1993's Myst was a hugely successful adventure puzzler that helped redefine the genre. Now its developer Cyan Inc. is back with a spiritual successor but does Obduction live up to expectations?
Obduction's premise is pretty simple. You're somehow transported to a strange new world in which isolated parts of Earth have been preserved and relocated among alien surroundings, necessitating you solve a bunch of puzzles in order to get home. Unlike most puzzle games, Obduction gives you very little instruction as to what to do. Instead, you're left to explore your environs and try to figure out this bizarre land's mechanics on your own. This type of approach has an appeal. It can be refreshing for a game to not hold your hand and allow you to use your intuition but in Obduction's case, it doesn't really work out for the better for a number of reasons.
The first thing to discuss is the technical problems. As soon as you start playing, you'll notice Obduction has a terrible frame rate. It's so bad that it continually freezes momentarily as you move around which is both annoying and takes away from the immersion of some of the prettier areas you'll discover. It gets particularly problematic when there's more stuff onscreen as the frame rate can go down to single digits or just lock up entirely for a few seconds at a time.
Next, there are the loading times. Throughout Obduction, you'll have to operate "seed" devices that transport you to a new area. Doing so results in a lengthy loading screen in which the frame rate again falls into single figures. You have to use these seeds throughout the campaign as well so it becomes a significant issue. In fact, getting around Obduction's world is slow in general. You can "run" but you don't go very fast and you repeatedly have to cover the same ground over and over again in order to find your way back somewhere or merely uncover something that will give you a clue as to how to progress. As mentioned before, Obduction (like Myst) isn't the sort of game that holds your hand. Instead, it's up to you to figure everything out which is fine if it can be logically deciphered without loads of aimless wandering around and banging your head against the wall. Sadly, that's pretty much all you do here.
Solutions can be very cryptic such as a diagram on one side of the map that you have to somehow know to remember and realise you have to input into a machine on the other side of the map or two letters on a licence plate that you have to figure out correspond to two numbers on an old-style telephone dial that you'll have to put before the other numbers on the plate to form a key code for a door. Yeah, there's a lot of stuff like that. The other kind of "puzzles" that will stump you are much simpler and usually involve overlooking a seemingly insignificant switch or button on a device that you'll need to operate to progress. This latter issue isn't helped by the incredibly finicky controls which often make it unclear if something is interactive and if it is, how it can be interacted with.
One noticeable instance of this is the mine cart that you have to repeatedly use to get around one area of the world. This contraption has to be the most infuriating vehicle I've ever been forced to use in a video game. People who whine about the Mako in Mass Effect should try piloting the mine cart in Obduction and see what real frustration means. It's not even that you move just as slowly in it as you do on foot; it's that Obduction makes you get out of it every few yards to redirect the tracks in order to go where you want. Given how slowly you get in and out of the vehicle and how imprecise the controls are to select the door, pull levers, get back in, etc.; it could drive you insane before delivering you to your destination. If you're playing with an inverted Y axis, you're in for an extra level of annoyance because someone forgot to invert the onboard controls so you're constantly looking the wrong way when you're inside.
Even when you're not in the cart, getting around Obduction's world is a chore. Basically, it plays out like this: wander around for ages until you spot something you missed before and finally figure out how to progress, reach a new area and get excited at finally seeing something different, get stuck again after thirty seconds, repeat. Most of the time, you'll be backtracking across the same areas bored out of your mind, slowly trudging through the same ravines and up and down the same sets of steps. The world's also confusing to navigate because you dip in and out of a purple "otherworld" that transports you to haphazard areas. Plus, a lot of the scenery looks the same, leading to confusion and yet more mind-numbing backtracking.
Despite all this, there are a couple of good things to say about Obduction. The puzzles' difficulty means that finally solving one does give you a sense of accomplishment (or maybe it's relief). There are also some cool graphical moments like when you first flick the switch on a seed device and watch your surroundings completely transform.
Other than those couple of points, I'm really struggling to say anything positive. Obduction is apparently getting a PlayStation VR patch soon which will make it more immersive but I really don't think it will improve on the tedium of its campaign. It would be better served by a patch that sorts out its technical issues but either way, it's still going to have the same monotonous gameplay.
- + There's a sense of satisfaction whenever you finally solve a puzzle
- + Some pretty graphical moments
- - Loads of tedious and slow backtracking across the same areas
- - Frame rate issues and long loading screens
- - Finicky controls and illogical puzzles