Return of the Obra Dinn (Impressions)

Taking on the role of an insurance adjuster might not sound like the most thrilling of personas for a video game but when it involves investigating a lost ship and the fates of its sixty crew members then it starts to get a little more interesting. And that’s exactly what’s in store for you with Return of the Obra Dinn – a game from developer Lucas Pope that cleverly uses it retro styled visuals to tell a story with a surprising amount of twist and turns for you to discover.

The game is a 3D adventure that tasks you with exploring the ship Obra Dinn, lost for five years, and determine what happened on board. The first casualties of the voyage are presented to you early so that you can get a grasp of the game’s core mechanics, the main one of which is the ability to flash back to the victim’s final moments. This lets you begin to accumulate evidence to identify the victims and their cause of death. Think of it as being like the board game Cluedo (Clue) but with an awesomely higher body count. Or maybe a gothic horror take on Guess Who? The game doesn’t hold your hand when filling out your in-game logbook with your conclusions, guestimates, etc but as you start getting the right answers results will be committed to the book allowing you to focus on those that need to be solved. The cutscenes confirming your correct answers all feel like little achievements on the road to the endgame which is appreciated.

The real highlight for me is the presentation. The 1bit monochrome art style might seem like a gimmick and a clear throwback to early Macintosh machines and monochrome/greenscreen PCs (you get to choose!) but it is really effective. It’s also very likely it played a hand in being able to deal nicely with the graphic content that players will be presented with while avoiding stricter ratings restrictions. As you’d imagine many of the crew members meet grisly deaths and this presentation pulls no punches in showing you what happened through very effective use of the graphic style. Some of the scenes are both bloody and chaotic and befitting your role in the game it allows you to view it all in detail to evaluate each situation during your investigation.

Audio really stands out too during the course of the game’s many vignettes and they pack a lot of useful detail with plenty of sound effects and strong voice acting. Character accents and languages play an important part in setting the tone and identifying people too. In case the voices are too much subtitles are available to help you through these. It’s worth noting just how useful the listening is in finding answers so it’s great hearing the stellar work done here.

When you first sit in front of the game you might be wondering if you’ve stepped back in time (in more ways that one thanks to those graphics!) but as you play through you begin to understand that it’s all part of presenting something in a way that comes together nicely in delivering on its intent. You really have to be of the “detective” mindset to want to work your way through the ship and get the information you need to identify the crew but you should find piecing together the story is a satisfying experience for anyone willing to give it a shot. 🙂

Return of the Obra Dinn is out now on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Switch.