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Video Game review: Return of the Obra Dinn

By Derek Baker, November 9 2018 —

In the height of midterm season, starting and completing a 12-hour puzzle game is probably not the wisest decision. Nevertheless, it’s exactly how I chose to spend my weekend as I was determined to finish Return of the Obra Dinn, a deductive reasoning game on steroids.

The best way to describe Obra Dinn is to compare it to a giant game of Clue. Set in 1803, the game makes you an insurance claim investigator tasked with determining the fates of all 60 people aboard the titular ill-fated ship. The fictional East India Company vessel was set to sail around Africa but never accomplished its goal due to a series of beastly encounters.

With only a passenger list and two illustrations depicting each person aboard the ship and using flashbacks of the moments of each character’s demise, you need to find out who exactly that person was, how they died, and who — if anyone or thing — killed them.

It’s a lot harder than it sounds.

I ended up needing to print off the character illustrations and accumulated several charts that I filled out as I used clues and deduction to find out exactly who was who. If only I could put that much effort into studying for a test.

Why stay up studying until two in the morning when you can create an identification scheme of letters and symbols to scribble across a screenshot of a video game instead? The game had me hooked.

Released on Oct. 18, Obra Dinn is a neat indie game created and developed by Lucas Pope. The game had an early demo released back in 2014, gaining hype from its outmoded one-bit graphics. The visuals took a bit of getting used to but I eventually grew to love the monochromatic style.

The game confirms whether you’ve assigned each character’s fate correctly in groups of three, which is a relief. A sequence of “a-ha” moments — and what really just came down to luck by guessing the character narrowed down to a list of possibilities — kept me going. For all the work put into solving the game, the conclusion was satisfying.

If you like puzzles and have the patience to go back to the same scenes over and over again searching for different clues, this is definitely the game for you. If you’re a more casual gamer, give this one a pass.

Return of the Obra Dinn is available on Steam.

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