After a week of a few email exchanges with both Cyan and Humble, I received my copy of Obduction! Yay! Add that on to an extended weekend (Labor Day weekend, plus I took an extra day off on Tuesday), I was beyond hyped to finally play the game and write a review.
As usual with games I enjoy, I played Obduction twice through – which is actually the best way to play this game, because once you’ve solved all the puzzles, you can pick up more details on the second time and focus more on the logic behind the story from beginning to end, rather than spending hours (yes, hours) solving puzzles.
For game reviews, I tend to list Pros and Cons rather than breaking the game down into categories (graphics, characters, stories, setting, etc). Please keep in mind that these are all subjective opinions based on my personal experience with the game.
Graphics: I can see why Obduction took nearly three years to complete – the game is absolutely gorgeous and filled with intricate details I’ve come to expect from Cyan. Cyan is known for its immersive games, and thanks to the graphics Obduction accomplishes this.
This is Hunrath, the first bubble you explore. It has remnants of Earth from different time periods. (Image from PC World)
Kaptar is a desolate ruin filled with cute beetle-like creatures called arias, shimmering purple banners, and a huge skeleton! (Image from Upload VR)
Then there’s Soria – very alien! (Image from GameStar)
My favorite place was Mafay, the lush jungle world weaved with sleek and stylish alien technology. (Image from PR Web)
Overall this game has some of the best graphics I’ve ever seen, which plays a huge part in getting you to connect to the places you visit.
Puzzles: Let me be clear on this…if you’re not a puzzle person, or if you’re an impatient gamer who wants tense moments of action, this game isn’t for you. There were a few times I spent hours – yes, literally hours – either solving puzzles or figuring out what to do or where to go next. As a life-long fan of other Cyan games, I knew what to expect coming into Obduction so this didn’t bother me in the least, but I can see gamers who prefer other genres getting bored rather quickly.
The puzzles themselves are a good balance of using clues provided and ingenuity of the surrounding environment. In a nutshell, many of the puzzles in Obduction revolve around ‘swapping’ one area for another, going back and forth to create bridges, open doors, and access new locations. Other puzzles require paying attention to details in the environment, as these details are often answers (not unusual for a Cyan game). Writing down a lot of these clues helps. For me, the puzzles weren’t too terribly difficult once I figured out how everything worked. I did get stuck on a couple, but overall the puzzles were fun and gave you a rewarding feeling when you solved them.
Still, I was a bit annoyed with a few red herrings that ultimately led nowhere, despite spending some time trying to ‘figure’ them out. In relation, some of the puzzles that needed to be solved were more time-consuming than maddening, often taking an hour or so to put everything ‘in place’ through the swapping in order to proceed.
Story: The premise of the game is that you are on a camping trip when a storm charges in, bringing with it a giant seed that abducts you to another planet – only instead of actually being on the planet, you are in a bubble that is remanence of an early 1900s Arizona mining town – at least at first. As you explore, you find technology that varies from early 1900s to the current year. As you soon find out, you aren’t the only one who’s been abducted, nor are you from the only time that someone has been abducted. To make matters worse, no one else seems to be around, and it’s your job to find out what’s going on and how to get back to Earth. Your clues to the story are written in journals and documents scattered throughout the planets.
As you progress in the game, you learn more about different races, technologies, and how trees and seeds play a role in swapping. It’s a bit daunting the first time through, thus I recommend you play it twice to get the full experience in the story and how everything comes together – or falls apart, depending on how you choose to end the game.
While I enjoyed the overall story, the ending was a bit disappointing for me, as I’ll explain later.
Graphics/Interface/Glitches: Yes, I know I mentioned the graphics were phenomenal. But for my computer, they were a bit too good – in short, my graphics card could barely keep up with moving, and therefore interacting with objects in the environment was very difficult, and even impossible at times. I only later found out that my graphics card was not sufficient enough for the game – it did not even meet the minimum specs. The result was very jerky movement throughout the entire game. Because of this, I missed quite a few details that would have helped me solve some puzzles faster, plus the loading times between swapping were horrendous, and the game ‘glitched out’ on me more than once.
I don’t blame the game or the developers for this. As I mentioned, I still played the game twice despite the interface being frustrating at times, but I’m giving a review based on my personal experience. However, I likely will not play the game again until I have a better graphics card, which will be anywhere from $150 to $350 (the latter of which is more than I spent on the Kickstarter).
Landscape Scope: While all the worlds are detailed and gorgeous, they are massive. It is way too easy to get lost in the world itself and miss small details like a new door or stairs around a hidden corner. This is part of the reason why the game took so long – you not only have to solve puzzles, but you have to explore the world and investigate all your options. I’ll admit there was once or twice I solved a puzzle, only to forget why I solved the puzzle to begin with, because the world is so massive that I forget there are still locations I have yet to uncover. This contributes to the couple hours of ‘what the hell do I do next?’ accompanied by wandering around. While I sometimes don’t mind this feeling, by the end of the game I was on the verge of ‘just tell me the answer damn it!’ or ‘I have to go back how far to solve this new puzzle? Uhg!’.
Of course, by the second play through, I was familiar with how big the worlds were and where to go, so it wasn’t as overwhelming, plus I got to actually enjoy the atmosphere instead of wondering where to go.
Characters: Character interaction is a minimum, as is typical of Cyan games. But my god, why are the characters such jerks? The main character you interact with is C.W., an inventor who sits behind a door all day working on his ‘battery plan’ to get back to Earth. He treats you like you are the dumbest person ever, berating you every time you go to him for ‘advice’ and nagging you to finish the objectives he gives you. I never once talked to him in my second play through. Very unlikeable…which oddly turned out to be a good thing, as I’ll explain in the Ending.
