As we all know, parties are hyped before the party actually begins; you have the planning, announcement, and party day. Leading up to the party there is excitement and hype for the fun to begin! This is comparable to game launches; there’s the planning of the game, the announcement of the game, and finally the party that is the release!
Typically with parties, one will experience the awkward opening hour; the few people who got there early are still getting a feeling for the party and the house it’s at. As time goes on, the party “matures”, so to speak, with people understand the tone and it adjusting to become a fun environment. However, that isn’t until after some growing pains. Sound familiar?
So, showing up fashionably late at the party will yield the true nature of the party; the most fun part. This is also true of video games; usually, after release, the game undergoes adjustments, patches, DLC, and calming of the hype. This is important because, as time goes on, the vision the developers had for the game comes to genuine fruition.
This past week, I had the pleasure of playing a game I held off on: Obduction. It’s by the team who brought you Myst from 1993 and Riven in 1997: Cyan. I was stoked when I heard of the release of Obduction. When I was a youngster, my father bought Myst (and later, Riven) and stored it in his CD rolodex. Despite being young, I still enjoyed the game, though it took me ages to figure it all out. Eventually, my dad and I played together and beat both games. Since then, I’ve had an affinity for story driven games, for puzzles and mysteries, and for a story driven and told via the environment and notes (i.e. a lot of reading).
If you aren’t familiar with the games of Myst and Riven, they are, to put it very simply, point-and-click adventure games. No “danger” per se, no shooting, no action. You are placed smack dab in the middle of God knows where with zero clue as to why or how. That’s how your adventure and mystery-solving begins. You get clues from notes, books, the environment, etc. with hints as to why you are where you are, as well as your goal. Did I mention these games had full motion video (FMV) in all its glory?
Obduction began as a Kickstarter in 2013, was released in 2016, and even got a PSVR edition in 2017. Upon this release I, and I’m sure many others, saw this release date through rose-tinted glasses, and I was compelled to purchase this game due to nostalgia. However, as we all know, games come out at such an incredibly fast rate that not everybody can enjoy the luxury of buying every game they want at full price upon release. So, I decided to fight that nostalgia and wait for a sale.
And boy, am I glad that I waited for a sale. Let’s walk into the party, fashionably late.
The story is to be as expected from a Cyan game; vague and mysterious. In fact, it appears that the consensus is that this is Cyan’s vaguest game yet. There’s not too much clarification, and it leans on a lot speculation, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but isn’t a plot mechanic that everybody would appreciate. I, personally, enjoyed the storytelling via notes and books found throughout the environment. Due to the nature of the game, I will not divulge too much plot information for those who want to experience a true Cyan story. However, for those who are a little more interested…
Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert!
The game opens up with you/your character walking around a park in Arizona. A voice over is playing with a character named Farley recounting her abduction. Towards the closing of this account, you yourself get abducted. It’s actually a pretty compelling sequence! During this, you get your first taste of the story; you’ve were chosen and taken for… something.
You end up at a mining village called Hunrath, where you are greeted by a hologram of the village’s mayor, Josef Janssen, with terribly-good FMV! However, you notice the entire village is abandoned, and you are alone (surprise, surprise!) with the exception of one isolated individual who is trying to figure out a way to get back home; C.W., he calls himself. He sends you on your mission; to connect multiple trees to a common Heart in Hunrath.
These multiple trees are from various chunks of planets, called “cells”, which are all intertwined with one another. The chunks are Hunrath (a chunk of Arizona from, well, Earth), Soria, Kaptar, and Maray. The three alien planets, hometo the Mofang, Arai, and Villein, are all in conflict with each other. How? Well, that’s where the environmental storytelling comes into play.
As interesting as the story is, it isn’t very clear in-game. If you are an avid reader and have the time, all the reading required (sometimes very hard-to-read handwriting) will be compelling to you. Along with that you have some minor exposition from C.W. and the few audio-logs from Mayor Josef.
Ending Reaction – SPOILERS (technically)
After 15 hours of playtime, I finally got to the ending. However, apparently, I got one of two endings. The one I got was less than desirable and soured my feeling of the entirety of the story and game. In other words…
IT WAS A HUGE LETDOWN!
