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Preview: Return of the Obra Dinn

Jack Gardner



I just finished playing through the publicly available build of Return of the Obra Dinn and I definitely liked what I saw. Currently being developed by Lucas Pope, the creator of indie darling Papers, Please, Return of the Obra Dinn seems to be an adventure game that centers on the mysterious merchant vessel Obra Dinn. 


Set in 1808, the East India Company sends the player, an insurance adjuster, to board the ship and investigate its return after five years lost at sea. The company also provides a mysterious package to be opened only once the player has boarded. As player explores the seemingly abandoned ship, it becomes clear that something horrible has happened; the bones of the captain, crew, and passengers litter the deck and holds. An unnerving atmosphere permeates the ship, one that only becomes more palpable when the parcel the company sent along is opened. 


It contains a watch inscribed with indecipherable symbols and images. The mysterious watch begins to react when the player encounters the remains of each deceased crew member. It causes the world to dissolve before reconstructing the universe around the last second of the departed's life. Players can then walk around the ship as it existed during that second, the universe completely still, frozen in time. 


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The time reversal and freezing effect would be a very neat in a game that uses a conventional graphical style, but Return of the Obra Dinn has a very distinct 1-bit aesthetic that tries to replicate late 80s computer graphics. This aesthetic really sets Obra Dinn apart from anything else you've ever seen. Though the preview stretches to emulate early computer graphics, it does interesting new things with them by rendering them in real-time from a first-person perspective. The effect is really quite interesting and says a lot about how far video games can actually distance themselves from reality while still depicting recognizable objects. 


There isn't a whole lot of game in the available build. It took me about 15 minutes to complete the entire thing, but it is certainly an arresting look at a game very early in its development. It has an interesting mechanic, a great aesthetic, and it has me very intrigued. I'm eager to see where this goes. 


If you would like to try Return of the Obra Dinn for yourself, you can find the download for it here.

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