2D - August 24, 2016 VR - October 31, 2016
Obduction is a Big-Hairy-Deal, both as a game and as a piece of history.
Cyan Worlds is the company that made Myst. This was back in 1993 when Adventure games ruled, but looked like Saturday morning cartoons (Cartoon Network for you younger readers). Myst was fully 3D rendered and photorealistic. It had well thought out puzzles and an intriguing story line. It redefined the genre.
Myst was an immediate hit. It was the best-selling computer game of all time for almost nine years until it was finally dethroned by The Sims in 2002.
After Myst came four sequels, two novels and the URU experiment. But with the rise of the First-Person-Shooter and the MMOG, the customer base for Adventure games evaporated and Cyan Worlds found itself on hard times.
Then in 2009 a company known as Kickstarter opened its website and the development world changed. Developers no longer needed a publisher to loan them money and take ownership of their work. They could raise development funds directly from their fan base and keep control of their creation and their deadlines. But was there still enough of a fan base left for Adventure games?
The answer came in March of 2012 when Double Fine attracted over 87,000 backers to donate over $3.3 million for its new Adventure game (and it didn't even have a name). Cyan Worlds took this as the sign they needed to make a comeback. But what would they do?
The easy thing would be to make yet another sequel to Myst or URU. But what they proposed was a new game that would recreate the original Myst experience: what would it be like to be abducted and find yourself on an alien world far from Earth?
Cyan Worlds launched its Kickstarter campaign in October of 2013 asking for one and a quarter million dollars. They raised almost one and a third million dollars from over twenty-two thousand backers. I was one of them.
Cyan Worlds thought they could finish the game in two years, but realized it needed more work and didn't release until August of 2016. That is one of the beautiful things about Kickstarter –- all deadlines are self-imposed. The developer does not have to release their creation until they consider it finished. The endings of publisher-funded games invariably have a rushed feel to them. So far, every game I have received via Kickstarter has had a smooth, this-is-what-we-intended feel to them.
But the game released in August was only in 2D. I own an Oculus Rift and so elected to wait until the VR version was complete. Two months later on Halloween, almost a year late, Cyan Worlds release their completed vision.
It was worth the wait.
The game begins with you in a public campground somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. It is night and the stars are out. You walk down the path and you hear a woman telling a story about the strange light in the sky which took them. The audio is rough and choppy, but that is on purpose. You find out why later in the game.
Historically, playing this on the computer screen is like watching someone else walk the path on a television. But with VR, you are there. You look down and the stones are under your feet. You look up and the trees are waving their branches over your head. Look all around and behind you. You are there. You look out over the lake and the light has come. It has come for you.
Several special effects later and you are standing in the same spot under the pine tree next to the picnic table, but it is now daylight. The way back is now blocked by a mountain of red sandstone and the way ahead looks like a desert valley from the Southwest. But in the distance the grotesque purple mountains don't look like any place you have ever heard of. And since when did giant boulders float in the air like that? Well, there is nothing left but to go forward and see if you can find somebody to explain just what happened and how to get back home. It isn't as though you have anything else to do with your life.
The game is predominately exploration. You find yourself in a large sphere (about 2/10 of a mile in diameter) which appears to have once been a small mining town in Arizona. But you can't just go anywhere. There are locked doors to open, stone cliffs to scale and rivers to cross. The world is one large 3D maze. Persevere and you will eventually get everywhere you need to go. And then teleport to another large world. I hope you are not acrophobic.
The worlds are gorgeous. You will want to take your time and look around. Walk right up to the edge and look down. Don't worry about falling, you won't be allowed to. Not only will you enjoy the scenery, but you might see something interesting you will need to investigate.
I have the minimum suggested graphics card for the Oculus Rift. That has more than enough power for 2D Adventure games and I was able to play Obduction VR at highest graphical settings with no problem. However, there is one area where you turn on some huge machinery and the resultant full screen animation caused my frame rate to get jittery. But that was localized to just the one area. Cyan Worlds recommends that you use a card larger than the minimum for VR.
The game play is linear. There will always be large areas to explore however you will and several puzzles to ponder, but you will only be able to solve one at any particular time. You will find yourself being carefully shepherded from task to task. And that is OK. The play area is huge and you would easily get lost without some focus.
