The Return of the Obra Dinn
The Return of the Obra Dinn website describes the game as: An Insurance Adventure with Minimal Colour which while entirely true doesn't do this beautiful, involving and fascinating game any justice.
Well, this is exciting - my first game review on the blog! If you don't count my raving about Psyconauts 2, which was really a trailer review.
Some brief background. This is the second game designed by indie game developer Lucas Pope, the creator of the game Papers, Please. And similar to that game, it's graphics are stylistically minimal. The Obra Dinn gameplay is entirely from the first-person POV and uses a 1-bit monochromatic style, reminiscent of the old Macintosh system.
In Return of the Obra Dinn, you play as an agent of the East India Company, sent to investigate the Obra Dinn, a ship which has returned to England missing all its passengers and crew, sixty in all. Your job is to figure out what happened, using deductive reasoning and the Memento Mortem watch.
The Memento Mortem Watch
I want to avoid as many spoilers as possible because this is a game you really need to come fresh to. But at it's most basic, the Memento Mortem watch allows you to view the last few seconds of a persons life. By finding and watching the fates of as many passengers as possible, you slowly piece together what happened aboard the Obra Dinn.
In a truly bizarre way, as you play you start to remember people and become somewhat attached. As you jump back and forth through time, you often see a persons death before knowing who they are.
I love time travel as a concept and I believe it is a still untapped mine of incredibly stories still to be told.
As I've got a tenancy to fall in love with games and forget nothing's perfect, I do have a criticism worth raising. The gameplay isn't as intuitive as you might hope. Interacting with the journal meant a lot of button mashing in the first fifteen minutes trying to figure out what did what.
Once you've figured it out, it's fine. But that first fifteen minutes can often be enough to put people off. So if you have a similar experience, I implore you to keep at it, because the story is so worth exploring.
While I hate the somewhat pretentious expression, this game really was 'an experience'. I have a habit of playing games while listen to audiobooks or writing blog posts. I'm a multi-tasker.
This is the first game in a long time I just got lost in. I loved the music and watching the story develop. I didn't want to run through it, I was really happy to wander around and just watch the art unfold with every new memory.
You know what's just occurred to me? The art style, very reminiscent of wood carvings, reminds me of The Highwayman written by Alfred Noyes and illustrated by Charles Keeping. I loved and was haunted by that book when I was young. Maybe something subliminal going on there.
In the 2018 Game Awards, it was animated for the Best Independent Game award and won the Best Art Direction award. Not to mention a dozen other nominations and wins through 2019, including at Independent Games Festival Awards were it won both Excellence in Narrative and the Seamus McNally Grand Prize.
I would massively recommend this game for anyone after a mystery, or just a very new kind of game experience.