My favorite things of 2018 - Day #13

On a hypothetical list of things I didn't think would make for a fun game, playing an insurance agent would have been high up on that list. Enter Lucas Pope's follow up to his indie darling Papers, Please (which made an interesting game out of immigration paperwork, so that should have been a hint).

Return of the Obra Din is a wonderful fusion of a puzzle game and a visual novel. You piece together the mystery of what happened to the ship of the title as you are charged with the investigation. You seek clues to what happened, trying to understand the disappearances of its crew. Piece by piece you start to weave the details together, and ultimately try to discover the fate that befell the ship and its' crew.

The mechanics are interesting. They manage to avoid revealing a formula, instead allowing the player to genuinely feel like they are investigating and discovering. This serves to keep the player in the experience itself, rather than be conscious of the puzzle elements. It is put together expertly, very deliberately, and crafts moments when you feel genuine accomplishment.

In many ways, the game trusts its players, and doesn't hold their hands, without driving you to distraction (or opening a browser window in search of solutions). That's some masterful design. In an odd way it feels almost like a modern homage to the LucasArts games of old, while avoiding many of the pitfalls of that genre. 

I wasn't particularly blown away by the visual style, but it undeniably adds to the atmosphere. I'm not always a fan of a retro look, if it doesn't somehow tie to the game. This was one where I'm not sure there wouldn't have been other more effective ways of using the visuals. It is deceptively modern, so the retro styling certainly seems deliberate. That always triggers my designer brain, wondering what was behind those decisions. I know others who adored that element of the game, so it may just be me.

It's not a long experience, but it's a brilliantly crafted one.