As you puzzle your way along and understand how everything is linked, getting from one place to another becomes somewhat easier. Still, the fragmented nature of these worlds inevitably becomes confusing and starts to feel a bit overdone. There are logical plot reasons for the fracturing of the paths you must take and the trouble you have to go through to fix things. But in the end you begin to question whether the elaborate precautions taken by the citizens of Hunrath weren't more trouble than they were worth.
The complexity of the puzzles and the back-and-forthing cause the story to lag at times. By far the worst slow-your-progress sequence is the labyrinth, which occurs late in the game (taking my time to be thorough, I was about 40 hours in at that point). The labyrinth is one of the most confusing puzzles I’ve ever encountered. Partly that’s because it’s made up of multiple rotatable parts and you can’t see the whole thing at the same time (you’re up on a balcony that somewhat obscures the overhead view). You can’t even see the entrance until you go down an elevator to try to enter the maze.
Although rotating the overall labyrinth is simple, rotating and otherwise adjusting the various parts so they sync together is a nightmare, involving (for the straightforward bits) going down an elevator, through a portal device, up and down a flight of stairs, back through the portal device, and back up the elevator before you can observe the changes. Plus there’s another twist thrown in requiring even more navigating around the environment under specific circumstances. I spent five hours in the labyrinth, and I thought I’d brought it into every possible configuration (none of which worked) before referring to a walkthrough. Even after absorbing the walkthrough, it took me another hour to get it right.
Labyrinths should be permanently banned from adventure games. (I know, once I calm down I’ll feel differently and welcome the next labyrinth with open arms. And a bulldozer.)
Obduction requires a high-end gaming system if you want to admire all its visual realisms and ingenuities. It also contains a panoply of interface, sound and graphics options. Basically everything you can think of tweaking can be tweaked. I played the game on two computers – my laptop, which met the minimum system requirements, and my desktop computer, which didn’t quite meet them. I was able to play the game relatively smoothly on my older computer by changing the resolution and putting the settings on “low,” which meant that the graphics weren’t as sharp and the water, light, and shadow effects were reduced. But the environments still were lovely to explore, if not quite as impressive.
On both computers (though less so on my newer laptop) I encountered long loading screens when starting the game or teleporting into the hub-world of Hunrath. A first patch intended to eliminate the problem didn’t have much of an effect. As of this writing, another update has just been released, so it’s clear that Cyan is continuing to upgrade the game’s performance, but it certainly wasn’t released in the most polished state.
You can wander the worlds in free roam mode, where you use the mouse to pan and the arrow or WASD keys to move (while pressing “shift” to run or “caps lock” to always run). Or you can enable the point-and-click option with 360 degree panning. I preferred free roaming, but found that the point-and-click option made it easier to locate the occasional hard-to-find door or trail, so I used it when I was stuck. It also came in handy a few times when I literally got stuck in the scenery and couldn’t move – switching to point-and-click meant I could simply click my way to freedom. When interacting with the gameworld, you click and drag the mouse, pulling levers or connecting blobs or aiming a laser-like gadget. Autosaves occur frequently, but there’s also an odd and possibly buggy manual save system that is so unintuitive that you probably wouldn’t find it unless you read through the manual.
This game contains two endings. Well, three if you count the single, abrupt “oops” scenario. There’s an ending that brings all your efforts to fruition, and one that doesn’t. Once you’ve seen one endgame cutscene, you can reload and change a factor in the gameworld and then watch the alternate cinematic unfold. I was satisfied by how the plot threads were tied up together, though I’m still working out the reasoning in my mind for one of the outcomes. (I enjoy this touch of ambiguity and invitation to contemplation.)
Obduction isn’t meant to be a quick, easy ride. Its splendid locales and cunning conundrums far outweigh the effect of its slow loading screens and the tedious labyrinth. For the vast majority of the many hours I played and pondered, I was blissfully swept away by this ambitious, unusual game. When I did finally make all the connections, it was amazing to observe the spectacular, pulsing, glowing result. For all who dare to confront its multilayered challenges and enticing pathways, Obduction is an experience that shouldn’t be missed.