Return of the Obra Dinn review – a brilliant interactive detective mystery

I’m the type of game player who stops to smell the proverbial roses. I love a good vista, and pausing to revel in the details, slowly rotating the camera to soak in the view. I love hiking in general, so any game that lets me take it all in at my own pace is always a winner in my book. And Return of the Obra Dinn is a game built around not just noting your surroundings and being observant, but also solving a mystery while doing so.

The game is very fetching with its monochromatic ‘1-bit’ first-person view of an abandoned ship that has come back to port after being lost as sea. It’s not just a stylistic choice: it helps drive home the fact that you’re walking about in the pale moonlight. With the help of a compass and book, you can relive the last moments of certain folk that were on the ship in the hope of figuring out how they perished. As you press further on, you gather clues about earlier moments that you can use to deduce the answers. It reminds me of the old board game Clue (aka Cluedo), but instead of figuring out the identity of one murderer, you have to work out how the entire crew met their fate.

The hard thing about reviewing Return of the Obra Dinn is that saying any more than that would spoil the experience. But I also know it’s hard to recommend something to someone without giving them a little more to go on. The best thing I can tell you is that after a bit of play, I pulled out an actual notebook to jot down assumptions and conjectures before making my final observations in the in-game book. I became way more invested in Obra Dinn than I assumed I would, and enjoyed every minute of it. With its sweeping score and frozen-in-time moments, I got pulled into the role of insurance investigator and had to see it through to the end, come hell or high water.

Yet even with all my handwritten notes and constant retreading of certain events, I failed to make exact accusations. Which, in all honesty, made me want to play the game again. And in addition, it would give me an excuse to revisit all those curious and well-designed set pieces again.

I’m a huge fan of story-driven experiences, and Return of the Obra Dinn is so good that it has set the bar for my expectations for these types of game from here on. A game doesn’t need action mechanics to be enthralling, and this game is proof of that. Turn down the lights, put on some headphones and experience one of those most brilliant games out there.

Return of the Obra Dinn was developed by Lucas Pope and is available on PC, Mac, Switch, PS4 and Xbox One. We reviewed the Switch version.

Disclosure statement: review code for Return of the Obra Dinn was provided by Lucas Pope. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.