I’ve been excited to play through Return of the Obra Dinn ever since I first saw some screenshots, but knowing that developer Lucas Pope (creator of Papers, Please) was behind it made me even more intrigued. Now, with the release on console, I’ve finally had the chance to unravel the mystery behind the titular ship, and wow, is it something special.
In Return of the Obra Dinn you take on the role of an agent of a shipping company that has been tasked with investigating the Obra Dinn: a ship that’s crew have all mysteriously died or disappeared. Using all the clues you can find, a bit of intuition, and a little bit of time-bending magic (more on that in a bit), you have to work out how everyone died, what the causes were, and if there was anything suspicious behind each death.
There are sixty crew members to investigate in total and you uncover the mystery behind their disappearance or death by using just two things: your note book and your pocket watch. The notebook is pretty self-explanatory, with the player storing any information or clues they find automatically – it also has all the information given to you beforehand, so it’ll definitely become like a bible for you to check through as you look to work out each person’s identity and what happened to them.
So, how does a pocket watch help? Well, this is a mysterious pocket watch that not only allows you to see the moment of death of any corpses you uncover but also hear the last words that came from their mouths too. Between these instances and the notes you gather along the way, you’ll have everything you need to uncover the mysteries of Return of the Obra Dinn.
It really makes for a unique and brilliant experience, with the blend of investigating and puzzle-solving playing like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The way that you’ve got to use every detail at your disposal such as people’s nationalities, their jobs on the ship, or even their friendship circles to not only identify who each corpse is but also how they died is ingenious – it’s so immersive and helps the mystery feel all the more intricate.
There’s a strong element of storytelling to be found with each corpse you uncover too, with the narrative itself proving to be one of the highlights of the package. Be warned though: Return of the Obra Dinn doesn’t hold your hand at all when playing and will take a bit of patience to get through, so you’ve got to be willing to sink both time and a lot of effort into the experience. Unravelling the mystery is so rewarding though that you just won’t mind.
It’s hard to describe the visual style of Return of the Obra Dinn as anything but unique (familiar theme, right?), with the aesthetic proving to be incredibly simple (it’s been described as a ‘one bit 3D game’ by Lucas Pope) yet full of detail. It’s odd, because it’s not a particularly pretty game, yet it’s so stylish and atmospheric that it manages to fit the vibe perfectly. Return of the Obra Dinn is unlike anything I’ve ever played, but it’s also unlike any video game I’ve ever seen – the two things come together perfectly to make for an outstanding experience.
Return of the Obra Dinn is a brilliant title that offers a gameplay experience unlike any I’ve ever played before. The way you unravel the fates of the ship’s crew is just so compelling – sure, it doesn’t hold your hand at all throughout and it will take some perseverance to get through, but it’s so rewarding to piece together the mystery that knowing you did it all by yourself just feels all the more satisfying.
Return of the Obra Dinn is fantastic and undoubtedly an unmissable title for fans of unique mystery-fuelled puzzlers.
Developer: Lucas Pope
Publisher: 3909, Warp Digital
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC