surprise that some of the art and feel appears lifted, but without the signature stylization that Witness features. This realistic art style is not a bad thing though, it works and it is beautiful.
Obduction shows masterful use of vertical space, perhaps more than any game I’ve ever played. It feels natural and helps create a feel for the vast expanse and depths of some places. It really brings the art to life when you can see something beautiful in front of you and then look down and see it go on and on.
The art has one major issue though. The problem is with the billboarded full motion video playback which is completely out of place in a modern 3D game. Theres no way to sugar coat it, it looks bad to a point of breaking the immersion.
Lastly, I’d like to mention the music. One thing that I’ve always loved about Cyan games has been the music. It has always been powerful and bold. However in this game, the music is toned waaaaay down. It is only used sporatically and when it is used, it feels somewhat out of place. Certain familiar instruments that are common in Cyan games do show up, but only for dramatic effect. This avoidance of music was another feature likely copied from The Witness, (which features nearly no music). While it works in The Witness, it does not work in Obduction, I’m not entirely sure why.
Obduction gameplay can best be described as Myst-light. You can absolutely feel the influence of Myst in this game, however Obduction’s puzzles involve fewer steps and generally have less critical thinking. As in Myst, you walk around, discover puzzles built into the world(s) and use related clues and pure logic to solve them. It works, it’s fun. It’s tried and true and Cyan has not lost the magic at all. I do have a slight gripe with the simplification of puzzles, sometimes they are so dumbed down that you will solve them on accident. Also the ‘current goal’ is occasionally unclear or, even worse, stated somewhat incorrectly. It is a bit of a problem, but a familiar one, as Myst had the same issue.
As mentioned with the art, the puzzles are also largely mechanical and physical puzzles. This is actually a good thing, because it is easy to reason about such things; you already have an understanding of them from the real world. There’s also a stream of mathy puzzles, but that kind of puzzle is basically second nature to a programmer like myself.
Once you advance a bit there becomes a core mechanic of gameplay puzzles that becomes apparent. It eventually becomes a bit overused, and combined with long load times takes a bit of a toll on the player. I can only immagine the horror of playing this game on an older PC.
The story is about on par with the original Myst game. Through journals and other information you are presented with detailed information about some things, but are left with huge gaping holes in your knowledge about other things. You get hints of previous conflicts and happenings but never really the whole story. This is actually a great way to present the story because it lets the user immagine what really happened leading up to your arrival in this strange land. It does leave the door open for sequels… the kind that eventually led to the story rot of the Myst universe. I hope Cyan can avoid making the same mistakes with Obduction.
Overall Score: 88/100
Obduction manages to be worthy spiritual successor to Myst. This is a good game, given that you are playing it on semi powerful PC. You need to see the graphics with a good video card and you need to be able to load levels quickly in order to not be completely frustrated at some points. It’s totally worth playing and, if you played the Myst series at all, you will appreciate a few easter eggs left for you.