If the likes of The Talos Principle and The Witness have pushed the envelope of the first-person puzzler, it looks like someone forgot to tell Obduction developer Cyan. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that their latest effort is significantly lacking, it’s just that, well, Obduction plays akin to something much older than the platform that hosts it.
Old fashioned puzzles in a modern shell
There’s little doubt that Obduction begins well enough, though. After an evocative lakeside sequence that looks like it could have been culled from the cutting room floor of Campo Santo’s excellent Firewatch, the player finds themselves whisked away to an alien world where nature, time and technology all intersect to create a strange paradise quite unlike any other.
Stranded on this alien world, you soon discover that other humans from various time periods have also been marooned here, and have in the years before your arrival carved out an existence for themselves in this unfamiliar environment. Now, if you’re hoping to talk and interact with these other folk you have to know for the most part that just isn’t going to happen; Obduction simply isn’t that kind of game.
Instead, any contact that you have with other people is restricted to an awkwardly shot FMV sequence where they talk at you (rather than with you), from behind a door or a similar such construct. No, instead Obduction is really all about the puzzle solving, which is a good thing really as the story can prove at times to be both opaque and difficult to follow; largely because the almost total lack of human interaction makes the whole experience feel really quite isolated and bereft of atmosphere as a result.
Onto the puzzles themselves, Obduction leverages a mixture of logic and exploration based conundrums to tickle the brain cells. In one instance, power can only restored once a steady stream of fuel has been secured, prompting you to track the winding mess of cables to their source and then find a way to get the fuel pumping. In another, an access code to an abandoned house can only be divined by finding out the address of the occupant and then messing about with the numbers to get the correct combination.
A world away then from both the multi-layered situational puzzles of The Talos Principle and the interlinked visual mini-games of The Witness, crusty old folks who are intimately familiar with the likes of Myst and Riven, arguably the cornerstones of developer Cyan’s heritage, will find Obduction’s selection of brain teasers to be pleasantly agreeable and challenging.
For the rest, the veritable buffet of puzzles in Obduction prove to be sensibly constructed and satisfying to solve for the most part, as that old process of being stumped on a conundrum, only to take a break and have it haunt your every waking moment until a solution spontaneously presents itself, is something that happens frequently to say the least.
Technical issues detract from an otherwise lush and interesting world
Powered by Unreal Engine 4, Obduction makes the leap from PC to PS4 with just over a year separating the release of the two versions. Disappointingly, the PS4 iteration of Obduction shares in many of the visual issues that plagued the PC version of the game shortly after its release, as a wildly inconsistent and unlocked framerate, coupled with copious amounts of stuttering both serve to detract sizably from the otherwise lush and visually opulent world.
And what a beautiful world is it too; from the tenderly grounded opening moments to the sprawling rivers, hills, wooded areas and alien cave structures, Obduction is certainly not an experience that is lacking in visual style or imagination. Of course, such a spectacle is one that would duly be enhanced by PSVR, and while the promised patch for that is set to drop somewhere down the road, it will require that the performance issues that are present in the current build of the game be rectified, lest your food make a violent attempt to escape from your stomach during play.
Still, it’s not all bad news on the port front however, as the PS4 version of Obduction boasts a smattering of content that wasn’t part of the original release on PC last year. Chiefly, PS4 folks can expect to explore a new area which contains a Russian submarine that has found itself trapped in an underground cavern, while Cyan’s audio engineer, Hannah Gamiel, has composed an additional two music tracks which play at key points during the game. Granted while such additions are small in scope, such extras are welcome nonetheless.
A mostly engaging if sometimes strangely barren feeling effort, Obduction largely succeeds in bringing the puzzles of yesteryear to a modern audience and in this respect, will tide over both its original audience and conundrum solving newcomers as they wait for something a little more substantial to come along.
This is a shame however, as Obduction shouldn’t be stepping stone to something else but a main attraction in itself. As it is, the inconsistent visual performance and less than inspiring story do little to elevate Cyan’s resurgent product alongside that of its genre peers.