I was angry. Honestly, the ending I got annoyed me. So, I went back and got the “real” ending and, if my mood wasn’t soured from what I initially got, I may have been satisfied. But, even then, it was like a fireworks show whose finale ended abruptly with little explanation. In fact, to get this ending, you have to completely guess as to what will trigger it. On a hunch. A very, very, very vague hunch. Like many things in this game.
The game, itself, is simple. The mechanics are straightforward; walk around, click on things to interact with them in the context they are in; pressing buttons, pulling levers, punching in codes etc. However, like all Cyan’s games, Obduction heavily focused on puzzles and mysteries.
And boy are there mysterious puzzles in this game.
Puzzles range from simple riddles to guessing and more… guessing. A lot of the game is based on hunches and wandering around exploring and hoping you stumble across something, very much in the fashion of Myst. This isn’t a bad thing, as fans will know what they are getting into, but it can become a bit discouraging and frustrating. That being said, when you do stumble across the solution and continue the game, that’s where an awesome satisfaction shines; when the clues make themselves relevant and everything makes sense. The “eureka” factor in this game can be incredibly satisfying. Unfortunately, there are puzzles that become very tedious and boring; there are a few that require you to teleport between worlds several times. This wouldn’t be a problem if the loading screens weren’t as long as they are when teleporting.
I understand this game is hearkening back to the days of yore; the days of Myst and Riven. So, traversing the game will be slow and deliberate, even with “sprinting”. But, even so, there were times when my patience ran thin, and I just wanted to get back to what I thought was a lead on a solution in a puzzle I was in the middle of.
Graphics and Sound
When I heard of Cyan releasing a game in the Myst universe in 2016, I was excitedly expecting a modern-day Myst with modern-day graphics; a gorgeous world, vivid colors, immersive environments that would entice me to explore and take my time.
The graphics, unfortunately, didn’t live up to all that, but they aren’t the worst either. The world itself and skybox were enticing, but flaws reared their ugly heads when I had to get up-close and personal with potential puzzles and solutions.
As it relates to visuals, the FMV style of the game is definitely a callback to the old point-and-click games of yesteryear. In a nostalgic way, I love it. From a more objective perspective, I understand what they’re doing by implementing FMVs in 2016; simply calling back to their classics to play on that nostalgia. With my expectations of the graphics being more up-to-par for modern-day games, especially considering that the game is not resource intensive at all, I was expecting the world and the FMV to mesh well. Unfortunately, the FMV and the average graphics feel so disjointed that I can’t help but chuckle. Again, not terrible, but not what I expected from a modern-day game.
The sound design is nothing to write home about. To be fair, the nature of the game doesn’t really require a wide array of sounds; it’s mainly quiet, mysterious, ominous ambiance sounds, and very scarce music. The music is very well composed; however it only presents itself in very important/tense moments, which are few and far between.
To cut to the chase, I’m glad I didn’t buy this at launch. On top of that, I’m even happier that I waited for a hefty discount. If you don’t have any affinity for point-and-click games that require lucky hunches and a bunch of reading and clicking random objects in the world, then I cannot recommend this game to you. However, if you enjoy mystique, vagueness, puzzle-solving and the numerous EUREKA! moments, then this game would be worth your time! That is if you don’t mind stumbling around for 15 hours until you get the momentum of the game moving.
- Myst and Riven charm
- A Cyan game in 2016
- Simple game mechanics with satisfying moments
- Decent sound architecture
- No sense of danger, for a relaxed play-through
- No sense of danger; for a game in alien worlds, there’s no sense of consequences
- Sub-par graphics
- Great music that doesn’t make itself known enough
- Mundane and very vague puzzles that mostly require lucky guesses and hunches
- Puzzles that require a “teleporting back-and-forth” mechanic with long load times
- Slow pace and movement
- Archaic traversing in a modern-day game
I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t infatuated with it. I didn’t particularly enjoy my time wandering around the mysterious worlds, drinking in the mystique, like I did back in the ‘90s. I found myself rather annoyed with a few puzzles and dead-ends I hit, but when I broke through those walls, I cackled and let out a sigh of relief. These feelings pushed me through until the end… where I found myself utterly disappointed.
All images have been obtained from Cyan’s website.