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‘Obduction’ Review: A Cinematic VR Marvel from the Creators of ‘Myst’

by Joe Durbin • August 24th, 2016
Platform Reviewed: Oculus Rift
Positives

- Incredibly immersive atmosphere
- Breathtaking sound and visuals
- Truly challenging puzzles
- Fascinating and cinematic storytelling

Negatives

- Frustrating and often cumbersome controls
- VR movement makes exploring and backtracking a chore

Spoiler Free Guarantee: Unlike a lot of virtual reality games, Obduction actually has a fairly involved plot and a mysterious game world with plenty of twists and turns to enjoy. Rest assured that all of those surprises are preserved by this review. Read on with freedom true believers, you need not fear spoilers within this realm.

“Where the hell am I?”

This is the thought that rang through my head as I took my first steps into the world of Obduction: a new virtual reality game from Rand Miller and Cyan Worlds, the creators of the classic PC adventure franchise, Myst.

Even if you had never read that last sentence, anyone who has played, seen, or read about Myst will instantly recognize the connection between the two titles. They share the same essential grammar, the same emphasis on puzzles and exploration, and the same sense of “What in the world is going on?!” that lingers with you until the very last moments of the game.

As far as I’m concerned, VR has never had an experience that builds a world better than Obduction. From the opening moments, you’ll feel transported into a realm that has enough similarities to reality to feel familiar, and enough extra-dimensional surprises to feel truly wondrous and unsettling.

The setting of Obduction, while breathtaking inside of VR, is almost impossible to describe outside of the headset. Imagine if you took an emerging Old West town from the turn of the century, imbued it with a Gilded-age aesthetic, filled it with enigmatic characters, and then scooped the entire thing up and transported it into an alien dimension full of purple mountains and multiple suns. That’s Obduction.

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The juxtaposition between the normalcy of a wooden shack or cave, against the foreboding sight of an alien sky littered with unfamiliar stars, creates a motivation in you to explore every room, rock, and corner that you can. This is a very good thing because that’s most of what Obduction asks you to do.

Your time in Obduction will essentially be spent doing three things: exploring this mysterious little town to uncover its true nature, solving puzzles to unlock new areas, and cursing silently under your breath.

The first reason for these subtle expletives is that the puzzles in Obduction are hard. Really hard. I consider myself fairly good at solving video game puzzles. In fact, if you’re playing a Zelda or Metroid title, I’m the guy you want sitting next to you saying “What if you tried putting a bomb against that wall?” and offering other advice along the way.

Obduction’s puzzles are, like the world itself, seemingly from another dimension. But let me be clear in that they’re not unintentionally obtuse, but rather that they’re so uniquely challenging because they are so clearly designed with VR in mind. This means that, for the most part, solving an Obduction puzzle is mostly a matter of assessing a scene as if it existed in the real world. There are no cracked walls indicating that an explosive may create a door in Obduction like in Zelda. Instead, you’ll be studying a generator to see where its wires lead in order to determine which crank you need to turn to finally get it powered up. Up close inspection like that isn’t customary for most gamers and it’s something that really shine in VR.

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Setting up puzzles this way may make them harder to solve, but it also makes them more satisfying to complete. You feel like a regular Sherlock Holmes when you’re able to deduce from a realistic environment exactly which steps need to be taken in order to unlock your next phase of gameplay.

The other reason you’ll be dropping a few choice phrases as you play Obduction, is because it frankly doesn’t have the greatest controls. This game falls into the same trap that titles like Adr1ft stumbled upon before it. Basically, games that require you to exhaust an environment through rigorous analysis and backtracking don’t agree terribly well with VR in my experience.

The reason for this is that VR can only allow you to move in certain ways and at a certain pace in an open environment without creating motion sickness for a lot of people. Things like incremental turning and teleportation movement are comfort options that make the experience more bearable. However, the problem here is that the pace of backtracking and re-exploring areas multiple times is frustratingly lethargic.

This rings even more true when solving puzzles. You may routinely be faced with a, “I might have missed something all the way back by that rock that will take me 10 minutes to get back to, but I really don’t want to go through the hassle of getting there again.”