Then there is the Mayor. You only see him through pre-recorded holographic messages at first, and then through a message screen later on. But like C.W., he’s an ass to you…which again oddly turned out to be a good thing for me.
Last is Farley, who you only visit through pre-recorded holographic messages and a few scattered journal entries. She is the most likable character, coming off as nurturing and conflicted with the situation at hand. There is a journal entry of hers about half-way through the game that effectively communicates the type of person she is without ever meeting her. She’s a nice contrast to C.W., and gives a sense of hope as you uncover more about what’s happening.
While he’s not technically an active character, there is this guy too:
(Image from Game Pressure Game Guides)
He’s what’s called a villein, and, well, you see him injured like this, and you are forced to leave him. That’s right, there is NO option to assist this guy as he cries to you for help. Damn you Cyan – even if you don’t know a character, it’s always hard to leave behind someone who is suffering. I’ll admit I felt really bad abandoning him.
(Now that I think about it, the small amount of character interaction in this game is actually a good thing.)
Ending (SPOILERS): As with most Cyan games, there are multiple endings. This one has three:
Dead End: You die, but there is really only one point in the game that gets you killed. (By the way, getting killed in this manner is an achievement in the game – how oddly morbid.)
Bad End: You arrive back on Earth, only to find it a nuclear wasteland, and everyone dies.
Good End: You arrive back on Earth, in all its heavenly glory of grassy rolling hills and a colorful sunset, and everyone lives.
Now, while I’m not trying to brag here, I was one of the few gamers who got the good ending first. But as I discovered, I was completely wrong on my theory as to why I got the good ending. In addition, I thought that the rationale for the good ending was very weak in terms of theory and storytelling.
Okay, now there are heavy spoilers ahead here, so be warned. Scroll to the end if you don’t want to see any spoilers.
Here we go. I got the good ending because…
I honestly believed C.W. was a Mofang, the evil alien race bent on killing everyone else.
I never trusted him. I tried to help him, did everything he said to put his plan to get back to Earth in action, and to the end this guy was an unlikeable, ungrateful asshole who kept nagging me about plugging in his stupid battery – which was one of those ‘red herring’ puzzles in the game I spent an hour on before I gave up. He seemed more interested in saving himself than his friends – he refused to leave his lab to even look for them, even after you see them all alive, but cryogenically frozen.
The Mofangs are capable of mimicking humans – one tried to play the part of the Mayor towards the last third of the game. Because the Mayor was a jerk alien in disguise, I figured that C.W., also a jerk, was an alien in disguise trying to get back to Earth and start a wide-scale Mofang invasion. So, in the end, I unplugged his battery (turns out he plugs it in himself while you’re solving puzzles in Mafay) before going to the end-game scene. And, well, cue the good ending. (If you leave the battery plugged in and proceed to the end-game scene, you get the bad ending.)
However, contradicting to my belief (turns out C.W. is just a plain ol’ human jerk, not an alien one), the reason for getting the good ending is:
Farley had a dream about ‘controlling’ a garden. While a ‘controlled’ garden yields what people want, it is left weaker than an ‘uncontrolled’ garden, which is stronger as a whole.
You see, the trees in the game can travel through time and space in search of ideal environments to grow in, and they grow in pairs that can ‘swap’ environments. C.W.’s battery plan revolves around ‘controlling’ a tree that has the ability to swap the bubble back to Earth, which, as the journal entry above would indicate, would leave the tree in a weakened state. Because of its weakened state, it could only return the bubble to the current year of Earth (not the one of its choice). The current year of Earth, as it so happens, is not in an ideal state (see below). Rather, by unplugging the battery, the tree ‘chooses’ when and where to place the bubble – i.e., the ideal Earth environment.
Now while I’m okay with this theory being the case, the whole ‘I had a dream’ premonition as proof is, well, disappointing. To me, that’s just bad storytelling (‘And in the end, it was all just a dream!’) and a weak line between choosing the good and bad ending. While I enjoyed the Farley’s journal entry as a whole, I didn’t figure it would play this much into the ending – especially considering that the journal’s location is an optional area, one you don’t need to access to finish the game.
There are several other clues along the way as to why controlling the tree is bad, but again these clues only give you a hunch as to what is happening, not definite proof. There is a highlighted clue from the same journal about talking C.W. out of his battery plan to get back to Earth. I figured she had already done this – thus, Mofang C.W. would insist on continuing it, fully knowing it would send him (and whatever Mofang army existed) back to Earth (regardless of its condition).
As for Earth being a nuclear wasteland (and thus you shouldn’t go back to its current year), the only clue to this is, well, this below picture:
(Image source from me, which is why it’s crappy)
Um, this is their idea of a nuclear wasteland in Arizona? To me, it just looks like an abandoned town gone to crap, plenty of which exist in the U.S as well as other parts of the world. If the game wanted to really clue you in to the ‘nuclear wasteland’ environment of Earth, why not pick a city that would actually be affected by a nuclear blast? While I can get wanting to be subtle in certain game-altering clues, this one is just a bit too mundane to be considered a clue.
Okay, spoilers ending now!
Overall: I highly recommend this game to fans of Myst and other similar puzzle games. Despite all my complaints about it (particularly the ending), it is fun, rewarding, and immersive. I do consider this the ‘spiritual successor’ to Myst, and look forward to playing it multiple times in the future for many years (so long as I get a better graphics card).