Review: Obduction

It flips the switches green-blue-red, or else it gets the hose again.

Review: Obduction
Developer: Cyan Inc
Publisher: Cyan Inc
Available At: Steam

When I started on PCPP back in 2000, the best-selling PC game of all time was Myst. During 2000, Myst lost the best-selling crown to The Sims. Neither of these are what you might call “core” PCPP games. Myst was a flip-book Hypercard project built on Mac, and the Sims was... well, you know what the Sims was.

Of course, developer Cyan’s real masterpiece (and by extension the masterpiece of subsequently-estranged brothers Rand and Robyn Miller) was Myst’s sequel, Riven. A five-CD epic, it still had no real-time animation, but what it did have was a world that felt organically real. The Age of Riven was logically consistent, felt lived-in, presented a real mind-mangle of a challenge, and apart from its 640x480 native resolution, still looks good today.

Obduction is less of a triumph. Funded via Kickstarter to the tune of US$1.3 million, it is what Cyan's games always are: a trip through a mysterious but rather small and self-contained world, unlocking locations via various jury-rigged machines.

In this case, the world is called Hunrath, and the player has been spirited away to there not by a linking book, but by alien abduction. Myst’s creator Atrus had a kind of da Vinci vibe to him, but the gang from Hunrath are much more folksy. The place has an almost, if not Tombstone Arizona. then certainly Harlan, Kentucky vibe to it. 

CW (played by prodigal Miller brother Robyn) gives the player a bunch of suggestions and occasional outright instructions from a porthole in a door to a sealed bunker. Hunrath is locked-down as a result of a battle with the mysterious Mofang, and all that remains are a bunch of powered-down machines and of course dozens of slips of paper with clues and codes on them.

So the player travels around in glorious Unreal 4 powered real time. But Obduction doesn’t look as good as Riven. The light doesn’t look as real. The textures are garish rather than seamless. The detail on small items like pens and books and cups and cutlery is basic. The rules of what can be manipulated and what cannot are arbitrary.

Really though the problem with Obduction is one of MOOD. There’s just not much in Hunrath that feels worth exploring. Riven reveals amazing things around every corner, while this place looks like just another settlement from Fallout 4. 

And Cyan’s baffling decision to use super-blurry FMV-captured human actors instead of computer models really brings you out of the moment. Some characters appear via 3D projectors, where blurriness makes sense, but CW is physically present, and while his blurriness could be explained by the porthole in his bunker, that DOESN’T explain why the room behind him is Unreal-4-crystal-clear.

There’s a real sense in Obduction that Rand Miller fell heavily out of love with it at some point. It feels finished, but finished due to obligation, not obsession. Riven is art that doesn’t care whether the rest of the world gets it or not. Obduction, it seems, just doesn’t care at all.

6 10
Evokes the spirit of Riven, but fails to recapture its soul.
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