I’m honestly not much of an adventure game enthusiast. I do enjoy puzzles, though. Of course, I have heard of Myst and Riven—it’s fair to say they are pretty legendary titles from developer Cyan—but I had no clue what Obduction was or even the fact that it existed before diving headfirst into this new world. That was probably the best way to go in, with a distinct lack of knowledge of Cyan and Obduction, because going in I was intrigued, and coming out I’m absolutely thrilled.
Obduction firmly roots itself in its “Cyan-ness”; if you’re familiar with Cyan games and their derivatives then you’ll probably jump right in with a pretty clear understanding of what to expect. The closest I have come to a Myst-like is probably The Witness, which was a pretty neat game, albeit a tad lifeless. In Obduction you’ll follow some semi-vague directions, and if you’ve got an eye for small details you’ll probably end up like me, playing five hours straight and feeling confused, lost, slightly frustrated—but still so staunchly enthralled you can’t walk away. All to find out you had a knob turned right instead of left and now everything falls into place, permitting you to continue this adventure.
Where Obduction really has a leg up on other puzzle games is its inherent sense of place. Its world is brilliantly designed, its puzzles engaging and complex, and its narrative fits snugly in between all these things. Moving from place to place in The Witness, individual areas tended to all blur together for me because they felt so lifeless. Not only was this confusing, but it was all drab and boring. Obduction has such a clarity of purpose and identity that I couldn’t help but get sucked in at every turn. Setting off northbound only to carefully work my way through a door that led back to a hub area was exciting. I seriously haven’t seen a game world so carefully and expertly design since I first stepped foot into Dark Souls’ Lordran. The endless twists and turns, the hidden worlds beneath what I thought was a hidden world, and the winding mineshaft that opens to a frosted hillside temple all blew my mind.
"Obduction has such a clarity of purpose and identity that I couldn’t help but get sucked in at every turn."
Not only is the world frictionless and engrossing, but its visual style is lush, colorful, and absolutely astounding. From vibrant forests teeming with birds, to a quaint old timey mining town, to an unsettlingly empty and rocky landscape, Obduction has no shortage of eye-popping vistas…if your machine can handle it, that is.
Now to the meat of Obduction, the puzzles. Most of the time you’ll be hopping from world to world, solving a wide variety of interesting puzzles that range from childishly simple, to mindbogglingly complicated, confusing, and sometimes aggravating. Thankfully, that aggravation never lasted long. In most cases, I could step away for a few hours and come back with a fresh set of eyes and solve any issues relatively quickly. There were a few points where taking a break was actually incredibly hard on my progress: leaving for work or other activities sometimes cleared my mind of pathways, shortcuts, and portal-to-portal travel paths. At times it felt like I was having to relearn the game after taking a break. Much like some players approached several of The Witness’s puzzle rules, I’d often take some notes or screenshots of codes to hold onto for safe keeping, even if they ended up not having any relevance to my quest.
Outside of a few directionless portions that more or less required me to glance at a guide, I was able to move from area to area without the need of help, which always felt fantastic. If you find yourself struggling, I recommend taking a break, coming back later, and getting to work. What I’ve always loved about puzzles is the sense of satisfaction, and I’ve come across few games that can match the level of ingenuity and creativity when it comes to puzzles like Obduction does. And unlike The Witness, you aren’t staring at a plethora of panels with switches in Obduction, you’re manipulating massive machinery, world hopping teleportation devices, and alien technology among others. I was astounded at the sense of scale that some of Obduction’s larger structures have, and of course how they all fit together so nicely.
"Few games that can match the level of ingenuity and creativity when it comes to puzzles like Obduction does."
My one gripe with Obduction was somewhat frequent framerate drops and occasionally janky controls. Even on my more-than-capable machine I would sometimes come to a full stop while the game tried to load whatever was going on on screen at that time. And the controls, while simple and easy to use, sometimes wouldn’t register my clicking of a button because I wasn’t centered on it enough for the game to process it. Fortunately, both of these issues barely impacted my overall experience. The framerate is something that will hopefully be ironed out with time, and the controls, well, just make sure you are centered on anything you’re trying to interact with.
I’m overwhelmingly satisfied with the 10 or so hours I spent in Obduction, and it quickly became one of my favorite games of this year. The lack of buzz about this mysterious and fascinating game is shameful. With such a stunning world, engrossing story, brilliant and intriguing puzzle design, and a $30 price tag, you’ve got no excuse not to be playing Obduction.