Home Entertainment Game Review: Return of the Obra Dinn remains a masterpiece five years...

Game Review: Return of the Obra Dinn remains a masterpiece five years later

The graphics of Return to the Obra Dinn attempt to emulate games on the original Macintosh computer, and can be changed to look like the Commodore 1084, IBM 5151, and other early personal computers.

Five years after its release, the experimental detective game Return of the Obra Dinn remains one of the best titles in its genre.

Developed by Lucas Pope, an independent game creator and the mind behind the award-winning puzzle game Papers, Please, Return of the Obra Dinn quickly presents players with an interesting premise.

We are put into the shoes of an unnamed insurance inspector for the East India Trading Company in 1807. The Obra Dinn, a ship insured by the company, has washed up in port with all 60 of its passengers either dead or missing. As an inspector, our role is to learn and record the fates of every crewmember so that the company can accurately provide payment.

A freeze-frame can be used to find out what happened to one of the 60 passengers on board.

Two tools are at our disposal. The first is a logbook containing information on the names and roles of every passenger who was on the Obra Dinn, as well as sketches to cross-reference their faces. The second is a stopwatch that, when used on the remains of a passenger found on board, lets the player explore the moment of their death frozen in time.

The premise and mystery are fairly simple at the start. We witness the moment of a passenger’s death and have to determine who they were and what killed them, and the first death we see is during an attempted mutiny. The hook of the mystery is that while this is the first death we witness, it’s one of the last to have taken place on the ship chronologically.

Why the mutiny happened and how the rest of the passengers perished on the Obra Dinn is what the player now has to find out, and the game follows in the footsteps of Papers, Please by having the player witness important and esoteric events through the eyes of an administrator, instead of as a hero or adventurer.

As gameplay goes, Return of the Obra Dinn is simple and effective. Players are encouraged to take their time and revisit past scenes to fill out the logbook as they gain new information. It’s rarely clear who an individual is in each scene, and comparing the sketches, passenger logs, and multiple frozen scenes is usually necessary to find the true fate of each individual.

The logbook tracks the details of each scene to make it easier for players to backtrack and find missing information.

This loop is what makes Return of the Obra Dinn the perfect puzzle game. The player is never given any hints and is expected to put all the pieces together themselves, leading to those eureka moments that detective games try to evoke.

Players interested in the plot of the game will find the non-linear storytelling both intriguing and exciting. What looks like a simple mutiny at the beginning of the game is given more context as the player unravels the mystery of the Obra Dinn, finding that some passengers suffered at the hands of something not quite human.

Overall, Return of the Obra Dinn is a modern masterpiece. The story is interesting, the puzzles are logical and exciting to solve, the presentation is unique and, most importantly for a detective game, it makes you feel like you were the one who solved the mystery of the Obra Dinn.