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This is less of a problem with Obduction in and of itself, and more a hurdle that VR games need to address in general. Obduction does a more than passable job of adapting the genre, but multi-hour long game sessions can be a bit of a drag with games like this. This pacing did lead to me turning down many of the motion sickness prevention features in the name of speed and — predictably — becoming a bit uncomfortable myself. A classic catch-22.

On the other hand, one aspect that really shines in Obduction is its use of sound. Whether it’s music, environmental sound effects, or the dialogue itself, Obduction employs some beautiful filters and spatial techniques to make its world feel vastly more immersive than most.

The final reason you may find yourself adding a few quarters to your swear jar is because Obduction ends up being a surprisingly scary game. Not Dead Space-scary or intentionally horrifying, but more along the lines of , “I do not want to get too close to that freaking window in case something pops up at me!” scary.

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This, again, shows the Obduction team’s terrific understanding of not only VR as a medium, but of world design in general. In a 2D game, a window is hardly worth acknowledging. But in VR, every blind curve or smudged glass pane taps into the same part of your brain that makes you fear the gap beneath your bed lest something insidious be lurking beneath.

The story in Obduction is fresh, innovative, and gripping with enough twists and surprises to make it feel less like a game and more like a terrific episode of the Twilight Zone. The in-game performances are all wonderfully delivered and presented in a truly intriguing way that I won’t be spoiling for you here. Rest assured there is a meaty story to hold your interest. You can expect to spend at least 10-15 hours finishing this game, but likely closer to 20 if you possess only a mortal puzzle solving mind.

On a final note, the visuals in Obduction are nothing short of moving. While the sweeping vistas are weakened slightly by the hardware’s resolution limitations (we played on the Oculus Rift with an Xbox One gamepad for this review,) there are enough never-before-seen graphical tricks and techniques used in this game to constantly keep you saying, “Whoa,” or your expletive of choice once again.

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Final Score: 8/10 – Great

While Obduction does have some issues, the fault for them rests less on Cyan as a studio, and more on VR as a new medium that still has room to grow. What can be attributed to these game makers, however, is an amazing world, clever puzzles, a fascinating story, satisfying gameplay, and a title that can stand next to its elder brothers Myst and Riven with pride.

Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.

Editor’s Note: The VR version of Obduction was expected to launch today with the standard PC version, but as of the time of this publication it has been slightly delayed again. UploadVR was provided with early access to the VR Rift version via Oculus Home for the purpose of this review. We are awaiting more information regarding the public release of the VR and Mac versions from Cyan. In the meantime, the PC version is releasing today as expected. Click here for more information about the delay.

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  • Ghosty

    They need to implement room scale in the Vive and that should make the locomotion issues go away… He mentions how slow and tedious it is to back track… Heck in Raw Data I can zoom from one side of the map to the other in seconds! Here’s hoping we see a Vive release and that it improves upon their system!

    • Alexander Schick

      +1 for Vive support

  • State of Psychosis

    I wish there was a way I could get my hands on the VR version early and review it. I planned an entire vacation around this game and they delayed it at the last minute leaving me with nothing to do on my week off and not enough time to re-book. Like thanks. I only get a vacation from work once a year and I just wasted it because of this.

    • That really sucks 🙁 I’ve taken off time from work before for game releases, but never had to deal with a laund day delay before. I believe if you buy it on Steam and just start playing 2D, that version will still work in VR once it’s out. Here is some more info about the delay: http://uploadvr.com/obduction-vr-release-delayed-last-minute/

      • State of Psychosis

        thanks. nah, if I do that i’ll just beat it and won’t play it again. I never play these games twice. I have too good of a memory so I’ll know all of the solutions to the puzzles right away if I jump the gun and play it in 2d.

  • Graham J

    I can’t imagine playing something like this without motion controls. And accordingly, can’t understand how studios are releasing for Rift first.

