You Haven’t Played… Return of the Obra Dinn

A brand new video essay series

We all have gaming backlogs. That list of games that you’re interested in playing, but be it due to a lack of time, a busy release schedule, or simply not having the system the game was released for, you’ve not been able to. I wanted to find a way to tackle that. A way to pick a game that I haven’t played and really immerse myself in its world. I wanted to discover it for myself for the first time, but also to look over the years of coverage and discussion on the game, and understand the true impact of its release.

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Return of the Obra Dinn is an adventure video game created by American video game designer Lucas Pope, and published by Japanese studio 3909. It was his second commercial game, following 2013’s Papers, Please, and was released for macOS and Microsoft Windows in October 2018 and for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One a year later.

The game is set in 1807 with the player assuming the role of insurance inspector for the East India Company. The Obra Dinn, a merchant ship missing for five years, has reappeared off the coast of England with no one alive aboard. The player is dispatched to the ghost ship to perform an appraisal, reconstruct the events of the voyage, and determine the fates of all sixty souls aboard, providing a cause of death for those deceased or a probable current location for those presumed living. Investigation is accomplished through the use of the “Memento Mortem”, a pocket watch capable of transporting its user to the moment of death of any corpse located. The game, played in first-person perspective, uses a “1-bit” monochromatic graphical style inspired by games on early Macintosh computers.

Return of the Obra Dinn was praised for its gameplay, art style, and narrative, likening the game to Pope’s previous work, and Her Story. It was cited as among the best games of the year and won several awards, including the Seumas McNally Grand Prize.

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