Developer: Cyan Inc.
Publisher: Cyan Inc.
Genre: Puzzle, Adventure
Platforms: PS4, PC
Rating: E10+ for Everyone
The legacy and impact of Myst—and later Riven—back in the 90’s cannot be overstated. A formative experience and a harbinger of a new plane of thinking in storytelling, this series definitely pushed the boundaries of immersion in the gaming medium. It defined a genre and set the stage for puzzle adventure games for many years to come. Cyan Inc., the developer responsible for this groundbreaking franchise, brought in 2016 their long-awaited next attempt in the adventure genre with Obduction for PC. Now, Cyan has ported it to PS4 with PlayStation VR implementation coming at a later date. While I was expecting more of a “spiritual successor” to Myst mentality, any disappointment was quickly squelched by my admiration for the surreal graphics and curiosity as to what was going to happen next.
Language/crude humor: H*** and d***ed/d*** are used out of context, but no other instances of swearing occur.
Spiritual content: Without spoiling the story, there seem to be many Buddist and other religious/spiritual theories embedded in the story; including but not limited to the tree of life, cosmic consciousness, deities, predestination, transcendence, and salvation.
Obduction starts off as its name implies: you being abducted and placed on an alien world full of both new and familiar relics. All this taking place on an Earth-like town called Hunrath, featuring advanced technologies and strange devices. You are tasked with exploring a mysterious and unfathomable settlement filled with awe-inspiring sites, littered with holograms welcoming you to the mysteriously desolate town. All of this is encompassed by an encroaching alien environment filled with purple mountains jutting out in odd angles forming organic shapes with the only thing holding it back being a large emitting red laser.
I believe Cyan is correct in conceiving a whole new mythos, new characters, and new motive for discovery with this entry: become a savior for this alien world. It’s clear that something diabolical has happened to this civilization, with only holograms portraying a place of respite where previous human abductees bonded together to create a new culture. The town seems to be deserted, and the only human you encounter early on is a cranky mechanic named Cecil, who only communicates through the safety of his reinforced door. As the sole survivor, he tells you that the only way to return home is to reactivate a super-powered organic structure which has been decommissioned for some time.
As you explore and begin to unearth new theories as to what has happened in this world, you’ll come across various puzzles. These make up the majority of Obduction’s gameplay opportunities. Unlike the similarity in puzzles used in The Witness, Obduction’s puzzled are definitely more abstract. You won’t have symbols and designs to decipher from one puzzle to the next. Instead, the puzzles have more of a natural feel to them. The majority of time you will be flipping switches, finding an elevator, tracking a pipeline to its site of origin, or working out how some alien device works. This harkens back to the designs of classic adventure games, where it was less about the solving a puzzle, but instead figuring out how things in the environment interact with one another.
While the puzzle solving may not be as nuanced as The Witness or more modern titles, there are still plenty of physical puzzles to solve, including one where you maneuver a laser beam on a track to destroy objects, similar to The Talos Principle. Soon enough, you will find devices that teleport you to different parts of the world which have their own set of unique puzzles. Teleporting between worlds and using the swap mechanic become integral to the puzzle design themselves, adding clever layers to the existing puzzles and making memorization a critical part of the experience. Backtracking is a constant in Obduction unfortunately, but shortcuts can be unlocked for greater traversal.
The premise for Obduction is simply captivating, providing many layers that build upon itself to form an overarching narrative. It would have been nice to have more story-related discoveries, as the notebooks and interactions are wonderfully done, but I definitely did not feel like I had a good grasp of everything that’s going on with the story. I guess that is part of the allure for Obduction though—no matter how frustrating some of the puzzles may be, the reward for finding a solution or prolonging that sense of wonder makes everything worth it. The sense of accomplishment always feels great, no matter the size of the discovery.
From the gameplay side, you can toggle running or walking by using the trigger buttons and simply pushing the action button for interacting. The world feels wide open but you can always tell when the game will block your path with foliage or other obstacles getting in your way. Unfortunately, sometimes it will be hard to get in the exact location to initiate a command, providing some frustration with you inadvertently becoming stuck—not from my own fault, but game design decisions. Luckily, if you can’t ever find what you are supposed to interact with, there is a point-and-click setting which allows you to scroll through objects you can manipulate.
I would be remiss not to mention some of the performance issues this PS4 version unfortunately experiences. A wildly inconsistent and unlocked framerate, as well as an abundance of random slowdown and stuttering hampered my enjoyment of the lush and visually pleasing world. Many of these visual issues are the same from the initial launch on PC, however, it’s promising to see many of those issues were patched or fixed relatively quickly for PC right after launch, meaning many of the technical issues should be addressed for the PS4 version. Also keep in mind, while this looks and plays like a new game, if you’re not a fan of classic adventure puzzle titles, the learning curve is significant. I was stuck on a few puzzles and had a hard time finding where to go or what to activate on a few occasions.
While the technical discrepancies are unwelcome, Cyan was generous enough to provide a good amount of new content that wasn’t part of the PC release last year. There is a new area to explore, featuring a large Russian submarine trapped in an underground cave, and new music composed by Cyan’s audio engineer: Hannah Gamiel. This will also be a PlayStation VR compatible title at a later date, providing an even greater sense of immersion into this wondrous world.
The Bottom Line
Overall, Obduction is a love letter to adventure genre enthusiasts, while also providing visuals and a modern sheen to the presentation and gameplay. The overly abstract story and overabundance of technical mishaps hinder the final product, but if you love adventure games this is truly a world you will want to get lost in.