After being a gamer for several years, it may seem like most games consist of just pressing the right button at the right time. Because of this, it is rare to find a video game that demands that its players get personally involved with the premise. By using inspiration from the graphic adventures of LucasArt or the metanarrative of Stanley Parable, Return of the Obra Dinn takes these mechanics to their peak. Lucas Pope, who was already an indie game legend thanks to Paper, Please, delivers once again in his quest to create new and distinct videogame experiences.
A fragmented tale
The protagonist of the game is an insurance regulator for the East India Company in 1807. His mission is to investigate the Obra Dinn, a vessel lost in 1802 that has recently been found. The vessel is a ghost ship. In other words, the sixty men who were on board are either dead or missing. Thus, the player will have to find out what happened to the ship’s crew with only two tools at his disposal: a diary to write down the identities of the passengers and the cause of their death, and the “Memento Mortem”, a pocket watch with the ability to show the last moments of a person’s life.
Once the investigation begins, the player will experience the immersive tale of the Obra Dinn. By traveling from one flashback to another, they will put together the pieces of this mystery. Slowly revealing a strange tale full of mutinies, Krakens, and sea monsters. The player will move from one “moment of death” to another. Discovering other corpses inside that will give him the opportunity to go even further back in the history of the tragic crossing. Like a sort of Christopher Nolan‘s Inception of memories.
Less is more
Above all, the greatest peculiarity of the gameplay is its reduction to a minimum. For instance, we can only walk, use the Memento Mortem, and write down information in the diary. In addition, the game’s graphics are minimalistic. It uses a “1-bit” monochromatic graphical style inspired by early Macintosh computers. The result is like witnessing a living painting by Gustave Dorè. Although the mechanics are simple, the game demands extreme attention from the player. They will have to play through flashbacks several times to understand what happened. Listen to the dialogues to identify the various characters. Given the limited information, it will often be necessary to commit to hypothesizing events.
Everything in the game is perfectly placed to create the immersive experience of being an investigator. From the soundtrack to the graphics. The players will continuously wonder: whatever happened to the Obra Dinn?