Return of the Obra Dinn - Review

Author: Damaso Scibetta
Date: 2020-03-02 21:14:36
Paradoxically, one of the greatest strengths of small productions and small development teams is that of not having the opportunity to manage and offer a graphic look like triple A productions. It is a strength because it forces them to rely on stimulating solutions. (artistically) to make up for such a limit. The indie world is full of small aesthetic masterpieces and Return of the Obra Dinn, created by Lucas Pope (who had already made a lot of talk about himself with Papers, Please) falls perfectly into the category.

Here more than ever, in fact, it is difficult to separate the graphic aspect from the actual game, since those millions of dots on the screen build the gameplay. Far from the 32 million colors we are used to today, Return of the Obra Dinn focuses on chiaroscuro and, as in a charcoal painting, bases everything on the presence and absence of a single color (creating a unique and highly distinguishable " 1 bit "). The effect is extraordinarily rich and manages to stain the screen with a huge amount of small details, from gunpowder to splinters of wood to blood. If initially it might seem just an aesthetic gem, in reality Pope has managed to make this type of "coloring" relevant also in the gameplay itself.

Return of the Obra Dinn is a not too long investigative adventure (in less than 7 hours you will have safely seen all that the game has to offer), in which an expert is played with the task of investigating a series of deaths at the interior of a ship, the Ora Dinn, exploiting few clues. In addition to a stingy handful of documents with the names and faces of all passengers, the only tool available is a strange clock that allows the protagonist (and therefore the player) to relive the last moments of the life of each of the passengers (such as in Ghost Trick, but this time without being able to change anything, unlike Takumi's masterpiece).

We therefore find ourselves connecting for each corpse a name, a face and a cause of death (among a huge list of possibilities) simply by relying on deductive skills, and the game develops around this mechanic: from each corpse you can access any corpses present in the memory and from that moment also interact with them. It seems like a small idea, unable to bear the whole adventure, if it were not so well balanced between moments of investigation, moments of reflection and moments in which ... dots connect.

What makes the graphic aspect relevant in this speech is the fact that once a memory starts, only voices or sounds are heard, one imagines the scene in one's mind, and later on one starts moving in the I remember. Meanwhile, the scene has "stopped" at a precise frame in which the two-color graphics allow you to outline details and events in a very precise way, in addition to the new accessible corpses. Everything you see on the screen is potentially useful to the investigation and those moments inside the memories can last minutes and minutes while we take note of every detail: Return of the Obra Dinn is not lost in useless descriptions, in excessive information, nor in situations able to lengthen (and water down) the game. And it is not a trivial matter.

There are mainly two, in fact, the incredible aspects of Pope's work: Return of the Obra Dinn manages to gain strength on its essential and uncompromising construction, organizing an idea of interaction that cannot be separated from graphics or any other element of the game and at the same time manages to make the concept of investigation really sensible.

Moving away from more or less guided procedures to which modern games have accustomed us and from interrogations and clues of over twenty years of adventures, the investigation is completely left in the hands of the player who must put the dots together, look around, grasp small details (from the arrangement of the sailors in an illustration to roles, position of the cabins, type of hat worn, accessory elements and any small clue can be obtained from a scene). It is no coincidence that on more than one occasion I have found myself looking online for information on how to dress and on terms in certain languages to be able to narrow the field on some names. At one point, a man says "Verdammt", perhaps an indication of his German / Austrian origin, for example.

The game does not take us by the hand in continuing with the investigation, among other things, avoiding to tell us immediately if our deduction is correct or not: you can have some useful feedback only after three correct deductions, going to file any attempt to constant tests with the brain off. The sense of reward obtained once three "fates" have been resolved is perfectly calibrated, in an excellent balance between attempts, deductions and a feeling of success.

Right here, however, Return of the Obra Dinn shows the side of a small criticism that should not be underestimated. Sometimes, in fact, although it seems a hymn to rationality and deduction, we find ourselves (albeit rarely) attempting names hoping to guess, because maybe there are three Indian sailors who correspond to all the information that we have been able to find and slightly grope it is more efficient than looking for other evidence. However, it happens very rarely and is perhaps the only real accusation that can be made against such an original and courageous game.

A final mention of the technical aspect: the translation into Italian is excellent in all its aspects and the performance of the game is not least, very stable and completely bug-free, at least during my experience.

I played Return of the Obra Dinn on PC through Steam for 7 hours, in which I completed the whole game, finding out all the fates and names and completing the diary. I used a PC equipped with an AMD Ryzen 7 1700 at 3.0 GHz, 16 GB of RAM, a 500GB SAMSUNG 960 NVMe SSD and a GeForce Gigabyte GTX 1080, connected to an Asus ROG SWIFT PG279Q 27 "monitor at resolution of 1440p.