Thursday, January 31, 2019

Obra Dinn review'd

"Obra Dinn" is like "Papers, Please" in that Lucas Pope's ambitions to create a different kind of gameplay are realized. All critics everywhere noted that "Papers" made literal paper-pushing fun. The same is true of "Obra Dinn's" insurance adjustment.

That being said, "Obra Dinn" represents a deeper success than "Papers, Please", because the game's deepest gameplay offerings are deeper. Comprehending the identities and stringing together the evidence represents a puzzle which requires a lot of thinking and deduction often along non-lateral means. You'll need to write stuff down probably and the true nature of events is ultimately somewhat unclear. "Papers, Please" was comprised of mostly simpler memory and reflexes challenges, although it did have some legit moral surprises.

The thought-immersion required for "Obra" matches with the historical immersion, of which there are several layers:
--the graphical f/x of the game which reflect early computer games, i.e. an alternate history of vgs
--1800's military ship life, the essential knowledge thereof being vital for completing the game's challenge
--the role of the protagonist matching shapely up to the role of the player; there's the unassuming task which you and your character are identically given.
--the again unassuming and historical conception of death: your job is to remember and re-experience over and over again the deaths of 81 people. How that affects you is entirely up to you.

The result is a game which presents an "honest" challenge. "Honest" in the classical sense: there's a legitimate issue, realistic and well-laid, that you have to solve using comprehensible means. And it's challenging because of the genuine nature of the realism. And the moral conclusions you draw from playing it are your own. And it looks like one of those old timey video games from when there were less preconceptions of what was and wasn't possible.

* * *

The big L here is the music. People praise it but it's often quite hackneyed, sort of b-rate Pirates of the Caribbean stuff. I can't get too much into musical analysis, but there is a gameplay loop which is particularly bad:

Finding new memories:
1. intro to new variation on musical theme (ok)
2. strings of excited discovery as you enter the new information into your book (ok, but gets repetitive)
3. tension of low strings and low ringing bell as you discover a new body within the memory (tense and creepy and I like that part)
4. long and drawn out melancholy strings as the "spirit" of the body leaves a slow winding trail as it climbs around the ship like its donnie darko (pisses me off, you have to follow it slowly)

the above issues are totally ameliorated upon repeat viewings of the memories. it's the classic "unskippable cutscene" problem pretty much, being able to skip cutscenes you've already seen (or just want to skip) is what all gamers want, you kinda can't do that for a lot of this game, yadda yadda...

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