Review by Enigma
A classic. That's what it is. Obsidian may be the most
innovative, imaginative puzzle adventure ever conceived. It will
plunge you into an Orwellian dream of bureaucratic lunacy. All
its elements contribute to a coherent, high satire that might
just elevate the game into the realm of art. People either love
it or hate it, but no one can deny that Obsidian is a standout.
Welcome to Your Nightmare
Obsidian's plot tends toward the dreamlike, allowing the
developer's imaginations to soar into the weird and spectacular.
The main character, Lyla, and her boyfriend Max live decades in
the future, when the environmental mistakes of our time have nearly
ruined the Earth. Using nanotechnology, Lyla and Max have created
a highly sophisticated satellite designed to clean up the atmosphere.
Danger looms when the satellite unexpectedly develops a mind of
its own, then builds, or rather, grows, a strange structure near
the couple's vacation campsite and lures Max into it. Hearing
his scream, Lyla runs to the place and is sucked into a vortex
that leads her into her own nightmare come alive.
In her search for Max, who appears in the game from time to time,
Lyla and the player contend with the satellite's twisted mind.
As the game tells you, "your rules do not apply," and
that's true, especially when it comes to gravity. Ironically,
the satellite has concocted devious rules that it's your task
to break. In the first segment, the best of the game, you're trapped
in a bureaucratic nightmare world. The playing areas extend from
the floor, up the walls, and eventually to the ceiling. Sliding,
climbing, and elevating through this area simply astonished me.
You'll be interacting with "vidbots," television screens
with mechanical bodies, who insist that everything be done according
to their rules. In order to repair a damaged bridge that might
lead you to Max you'll have to satisfy their demands, designed
to be impossible to meet unless you learn how to get around their
Rules Are Made to Be Broken
In order to break those rules you'll have to solve some of the
most creative, devious puzzles of my gaming experience, especially
the bureaucratic maze. Maze haters don't need to worry about this
one. It consists of nine cubicles, all of which you can see easily.
The task is to gather the right combination of colored cards,
which you must spend to enter the last cubicle, your goal. Along
the way you'll meet more vidbots who deliver hilarious spoofs
of medical exams and family photos. I found this puzzle to be
the bull's-eye of the game's satirical punch, a perfect hit in
the bureaucratic solar plexus.
Not only the maze, but the puzzles in the rest of the first segment
of the game contribute to the satire seamlessly. Finding a document
in the filing system, making a telephone call, and repairing a
clock figure into the warped mindset of the satellite. Later,
the game's approach becomes a bit more standard, but it contains
some of the most notorious puzzles in gaming history. Oddly, I
found some of the most infamous puzzles to be fairly easy, while
some of the more standard fare stumped me. The lightening tree
and the broken-up waves require patience and frustrate many players,
but I had little trouble with them. The chemistry puzzle and the
"Church of the Machine," however, sent me to a walkthrough
The final puzzle is one of the most perfidious in adventure games,
considered to be virtually impossible by many players. Walkthroughs
won't help you with it; it's randomized. You must simply bludgeon
your way through it, perhaps getting lucky. Yet, again, I've solved
it six times by focusing my eyes slightly above the playing screen,
which allows a wider range of vision. The endgame payoff, however,
is a real letdown. After all that imaginative humor and innovative
design, both of the two possible endings are too short to satisfy
players. I had the impression that the developers ran out of time
Hold, as 'Twere, the Mirror up to Nature
I found the acting in Obsidian, with one glaring exception,
absolutely marvelous. The vidbots, whose mouths are the focus
of their television screen faces, hit the precise pitch of sneering
arrogance required to drive you mad. When you return to them they
have nasty new things to say. In the maze, the vidbot who gives
you your cards at the main entrance plays out a little drama,
ever more unsatisfied with your failed attempts to get through
to your goal. The sardonic humor these actors provide lifted Obsidian
to a level far above most games. It worked perfectly.
But alas, the actor playing Max simply isn't in the same league
as the rest of the cast. While not actively bad, he delivers his
lines but not much else. Rather than the mirror of a real man
in love and caught in a trap, all I could see was an inexperienced,
struggling actor. The interracial aspect of the romance between
Lyla and Max was nice to see in a game, however.
Obsidian's cutscenes and music also contribute enormously
to the game's surreal atmosphere. Gorgeous skies, the little robots
that comprise a recurring theme, and a tiny Mariachi guitarist
keep the eye candy popping. During the maze sequence, sappy elevator
music perfectly enhances the mood. The music in the Piazza sequence
kept me entranced enough to wish the puzzle there were more difficult.
With the exception of Max, everything fits into a coherent whole
that leaves a lasting impression of a wild dream come alive.
But Is it Art?
I've been arguing for some time that adventure games not only
represent a breakthrough in entertainment, but have become something
of a new art form. By giving the player control over movement
and choices about what to do next, adventures become rather like
interactive movies. Especially when the game takes a first-person
format you become a participant rather than a mere spectator,
never knowing what's around the next corner. "Adventure"
is the very best name for it, because you personally experience
whatever the developers' imaginations have cooked up.
In Obsidian, the developers cooked up a feast of sly,
acid satire supported by perfectly matched artwork that's as upside
down and sideways as the game's humor. The snide comedy, the startling,
mind-bending layout of the backgrounds, the mesmerizing locations,
the clever puzzlesall fit together, perfectly tuned.
In my humble opinion, it's art. Obsidian is more than
worth the money. I found it unforgettable.
Developer: Rocket Science Games
Release Date: 1996
Four Fat Chicks Links
Pentium 90 MHz Processor
16 MB RAM
Sound Blaster 16
4X CD-ROM drive
20 MB free hard disk space
4X CD-ROM drive
16-bit, 640x480 display
1 MB video RAM
16 MB RAM
20 MB free hard disk space
Where to Find It