Categories
Game Reviews

Epic Game Review: Obduction

The Epic Series: this series covers the free games released on the Epic Games Store

Cost: £0.00 (when free), £23.99 RRP

Platform: PC / Mac , Playstation

Reviews: 2,381 reviews with overall ‘Mostly Positive’ rating

Time to complete: 12 hours

Similar Games: Myst, Riven, Firewatch, Oxenfree

Obduction is the spiritual successor to the game Myst, which was the bestselling PC game from 1993 till the mid-2000s. However, today’s demographic might find it falls short in a number of areas, riding the tailcoats of a genre that has been well executed over the years – a genre which may have been left behind in favour of simpler games.

As always – game trailer at the bottom of the post.

To understand the popularity of Obduction really is to understand Cyan World Inc’s biggest hit – Myst, released in 1993 on PC.

To say Myst was revolutionary is an understatement. Similar to Angry Birds on your iPhone, Myst was the defacto game to own alongside a PC throughout the ’90s. According to a Gamespot article in 2006 Myst was the all-time bestselling computer game from its release in 1993, until that record was surpassed by The Sims nearly a decade later.

Why was Myst so popular?

It had 3D graphics, creating an immersive world where you could walk and interact with object. For most gamers in the 1990s this was their first 3D experience, transitioning from written text adventure games to interactive exploration.

Myst in 1993

Myst is widely seen as the game that popularised the use of CD-ROMs, as other developers clocked the benefits of CD over Floppy Disks. Faster reading speeds and larger data files, allowing more code and better-looking games.

The puzzles were also of fiendishly epic difficulty.

In comparison to games of today’s ilk, Myst was an incredible difficult game. Obduction is no different.

Obduction

In Obduction you are greeted at the beginning of the game by a flash of light in the sky. An alien object finds you on the shores of a lake and the next moment you wake up in another world. It resembles an Arizonian American town, but is constricted within a dome beyond which is an uninteractable environment. It feels a little like being a fish in a fishbowl.

Similar to Myst, the game Obduction places you in an isolated environment, no instructions, no guide. There is one other interactive individual who helps you get the journey started, but after that he is pretty useless to say the least.

Reminiscient of World of Warcraft’s Burning Crusade Portal

In comparison to games of today’s ilk, the predecessor Myst was an incredible difficult game. Obduction is no different. For the gamer who wants to complete it, you will need a notebook worth of paper and the ability to decipher alien codes and cross-map Puzzles.

In this measure, however, the game falls a little short. The adventure puzzle genre has been perfected and finessed over the years, with some incredible games such as Firewatch, and as a result expectations are high for Obduction. A significant downfall is that the game straddles the impossible Myst-style puzzles and exploration, to the more modern day ‘follow this path and pull a lever’. When it is hard, it is really hard, a ‘take notes’ type of game. Otherwise it can seem fairly straightforward.

In general the average player will definitely feel the hard parts dominate, and even with post-graduate qualifications and a couple decades of gaming behind me, I ended up consulting a guide. If you have a lot of time and a nostalgia for Myst, you might get through ok without one, but I forewarn that you may well spend a lot of frustrating hours obsequiously searching and deciphering clues.

Before you ask, yes I tried calling 911

Generally, the story line is intriguing and I spent a good hour or so digesting the lore (backstory) left behind on scraps of paper in the game, however just as you feel the lore is coming into its element and you’re learning a lot about the universe, suddenly it stops becoming relevant and the game fails to bring it to fruition as part of the gameplay.

The audio is good, with nice definition of objects and the environment. The music also crescendos at the right moments, a sign to let you know you are progressing.

Perhaps a stranger observation, the game avoids feeling frightening. Empty planet, Aliens, people missing, and strange devices can often result in the tense expectation of impending doom. Or at least a jump scare. However, and perhaps it is the graphics, the game avoids feeling too stressful.

In fact, some people who aren’t into the Puzzles may find it is a really nice visually walking simulator (although for £23.99 RRP it would be a very expensive one).

I took this image using the in game camera. The light shining through the tower is a really touch as the game is linear at this section, so the developers knew I’d be looking.

On graphics, I’m mixed. They are stunning, with amazing lighting and atmosphere all courtesy to the best Unreal Engine could offer in 2016, however they are definitely dated and even with Epic settings (Ultra graphics) on all adjustments I still found some of the textures were not sharp. I even encountered framerate issues, despite running a setup significantly more powerful than the game requires.

Unreal Engine 4 is used to the max, but the textures lack sharpness at times

One other bug bear is the loading screens when teleporting in the game. These were reduced with the new SSDs I ran the game on; however, I know from other reviews, that playing it on PlayStation or a more average device you may get very frustrated.

Despite these Cyan World Inc have remained true to their innovative style. For example, one feature they added is a ‘click to move’ setting. This is because the game is fully VR functional and it helps to reduce motion sickness. This was a tactic subsequentially employed, and acclaimed, by Half-Life Alyx a number of years later. Not quite the CD-Rom revolutionary moment, but in the upcoming world of VR it certainly has its place as an important innovation.

Developer

The developer behind Obduction is Cyan Worlds Inc. run by Rand Miller and Robyn Miller. They are brothers who worked on the original Puzzle games from Cyan Worlds (Myst and Riven), with Robyn being the musician of the two.

To fund the game they used Kickstarter, where in total they raised $1.32m.

Reading into the history of Cyan Worlds Inc’s games, raising funds this way seems a no brainer. After releasing Uru Live, which was a short lived success, Miller (co-founder) is quoted as saying “I think the biggest failure was running out of money, and thus running out of time, and thus losing control of our own destiny. No matter what promises are made or common goals are agreed upon, whoever pays the bills has the final say”.

Coming off this experience, you can empathise with the Miller brother’s desire to set the precedent and take control of the Obduction project themselves (financially).

Kickstarter was also very effective PR in reengaging the immense Myst fanbase.

Kickstarter project to bring Obduction to life

They set the original goal at $1.1m, secretly hoping to raise upwards of $2.5m. The $1.32m was enough to secure control and funding for the project and to go to other parties to raise the remaining amount.

Cyan Worlds Inc used Unreal Engine for the project, which allowed cross platform to PlayStation and was also seen as gold standard 3D graphics in 2013 (when game development began on Obduction).

The developer has since knuckled down on VR projects post-Obduction, announcing a Myst VR development released in 2020, as well as the game ‘Firmament’, which also raised on Kickstarter and is tentatively expected to be released in 2022.

In November 2018 they formed a Publishing Label ‘Cyan Ventures’ focusing on VR games.

While it may seem an all-in on VR, Cyan Worlds Inc’s games are cross platform, particularly PC/Mac/PlayStation.

We look forward to seeing how they play out, but given the length and complexity of Cyan World Inc’s games alongside working full-time jobs (amongst other life matters) we cannot promise to play these games without using an adventure guide…