    • Buddydudeguy

      “room scale” is over rated. You spend 99% of the time with “room scale” taking 1 or two steps in any direction, usually facing forward, and motion controls will be available for both systems soon enough.

      • Graham J

        I didn’t mention roomscale, but now that you mention it I’m sure actually being able to walk around the puzzles as you would if you were actually there adds greatly to the immersion. The bits in between where you’re traveling certainly aren’t any worse standing up.

        Motion control speaks for itself though, interacting with puzzles like that just makes sense, especially when combined with actually standing in front of them.

        • Buddydudeguy

          You can take steps around with the Rift though and it will be getting motion controllers soon, as I said. Your comment is ignorant though.
          9/10 Vive motion controller games are tech demo novelties that get boring after 10 min. Motion controllers are not necessary for VR, evidence being the numerous awesome games available that don’t have it.

          • Graham J

            I didn’t say you couldn’t but thanks for putting words in my mouth a second time. Oculus’ timeline and your (questionable) opinion of Vive games are not the issue here. That motion controls are ideally suited to the type of puzzles this game presents is, and your dancing around the subject suggests you agree.

            Excellent.

          • Buddydudeguy

            lol you reek of fanboy. A ignorant one too!

          • Graham J

            ooo insults, very convincing. Pro tip: You should have stuck with the bit about Touch being out soon; that at least was relevant.

          • Buddydudeguy

            kk

          • Buddydudeguy

            How bout Asynchronous timewarp, larger sweet spot and less SDE? . The Rift is the better HMD. I’m sorry you got dropped on your head as a kid.

          • ⭐️ Graham J ⭐️

            Perhaps it is. But again the topic of discussion is motion controls, not headsets. Try to follow along.

            PS Congratulations; after eleven days of stewing you managed to render an insult my toddler grew out of last year.

          • Buddydudeguy

            My goodness you’re clever. I eagerly await more witty posts! My life revolves around it!

          • G-man

            thats some powerful projecting right there.

          • Buddydudeguy

            Projec-wut? hahaha, wtf is wrong with you? You sucking off Graham J?

          • G-man

            whats wrong with me is i didn’t realise you were a complete knobhead, until now. bye

          • Buddydudeguy

            That sentence implies you know me or we had met previously/repeatedly. Is English not your native language cuz you make no sense.

          • G-man

            On this thing called the internet you posted a bunch of comments and i read them, several of them. I don’t have to have “met” you. My assumptions about you were based off of my experience of reading your comments. Just as in the real world someone could fail to realise you were a knobhead from only having seen you talk to other people from across the room. Even though they were quite stupid comments i didn’t realise you were just nothing but a complete knobhead. but your reply made me realise that was in fact the case.

            Now you have made it quite clear you are a complete waste of air, if you can’t understand English you probably shouldn’t be trying to claim other people don’t make any sense. cuz den you b lukin like a fokin moron innit buddy

          • Buddydudeguy

            bla bla bla rabble rabble STFU lmao

          • G-man

            OWNED HA LOLZORS U SUK, I RULE LMAO

          • Buddydudeguy

            You’re like 12, got it.

          • G-man

            i was speaking dumb 12 year old so you could understand me, and it worked.

          • Buddydudeguy

            her der

    • State of Psychosis

      I’ve played tons of games just with a controller and they’re still awesome. of course they’ll be better when the touch comes out but until then you still don’t have any trouble playing them.

  • Buddydudeguy

    Every review and article totes it as a VR game….launch day comes….no VR. haha. Not very professional 🙁

    • We didn’t know VR was delayed either.

      • Buddydudeguy

        to be clear, I didn’t mean you or other journalists are unprofessional. Cyan.

  • State of Psychosis

    If anyone gets an ETA on when the Oculus release is coming, let us know please 😉

  • Tom Daigon

    This holds some promise to be a spectacular VR title. Me and my Vive are impatiently waiting … 😉

  • Ombra Alberto

    Cv1 and touch= breathtaking.

  • Veraxus

    It’s two months later and the VR version is still missing in action, without so much as a peep from Cyan. I’d call that significantly more than “slightly” delayed.