Title: The Return of the Obra Dinn
Developer: Lucas Pope
Release Date: 18/10/2018
Price: £15.49 – Sam purchased this game
What the Developers Say
An Insurance Adventure with Minimal Color
In 1802, the merchant ship Obra Dinn set out from London for the Orient with over 200 tons of trade goods. Six months later it hadn’t met its rendezvous point at the Cape of Good Hope and was declared lost at sea.
Early this morning of October 14th, 1807, the Obra Dinn drifted into port at Falmouth with damaged sails and no visible crew. As insurance investigator for the East India Company’s London Office, dispatch immediately to Falmouth, find means to board the ship, and prepare an assessment of damages.
Return of the Obra Dinn is a first-person mystery adventure based on exploration and logical deduction.
I don’t know about you, but I love a good mystery. In 1803 the good ship Obra Dinn disappeared, it’s crew and cargo thought lost at sea. But in 1807 it drifted into port at Falmouth with damaged sails and not a single living soul on board.
You play an insurance investigator who is sent to the Obra Dinn to uncover what happened to the ship, where the crew has gone and why there are so many skeletons on board. As the game begins you obtain a magic pocket watch that allows you to see and hear the final moments of a person’s life, and a book detailing the course and crew of the ship (as well as definitions for the not so nautically inclined). With these two items, you begin to unfurl the sequence of events that led to the disappearance of the ship. The book has a list of every crew member and a few sketches which contain most of the crew, but the two are not cross-referenced. So you have all their names and all their faces, and it’s up to you to link the two together and also figure out what happened to all of them.
Looks & Sounds
As you’ll see from the screenshots and trailer in this review, The Return of the Obra Dinn is a unique looking game. It’s a full 3D environment that you can walk around to your heart’s content, designed to look like a Macintosh application from 30 years ago. The aesthetic worked for me, and I think the simplicity aids not just the look and feel of the world but also the gameplay. Everything is simple to identify and easy to understand due to its monochrome display. I would go as far as to say that the game is stunning in some parts. One scene that isn’t a spoiler is when a sailor is struck by lightning, and you can see it forking out through the sky above the deck.
The music is also very minimal, but (shocker) I loved it too. It’s fun and suitably nautical themed. In previous reviews, I’ve written for this site I’ve often said that I didn’t notice the music being particularly bad or good, but in Obra Dinn I found myself humming along to the familiar themes. All of the voice acting is very good, and that’s super important as often you will find yourself straining to hear an accent or a name or anything from somebody’s dialogue you can use to identify a crewmember.
Gameplay & Replayability
Like everything else in this game, the gameplay is also pretty minimal. The majority of the first half of the game is spent wandering the decks and trying to find every memory you can, every single dead sailor. Once that’s over the serious business of identifying them begins. This is an incredibly tricky logic puzzle.
Sometimes you get lucky, and they are just named in the scene, which helps you identify other people in it due to their dialogue and relationships. One particular sailor, I overheard in another scene talking with an accent, so I looked through the manifest to see that there were a few French crewmen. Then I cross-referenced a few other memories to see who he usually hung out with and found out who he was.
I was engrossed for the entirety of the nine and a half hours I played of this game, watching the same content over and over looking for tiny clues I had missed, reviewing memories again in the light of new information. Learning the relationships between the characters and the information in the book is just as key to solving the mystery as what happens in the memories that you are investigating.
It’s hard to talk about the replayability so close to having completed the game. I found it completely worth the price of entry for my £15.49 but I don’t know if I would ever replay it, now I know all the fates of the crew. The more memorable and prominent crew members would probably still come to mind were I to play again. But I will say the minimalism of the game’s graphics and interface are likely to make it a game that will hold up over the years, so it could be one I come back to later in life.
If you’ve read the above review, you’ll probably have worked out that I loved the Return of the Obra Dinn. I can easily say it’s one of the best games I’ve played this year, with a new and exciting mechanic and a beautiful visual and audio design.
If you like a more cerebral game that makes you think and flex your memory and logical puzzle solving muscles, then stop reading this review finish reading this review, share it on social media, click on a few ads on the page and then go directly to your preferred retailer and buy this game.
If you’re intrigued by this review and you’d like to play the game yourself you can buy it here: https://dukope.itch.io/return-of-the-obra-dinn
The Return of the Obra Dinn is also available on GOG and Steam should you prefer those marketplaces.