Return of the Obra Dinn | Review
by Dillan-James Carter
Image courtesy of Lucas Pope
As a kid, I had a terrible love for all things unknown, and the unsolved mysteries which seem to offer no simple answer: the Roswell UFO incident, some lost Russian royalty, the secret organisations of rich white men who control the world. Now I’ve grown up, and realised that only one of these conspiracies is true. But the crème de la crème of the unsolved mysteries was the case of the Mary Celeste - an abandoned merchant ship discovered adrift in 1872, with the crew men’s belongings still in the quarters and six months worth of food and water, though no soul was found aboard. This wonderful ship has inspired horror writers and documentarians alike, but now it has made port in Lucas Pope’s new game, Return of the Obra Dinn.
Return of the Obra Dinn follows the tale of an insurance agent who is tasked with discovering what happened to the merchant ship Obra Dinn, which had miraculously been found five years after its disappearance - unfortunately, its crew was either still missing, or dead. Luckily, the player has a trusty timepiece, giving them the ability to locate the dead and replay their last moments on God’s great blue ocean. Along with the handy timepiece, we also have our trusty insurance log, which gives us access to crucial information about the ship and its crew. With these two tools, you are left alone to figure out what really happened, like Agatha Christie’s Poirot in a murder-filled country mansion.
Drawing thematically from Lucas Pope’s previous game Papers, Please!, the player derives joy from the administration required to solve the mystery. You need to identify the 60 crew members and learn each of their fates using stills and clips of dialogue from their final moments. This is a task which requires a lot of attention and, in my opinion, a paper and pen to note down key details that could become important later on in the game. The story is truly masterfully, playing on the classic ideas of the seafaring mythos and human greed- though unfortunately, it lacks any replayability. Nevertheless, in a world of ‘fast fixes’, Return of the Obra Dinn is a game you’ll never forget.
Stylistically, Pope has gone for a classic 1980’s computer graphic style, which may give you a false inkling that the game was made in a rush, but he has chosen this carefully to foster the player’s mood, along with the lo-fi beat soundtrack reminiscent of the Arstotzkan national anthem.
Return of the Obra Dinn uses the classic ghost ship narrative and constant note-taking method to create a game of delightful administrative bliss which awards the determination and intelligence of its players.