Sunday 15 December 2019

Return of the Obra Dinn review: Detective on deck

(Sw/XO/PS4/PC) ★★★★★ Age: 18+

Return of the Obra Dinn
Return of the Obra Dinn
The Outer Worlds
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

Number of games where an insurance loss adjuster is the hero: one. Obra Dinn might appear to have the least-promising premise and - at first glance - an underwhelming one-bit monochrome visual aesthetic. Yet it transcends its diffident demeanour with a rollicking tale of murder, mayhem and machinations on the high seas.

You're the insurance man sent to evaluate an early-1800s ghost ship that's just limped into port without any of its crew or passengers alive. You have little to go on but deductive reasoning - and a magic pocketwatch that grants glimpses of the moment each poor soul on board met their death.

Using a ship manifest listing the crew plus an artist's sketch, your maritime detective must identify everyone and their fate - which includes events such as love stories to gruesome deaths to mutiny to a monstrous kraken. It's essentially a giant jigsaw or visual sudoku, using a reverse chronology from the denouement to the inception.

You comb the dialogue for clues, scrutinise the death scenes - moments preserved in pixelated freeze-frame through which you yourself can freely move - and piece together identities from scraps (accents, uniforms, words, resemblances, etc). Guesswork won't cut it - if anything, Obra Dinn overwhelms the player with permutations and the interface isn't clearly explained. But, much like an enthralling jigsaw, filling in the blanks gets fractionally easier with every satisfying deduction.

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The Outer Worlds

(XO/PS4/PC) ★★★★ Age: 18+

The Outer Worlds

The founders of the original epic role-player Fallout return with a colourful remix of the formula, a satirical space opera in which frontiers people survive under the yoke of an avaricious corporation.

While recycling the tropes of many similar single-player RPGs - perks, slow-mo marksmanship, endless loot - Outer Worlds distinguishes itself with sharp, dark humour and convincing characters. Perhaps too much familiarity breeds occasional ennui - you'll find significant traces of BioShock alongside great dollops of Fallout, - but cribbing from best is no tragedy.

Yet the ability to specialise (into hacking, persuasion, intimidation, etc) is smartly realised to the point where you might never need to fire a bullet in what is notionally a shooter.

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