Eleven years after Cyan finished their journey with Myst, they return with a new intellectual property. Another Kickstarter story, Obduction is a spiritual successor to Myst, the story of a person flung into another world trying to make sense of an abandoned town. This involves discovering the story of what happened, unraveling the mechanics of the world, and levers, lots and lots of levers.
And far from showing its age, Cyan demonstrates that this type of game can be as fresh and new as their imaginations allow. The advances in technology allows for higher fidelity landscapes, but also new types of puzzles that prove to be majestically mind-bending. It’s a game that demonstrates that video games ambitions are set far too low when you can craft a game that plays with space in such a creative way.
This isn’t to say that game is all a modern update. Cyan still captures some of that charm of their old games with full motion videos and even an option to play the game in point and click mode. These relics of the past blend well with the more futuristic take of Obduction.
It’s hard to not compare this to The Witness, Jonathan Blow’s take on Myst. While The Witness strives for a modern, sleek design, the puzzles quickly become even more obtuse and unclear than the worst puzzles in the Myst series. Obduction does a great job of communicating its mechanics and ideas and the execution of the solution that leaves the player musing over a problem.
It’s great to see Cyan branch out into a new universe. They demonstrate their ability to craft interesting, engaging worlds with compelling ideas and new technology. The game signposts a lot of what is going on, but it doesn’t become clear until the final couple of hours. Everything comes together in a fascinating tapestry of multiple cultures colliding and a bizarre series of ecosystems.
Where Obduction works better than Myst is that the world feels less contrived. Take the opening area where the ecosystems gradually builds upon each other in layers to create this obvious setup of how people live, eat, and relax. Myst always had cool environments, but they all felt like puzzle worlds instead of liveable places.
Myst probably trumps it in atmosphere. There was a sense of ambience in the sound design and music that this game doesn’t quite achieve. It’s also possible that the limitations of technology allowed for the lower fidelity images to give the world a greater sense of abstraction, which lends itself more to Myst’s other-worldly environment.
That being said, Obduction provides something better than atmosphere: awe. The visual fidelity certainly contributes to this, but more than that it’s the superb art design that creates these beautiful, majestic moments where the bounds of what you think the game will be are opened up into something far grander and magnificent than you’d expect.
That’s a rare thing in games. There are certainly games with a majestic sense of scale and a grand world to explore, but Obduction knows most people come in with Myst levels of expectation and this one finds a way to make something even more magical and awe-inspiring.
Obduction is a magnificent spiritual successor to Myst. In many ways, it’s a better puzzle game that Myst. The world is more cogent than Myst and lacks the obtuseness of Riven’s harder puzzles. For any fan of these types of games, this is a wonderful modern take on it that still captures a lot of the magic of the original. And for those who aren’t fans, this rounds off some of those hard edges that might have proven a barrier of entry before.
© 2016 James Blake Ewing