Did I mention that the Arizona world is a large 3D maze? Well, the next world you teleport to is also a large maze. But they are not just separate areas. The two are interdependent so that they form one huge meta-maze. In fact, every time you discover a new area it is added to the whole and the play area just keeps getting larger and larger. If the entire universe were open up front, it would be overwhelming and the simplest puzzle would be lost in the grandeur. But by revealing only an area at a time you have a chance to acclimate. Paths become old friends and it is easier to see how the limited clues available to you fit the puzzles at hand. I found the growth rate to be perfect, keeping the challenge level constant while preventing repetition.
The puzzles are logical and well thought-out. The clues are all there for you solve each one, but it is up to you to notice them and they may not be anywhere near the puzzle itself. Just be sure to read and listen to everything you come across. Personally, I never had to resort to the strategy guide or a walkthrough. It was very satisfying.
The story is gradually revealed as you come across journals, notes, diary pages and recordings. The plot is internally consistent with no major holes that I noticed. It satisfied the immediate mysteries and left me curious to learn more of the backstory.
The VR is safe and comfortable. The only time I felt my stomach lurch was when I ran down hills. I learned not to do that. The Comfort mode uses snap turning. There is also an Intense mode where turning is smooth. I tried that, but it was too much for me and really provided no benefits. You are never threatened or in danger, so there is no risk of VR-induced PTSD. If you are old school, there is a legacy mode which jumps you from node to node rather than let you just walk anywhere.
Put this all together and you have one heck of an Adventure game. It is point-and-click with no inventory. It is logical, consistent and grows perfectly. It makes you think and wonder. If you like Adventure games, then Obduction is a must-play.
Of course, people are going to ask, “How does it compare to Myst?”
The script for Obduction definitely follows the same outline as the script for Myst. You are an innocent bystander who is magically teleported to an alien world. You are effectively alone and must explore and overcome puzzling obstacles in order to find out what happened and how to get home. The story contains some violence, but it does not include you. And there are multiple worlds to teleport to and explore.
But Obduction is much larger. Myst shipped on a single CD. Obduction is a six gigabyte download (hope you have a good broadband connection). The worlds in Myst are independent and can be played in any order. The worlds of Obduction are all interdependent and there is only one major path through the game.
And Obduction does contain at least four Easter Eggs in homage to Myst.
But is everything all roses and light? Come on, Bob, you didn't give it a perfect score. What was wrong with it?
Well, there were a few frustrating glitches in it. Most notably, the game would crash every so often. Sometimes it would just shut down. Other times it would come back up, but with your eyes at ground level. Either way, the game auto-saves every thirty seconds or so and you can restart without losing any progress. But I had to replay the ending several times before it went the whole way through and I could enjoy it. Frustrating, but not a show stopper.
Also, there were some documentation issues which gave me a rough start. I wasted fifteen minutes trying to tell the game that I was using an Xbox controller. Turns out that the game auto detects your input device and I was just spinning my wheels. There is also a mysterious little menu which pops up on the screen at the start of the game with no indication of what it wants or how to use it. I somehow got past it and the game played smoothly from there.
Finally, the last locked door in the game magically opens when you need it. No explanation.
So while there are a couple of rough edges, it is a very well-crafted game, a lot of fun to play and sure to become a classic. It isn't particularly innovative, but it takes a twenty-five-year-old genre and nails it to the wall.
+ Gorgeous graphics with a huge environment to explore
+ Logical, well thought-out puzzles
+ Significant, consistent storyline
+ Choice of 2D or VR with Oculus support
+ Good play value -– about a buck an hour
+ No violence, no soap operas, no clock breathing down your neck
- It will be at least five years before the sequel comes out
OS: Windows 7 SP1 64 bit or newer
Processor: CPU Intel i5-2500 equivalent or better
Memory: 8 GB RAM
Graphics: GeForce 660 GTX w/1GB / AMD 7700 series w/1GB equivalent or better)
Storage: 20 GB available space
Additional Notes: For VR: NVIDIA 970 or AMD 480 (equivalent or greater)