What Is Happening In 'Return of the Obra Dinn'?

Diving into the great time travel mystery of Lucas Pope's new game.

If you know who Lucas Pope is, you can already tell by looking at Return of Obra Din that the game is his handywork. The indie game creator broke through into the public eye with the passport-based ethics puzzle Papers, Please, but he’s also the man behind the games Republia Times, Helsing’s Fire, Mightier, Six Degrees of Sabotage, The Sea Has No Claim, and Unsolicited. He’s been teasing his new project Return of the Obra Dinn for a while now, and right today, you can download the GDC demo of the game for free and poke around inside.

We loaded up the game (which has a very specific and somewhat disorienting art style) and gave it a run. While this is by no means the finished product, you can get an idea of what Pope has in store. I recommend you download the demo yourself to experience the mystery for yourself, but if you’d like to know what we’ve uncovered please keep reading.

The game opens with dialogue between you and a guy you’ve hired to pilot you out to the Obra Dinn; a ship with a dark aura about it. Once on board, you’ll find that everything has been abandoned and there’s not much for you to explore. Luckily, you brought a box with you. Unluckily, you don’t know what’s inside.

What you find is a death clock of sorts that allows you to travel back in time to the moment of death for any corpse or skeleton you find on the ship. You can hear the dialogue leading to the final encounter, and then briefly explore the entire ship in a moment frozen in time. If you can piece together the order of events that occurred in this brutal massacre of pirates, you might be able to save yourself from a similar fate.

The deaths we saw were beautiful and horrifying, and the art style lends an element of disconnect that makes visceral sprays of blood caught frozen in time seem like works of art. How this all comes together in the end is anyone’s guess, as the demo gives you just enough time to orient yourself in this world before it pulls the plug.

What happened to the Obra Dinn? Nothing good. And when we see a full release, I can only assume it gets worse.

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