From the makers of Myst and Riven comes a puzzle game with full world exploration and the same fundamental head on keyboard obtuse puzzles. Don’t get me wrong, I truly enjoy puzzle games, virtual or real.
A good puzzle is framed through acts. There’s a discovery phase where things are new and you’re trying to figure out the angles to the puzzle. A familiarity phase, where you think things are under control. There’s the sudden hurdle or difficulty spike, where what you thought you knew gets twisted. Then there’s the resolution, and you move onto the next puzzle. Odds are that new puzzle uses some knowledge from the previous. Even if you have all that, the actual puzzle mechanics need some fluidity.
Obduction follows this approach of acts. The world gets progressively bigger as you go, and a numeric system (on 4s) is seen throughout. The puzzles start off simple enough, and then evolve into some rather significant backtracking / multiple environment affairs.
Myst and Riven were known for some rather obtuse puzzles that were predicated on finding some obscure detail. Obduction has a lot of that, where even finding the puzzles is its own exercise. It then reaches a point where they fall into what I like to call meta-puzzles, where the solution to a given puzzle is predicated on some piece in an area that seems completely unrelated. These puzzles can work, but only if the linkages are obvious once started, and the path between the areas is relatively simple to cross.
Where Obduction stumbles, and stumbles tremendously is in the travel time portion. The way the game is built, there are virtual “zones” that take time to load. Crossing certain thresholds means the game simply stops to load, then 3s later, it moves again. These aren’t frequent for the majority of the game. Except 2 particular puzzles, which are frustratingly long due to the load times. The Maze in particular took over 30 minutes when the solution was evident from the start, yet the tools were lacking. What I saw instead was the following screen, multiple times.
I would be remiss not to mention the sci-fi story that keeps this going. If you read all the notes, listen to all the bits, and put it together that is. The ending has two options, though you are more than likely to get the bad one if you play it straight (and the ability to save is oddly hard to find). The core concept is that an alien tree sprouts seeds that travel the galaxy and once they land, they transport the immediate vicinity to another location. Humans and 3 other races have found a way to talk to each other through the seeds and are trying to work out what to do next. You end up landing there just as conflict is hitting full pitch. The concept itself is actually quite good, if somewhat similar to the Myst book travel model.
I won’t shy away that this game had some incredibly frustrating bits to it, where I just gave up and resorted to an online guide. And even when I did get the solution, I realized there wasn’t much chance I was every going to divine it on my own. I completed the Witness without help, so there’s something to be said about the level of obtuse/inferred I can stomach.
Still, it’s not like there’s an abundance of puzzle games out there and Obduction has many of the qualities I’d hope to see in one. I’d recommend it on sale (~$10), but not much beyond that price. It’s brushes on the edge of tedium a tad too often, but has some striking visuals and some rather interesting new ideas along the way. I enjoyed it more than not, which I suppose is a recommendation after all.