by Reagen Hindman: Brightonian Staff
Solo indie game developer Lucas Pope made a name for himself when he released “Papers Please” in 2013 to critical and consumer praise alike. Since the release of this game, fans waited patiently for Pope’s next game. Finally, after five long years, “Return of the Obra Dinn” was released into the mainstream.
Similar to “Papers Please”, “Return of the Obra Dinn” has no combat, and would be more easily described as a well disguised puzzle game. This time, instead of acting as a border patrol officer, the player controls an unnamed insurance inspector. Though this sounds dull, the player’s job surrounds a much deeper story, one of the best and most intriguing in video game history. Five years prior to the events witnessed in the game, the Obra Dinn, a merchant ship, left port. It did not make it to its rendezvous six months after, and soon was declared lost at sea. Five years later, however, the Obra Dinn sails into port, completely intact and looking perfectly fine, minus one thing - the entire crew and all of its passengers are either dead or have mysteriously disappeared. The insurance investigator that the player controls is tasked with finding out how and why everyone died. This task is made possible with access to two items, one being a manifest of everyone on the ship and what their job was as well as a drawing of the crew, and the other being a stopwatch that can reverse time to about ten seconds before someone died. This ability is what makes the gameplay loop, a corpse is located, the player views how they perished, and they take notes about any details. Names are very rarely associated with the victim directly, so a mix of intuition, reasoning, analyzing, and the occasional guess are how the story will be pieced together. Fates are confirmed in sets of three, with these confirmations acting as checkpoints for the game. Along with having an incredible story and a unique and exciting gameplay loop, the game boasts gorgeous visuals and a great, if slightly repetitive, soundtrack. The entire game is made with 1-bit graphics, which simply means that each pixel can only be either black or white. This may be difficult for some gamers to get used to at first, but this graphical design creates an aesthetically distinctive and beautiful game. The sound and music design is great and the voice acting is top notch, making distinguishing between characters by accents much easier. The music changes depending on what chapter of the game is being played, and every new track was impressive and added to the mood. But, each track will be heard numerous times, and, as good as they are, they will start to get a little old after a while.
“Return of the Obra Dinn” is a unique and amazing experience, boasting incredible art, music, and an engrossing story. It is completely worth the $20, and everyone who enjoys puzzle games or would like to try one in disguise should absolutely check it out on PS4, XBOX One, or Nintendo Switch.