You, as biochemical engineer Lilah Kerlin, and your partner Max Powers, an environmental engineer, have created the Ceres Project. The Ceres Project is an orbiting satellite that releases nanobots into the atmosphere. These minute robots are designed to restore the ozone layer and eliminate atmospheric pollution, which has reached a crisis point in the year 2066. After successfully engineering and launching Ceres, the project is left to operate under its own control. With the job complete Lilah and Max decide to go on a long overdue vacation. However, while vacationing they discover a strange black, crystalline growth that is becoming larger every day -- and somehow it seems to be eerily linked to the Ceres Project.
Obsidian is a classic adventure game and considered by many to be a must-play. The graphics, in slideshow format, hold up well even against today’s 3D games. Unlike a great many of the short and cheap adventure games available today, Obsidian also provides players with a full-length diversion filled with puzzles that will charm and frustrate.
Cast as Lilah, the player begins the game by entering the campsite she and Max have been sharing. Inside their tent you find Lilah’s electronic daytimer. As you start to read through her journal, email, and notes you learn about the Ceres Project. After perusing all the entries, you hear a scream coming from the direction of the crystalline growth. Upon investigating, you notice Max's hat lying on the ground next to the black outcropping; as you reach for it, a door appears sucking you into Obsidian.
Obsidian is composed of a number of different realms that a player must pass through in order to meet the physical face of Ceres, the Conductor. Each realm has its own flavour, as well as its own set of puzzles and challenges. However, despite the fact that there are a number of realms to pass through, there is very little character interaction. When you do encounter other creatures (such as the Vidbots, robots with TV screen faces that you encounter in the first environment) they are generally used primarily as window dressing. These impersonal robots can sometimes provide the player with helpful information however, offering hints, suggestions and sometimes supplying needed objects; but they never really interact with the player. At other points in the game, you will encounter groups of nanobots performing duties, but they are not programmed to speak to the player, and do not even appear to notice their presence.
The quality of the graphics in the game is first-class, as most will commonly agree is a hallmark of slideshow games. The nature of still pictures allows the designers to provide nuances often missing in today’s 3D games. The first realm you enter even makes use of usually dead space by including the walls and ceiling as part of the explorable environment. Obsidian creates these beautiful graphics by using video and SGI. The drawback to using this system, as we said before, is that the player is really just watching a slide show and doesn’t really have the ability to move 360 degrees within the environment, something that comes standard in most current games. It is a tradeoff, but one I think most adventure gamers will be happy to make here.
The soundtrack is designed by Thomas Dolby and his company Headspace; Dolby, probably best know for his 80’s hit “She Blinded Me with Science,” produces a sound track that doesn’t do justice to the game’s story. Its crescendos and lulls are unlinked to the action on screen and thus don’t build any anticipation or mood, which is a real disappointment given the buildup it receives on the box and in the manual.
The acting on the other hand is solidly delivered. The actors portraying Lilah and Max effectively set up the premise of the game and convincingly draw you in, making a thousand nanobots labouring to create a giant black crystal plausible; a nice change from the “you can’t be serious” moments I have had in other games (Mystery of the Mummy anyone?). For the Full Motion Video (FMV) cynics out there, there are FMV sequences in the game, but you can easily escape them by pressing the space bar. Escaping these scenes won’t leave you in the dark to plot points, but I for one always find that FMV adds another dimension of enjoyment to the game.
The game’s interface is easy-to-use point & click, a traditional form of adventure game navigation that has changed very little even in the majority of new games. The cursor easily identifies objects to be picked up or actions to be taken by changing shapes over hotspots. The movement of the play is never too slow or too fast –- perfect for taking in the rich scenery. Obsidian, unlike a number of games that came out in about the same period, loads and runs like a dream, requiring no patches or frantic emails to tech support. This is especially good because, like many adventure game developers, Rocket Science no longer exists. For those running XP, you should be able to play this game in emulator mode with little trouble.
Obsidian can be extremely difficult at times. There are a number of formidable puzzles in the game, as well as arcade action sequences that require good hand-eye coordination. Though many of the puzzles are not complex (by complex I mean requiring a large amount of information to be extracted from different parts of the game a la Riven), Obsidian just doesn’t always provide the player with all of the information needed to be successful. Clues embedded in the environment can be obtuse, which poorly prepares you for the challenges you will meet. For most players new or old, this may prove to be very confusing and frustrating.
I loved the creative graphics and the interesting premise. The actors were very good and provided a believability that gave the plot the credibility it needed to succeed. The game's soundtrack wasn't very strong, but that's a minor quibble. The puzzles, however, divided me. After spending an incredible amount of time on certain problems, the charms of the game began to wane on me. In the end, though, I do like Obsidian enough to recommend what is, in most respects, a fine game.