An obscure yet finely crafted adventure game down the Myst bloodline.


In Obsidian, nothing is quite what it seems. The game’s designers went for a dreamy feel.

The Myst-inspired adventure genre had its ups and downs, but few games had that creative edge or technical prowess to really make them stand out in the limelight. Fortunately for us adventure gaming freaks, Obsidian is just such a game. You play as Lilah, a young nanotechnologist enjoying a camping vacation in a remote forest after having recently completed the development of a meteorological satellite with your partner Max. Through exposition provided by documents and film clips located in Lilah’s PDA, it seems that you have discovered an immense black monolith in the mountains, which you have monikered ‘Obsidian’.

No sooner do you start the game that you find Max is missing, and examining the imposing structure leads you to suspect that he might be trapped inside Obsidian itself. Fortunately you find a passage leading inside, and that’s when things really get weird.

Things Get Really Weird

obs5In contrast to the lonely, desolate Myst world, where the surrounding plot was ever so remote, the Obsidian environment continually anchors you to the game’s story. Information about the evolution of this world is present at every turn, and a growing urgency – visions of Max and a sense that you are very close to the ultimate discovery – continues to provide the impetus to continue. The game spans five CDs and takes you through four dream realms, immersing you in a turbulent exploration of a universe that is disorienting and bewildering.

The initial moments of exploration within Obsidian, the surreal nature of it all and the strange logic of the world in which you operate in definitely elevates the game above the ‘mere’ Myst-clone status. For one thing the world isn’t as barren as it is in Myst, or at least not always. Mechanized creatures and voices surround you regularly, continuing to “ground†you in what might otherwise be a very lonely experience.

Two Million Dollars Later

In contrast to the first ten or so minutes of the game, most of Obsidian is computer-rendered and not live-action, which might help explain the incredible 2 million dollar price tag that came with it. You could almost swear it was all worth it, as you get the most gorgeous CGI developed in any ’96 game by far. Enhanced by 32-bit QuickTime technology, the game looks silky smooth and is animated gracefully at its 640×480 pixels. Although some of the later parts aren’t as impressive as the first act, overall the graphical excellence is nothing short of praiseworthy.

But Obsidian also works well as a game too, offering some very difficult but altogether fairly well integrated puzzles. The good news is that inventory-based quests are a non-issue here, as most of what you have to figure out is limited to on-site manipulation of various gizmos. This sounds familiar, but it can actually be very clever. For example in one of the early stages of the game you’re thrown into a bureaucratic nightmare that seems scooped straight out of Satan’s corporate headquarters – you must browse through legions of file cabinets to find a Standard Damages form so the bots can repair a malfunctioned bridge (according to standard operational procedures, of course), but everything seems disjointed and nonsensically arranged. A nearby terminal, instead of helping you out, wants to play a series of word games, but which you can actually use to discover the correct category under which said document is stored.


Too bad Lilah never kept her ‘futuristic’ PDA. It could have been a great quest-keeping log.

A few of the puzzles, however, are tedious nonsequiturs. Most notably there’s one involving the fixing of a broken clock that gives horrendously jagged feedback animations (making it very hard to figure out which section needs fine-tuning), and there’s also a horrid eye-hand coordination puzzle just halfway in, requiring the player to sequence a lightning bolt strike to a moving-multi-faceted path. Otherwise you’ll see a nice variety of wordplay, logic, spatial relationship, sliding tile puzzles (of course!), all providing enough challenge to keep it interesting.

Anyone who appreciates this particular corner of the genre, Myst fanatics especially, will find here a perilous and sometimes humorous journey through an awe-inspiring, breathtaking environment. Even with its limited exploration possibilities and a “puzzle lock†here and there, it’s a trip you’ll want to take. The game’s offbeat take on the world of physics may leave you blithely disoriented for quite a while.

System Requirements: Pentium 90 Mhz CPU, 16 MB RAM, SVGA, Windows 95

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