Obduction

TL;DR: Too difficult for me.

Back in 1993, Cyan published the game Myst. It was one of the first games published on CD-ROM. I remember playing it on my PowerMac 7500. Myst is a puzzle game: You moved through different, beautifully-designed environments, looking for clues, interacting with objects, accomplishing various goals, and at the end of the game you had control over the game’s outcome.

Myst turned out to be the first in a series of puzzle games from Cyan, all set in the same fantasy universe. I enjoyed most of them, not only because they were beautiful, but the puzzles were within my ability to solve: Myst III: Exile, Myst IV: Revelation, and Myst V: End of Ages.

You may have noticed a missing Roman numeral from that list. The second game in the series, Riven, had puzzles that were just too difficult for me to figure out. In the end, I could only complete the game with the aid of a hint guide.

When I heard that Cyan had published a new puzzle game, Obduction, I hoped it was in the same vein as Myst. It’s set in a different fantasy universe from the Myst games. At the start of the game, you’re abducted (or should that be “obducted”?) into a different world. A friendly message greets you, asking you to join people in a nearby village. But when you get there, you find the village is abandoned and boarded up. Your task is to figure out what happened and how to fix it.

I had problems with Obduction:

  • I purchased the game on Steam for my iMac. There are some serious technical problems with this version. The load time between game zones is long. There were audio sync problems; when the main character is speaking (played by Robyn Miller, who also appeared in the Myst games), the words came several seconds before the corresponding lip movements.

    The most severe issue was that, no matter how I set the screen resolution, many of the images in the clues were fuzzy, in many cases too blurry to read. I got stuck because there was a vital bit of information on a piece of paper that I could not read and therefore thought was not important.

  • Obduction‘s difficulty is closer to that of Riven than it is to the rest of the Myst series. I finally “gave up” and started consulting an on-line hint guide. That at least told me what the fuzzy piece of paper (and other blurry images) was supposed to say, but the guide revealed more to me: There was no possible way I would have figured out the solution to the key puzzles of the game.

    Part of that could be attributed to my own lack of insight. But I’ll also blame the way Obduction info-dumps its back story, with masses of exposition; the other Myst games were cleverer in the way they delivered the same level of information. Rather than read the long discourses in detail, I tended to skim them, which meant I missed some key clues that would have been needed to solve the puzzles.

  • The puzzle designers for Obduction confused “challenging” with “time-consuming”. Too many of the puzzles involved repeated traveling from one location to another and back again. Even after I threw up my hands and started following the hint guide exclusively, it took far too long to arrange all the puzzle pieces in all the worlds to get some puzzles in their “solved” state.

    The world of Obduction is beautiful, as were the Myst worlds. But that beauty turns to boredom when you have to tread the same paths over and over again.

  • Like the Myst games, Obduction is an environment game. Many puzzles can only be solved if you look in the correct direction or interact with the correct object. I found that it was very easy to overlook a hidden tunnel or a window in a shaded wall, even with the hint guide.

    Obduction can be played with VR goggles. It may be that some of these environment features, challenging for me on a flat screen, would have been obvious in 3D. But I have to review the game based on what I saw (or couldn’t see).

  • Without the hint guide, or a very detailed reading of all the exposition materials, it’s easy to miss the “good” ending of the game. If you follow all the basic requests the game makes of you, you get a nihilistic outcome. If I hadn’t had the hint guide, I would probably have never known that alternate ending was possible and have regarded all of Obduction as a exercise in futility.

Before you conclude that Obduction is not worthwhile, I’ll give the game some window of grace: The various on-line review sites I browsed suggested that it was a 10-12 hour game. It took me 14 hours to complete the game, and that was with a hint guide getting me through 80% of it. It may be that I’m just slow, and Obduction is the challenging puzzle game that it wants to be.

As for me, I won’t be purchasing another game from Cyan. I know when a game aims at too high a challenge for me, and that appears to be Cyan’s target.

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