Return of the Obra Dinn

Return of the Obra Dinn

Once you get over the contrived premise – “pocket watch lets you visit the moment of a character’s death, it’s magic, I ain’t gotta explain shit”  Return of the Obra Dinn is easily one of the most original and engaging games of 2018. Detective gameplay is difficult to pull off, because it requires that the overall mystery and a collection of smaller ones both be engrossing, but Obra Dinn does so in spades. Searching for clues to individuals’ identities and causes of death requires so much awareness of your surroundings that it’s virtually impossible not to be absorbed, while the question of why these events are happening aboard the titular 19th-century trading vessel lingers behind every moment. It helps that the smaller mysteries offer a satisfying intellectual challenge; clues range from “somewhat obvious” to “ridiculously minute and only noticeable on repeat viewings,” but a small amount of guesswork is allowed to balance out the latter.

Obra Dinn excels at working within its limitations. The two-colour freeze-frame presentation creates a game composed entirely of arresting tableaux that also happens to look period-appropriate, albeit not particularly conducive to the gameplay. The bombastic music nearly sounds like a holdover from the developer’s previous game (Papers, Please), but it still fits, adding gravity and darkly comedic elements to the static imagery. The voice acting isn’t stellar, but it gets the job done. No expense was spared on the design of the ship, however, as it’s a detailed, believable recreation without an inch of wasted space. The game could use a less cumbersome method of traversing and exiting memories, particularly when dealing with memories within memories, but overall, this is a superb example of what auteur game design can accomplish.

8/10
8/10

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