I started gaming when I was three years old so my early gaming memories are pretty fuzzy. I’m fairly certain, though, that Myst was the first PC game I ever played. My parents had purchased a copy along with a strategy guide for some reason I have never really determined. They don’t play games and neither has ever seemed particularly interested in Myst. Whatever their reasons were, it was a game that fascinated and terrified me when I was in preschool/kindergarten.
I tried playing the game several times when I was old enough to understand how to install a game but those sound effects! The distorted ‘vrrrrm’ sound as you enter any of the linking books, those still give me chills, although it’s more nostalgia now than fear. To 5-6 year old me, though, this was the scariest game imaginable. Those people in the books TALKED to you! AND THEY WERE REAL PEOPLE!
Anyway, as a kid, I never even made it past the first island but it still managed to worm its way into my heart and has never left. It wasn’t until I was in college and discovered RealMyst that I finally finished the game legitimately (I had discovered how to beat the game without solving a single puzzle when I was young!) and loved every moment of it.
I could wax nostalgic about these games for a long time but this review isn’t about Myst. No, this game is about Obduction, the 2016 spiritual successor to that classic series made by the original creators at Cyan.
Obduction has that instant spiritual successor feeling that you just can’t describe unless you’ve played a game like it. Did you play Baldur’s Gate and then play Pillars of Eternity? You knew going in that it was going to be like Baldur’s Gate but then you start it up and are like “Oh WOW, this is exactly Baldur’s Gate!” That is what the first moments of Obduction feel like and it is wonderful.
The concept of Obduction is a bit like Myst but with more of a sci-fi twist. You seem to be a human on a camping trip when all of the sudden, a bright light teleports you to what appears to be an old west town but surrounded by an alien world. While the sci-fi elements are VERY fantastical, the concepts surrounding Obduction are actually very cool. I can’t go into too much detail without ruining several big reveals but there are some mysteries here you aren’t likely to guess from the get go.
Anyway, you quickly discover that this town is almost entirely deserted. Recordings give you some introduction and some minor backstory but they also suggest that this should be a populated area. Yet for some reason, there seems to be only one person left around. A figure by the name of CW.
Fans of the Myst series will appreciate the return of the intentionally retro FMV feel of CW. REALLY intense fans of the Myst series may even recognize that CW is played by Robyn Miller, one of the two brothers who originally created Myst and the actor behind Sirrus, the brother stuck in the red linking book from that game (from the above screenshot!) Anyway, fanboying aside, beyond the “help” provided by CW, you are pretty much left to explore the town at your leisure and this is when the game is at its best.
While Obduction marketing played off the legacy of Myst, Obduction is actually far more like Riven than the original game. Puzzles are baked into the environment rather than sticking out as standalone trials. Think less The Witness and more of a puzzle-heavy Metroidvania. Gameplay often involves running around to see what you can manipulate and change and then determine what that change may have impacted. All the while, clues about this town’s story and what has occurred to bring you here are scattered around the town, creating an even larger puzzle to solve.
Make no mistake, this type of puzzle solving does NOT make for an easy game. While it may not be as difficult as its spiritual predecessors, Obduction is far from a breeze. Puzzles are rarely unintuitive but because of the nature of the environmental puzzles, it isn’t always obvious where you should even be looking to find the solution. If you want to finish this game without the use of a guide, you’ll have to pay close attention to your surroundings.
The puzzles and exploration were a blast during the first half of the game but the second half introduces a very stark mechanic shift that fundamentally alters the way the game is played. It’s at this point that the game starts to falter a bit. Don’t get me wrong, the game is still a blast, but because of this change, many of the puzzles become less about discovery and more about tedious backtracking in order to progress. It isn’t bad enough to give up on the game, and story elements become more frequent during these parts to keep pushing you forward, but it’s definitely disappointing how the game lost some of its momentum. One point in the game is so tedious that despite understanding the nature of the puzzle in a matter of minutes, it took me over an hour to actually push on because of all the backtracking required. I pity anyone who takes longer to understand how the puzzle works.
Fortunately, there are some baked in difficulty settings that can make life a bit better and even add some nostalgia for long-time fans. Obduction plays heavily off of the love for Myst and Riven but that doesn’t mean it ignores 25 years of progress. Movement allows you to roam freely without pre-rendered backgrounds. However, if you want, you can change the settings to be point-and-click like Myst. This has the added effect of making the game a little bit easier, since the game will let you know what is important and what is not.
Up until the release of the first Sims game, Myst was the best-selling PC game ever. Obduction will almost certainly never see that kind of success but for fans of the Myst games or just first-person adventure games in general, Obduction is a wonderful addition to the genre.