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In late 2013, 20 years after releasing its landmark exploration game Myst, semi-dormant developer Cyan returned with a Kickstarter campaign for a new game. Over three years later, Obduction ($25; available in the
App Store) has finally made it to the Mac in finished form. Despite real shortcomings, this spiritual (but not literal) sequel to the Myst series recaptures the incredible sense of place that made those games so compelling.
Like Myst, Obduction’s atmospheric prologue has a mysterious object transport you to a strange new world, from which you’ll try to return home. But where Myst kept its story simple—magic books, their missing author, and his two suspicious sons—Obduction unspools a complicated, confusing saga of seeds, trees, and multiple alien species bracing for war.
The few characters you meet prove endearing, despite their somewhat hokey acting and old-fashioned full-motion-video appearances. But Obduction’s story lacks suspense and urgency. Reveals that ought to be spine-tingling fall flat. And somewhere in a pile of journals and notebooks, I must have missed the clues that would’ve helped me figure out how to choose between the game’s good and bad endings, both of which are short and anticlimactic. You can tell that delays and budget cuts during the game’s lengthy development curtailed what Obduction might otherwise have been.
After months of glitchy pre-release Mac versions, the final version runs smoothly on a late 2012 Mac mini, albeit at the lowest settings. But distant objects still jarringly pop into view as you draw closer. The game occasionally crashed when I replayed its opening minutes. And load times for levels range from “lengthy” to “seriously, go make a sandwich.” Leaping between different worlds sometimes took so long, with little or no indication of loading, that I thought the game had crashed.
But oh, those worlds are gorgeous, brimming with real awe and wonder. Lead designer Rand Miller and the Cyan team once again create fully realized places that look and feel alive, and integrate puzzles into the rules that govern those worlds in ways that rarely feel forced. Obduction even makes it fun to decipher a geometric base 4 number system. That’s no mean feat. The story most effectively plays on your emotions when it’s told through the environments themselves, rather than the texts you find within them.
I only got completely stumped on one puzzle, which may be more my fault than the designers’. And another gauntlet of multiple, interlocking challenges late in the game ranks among Cyan’s most delightfully fiendish brain-busters— hard enough to be fun, but never frustrating. One level’s even built like a sly joke, with subtle details setting you up for a well-placed, legitimately funny “punchline” when you round the right corner.
Obduction’s artistic triumphs made up for its technical trials, and its so-so story couldn’t eclipse the real joy of exploring and understanding its fascinating alternate worlds. Myst fans and anyone else who loves the exploration-and-puzzle genre will find Obduction worth the wait, both for the game, and occasionally within it.