Genre:   Adventure

Developer:    Rocket Science Games

Publisher:    SegaSoft

Released:   1997

PC Requirements:   see review below




by gsd


Developer: Rocket Science Games

Publisher: Segasoft

Released: 1997

Reviewed: 11/04

“Classic.”  “Innovative.”  “Brilliant.”  Words used to describe Obsidian.  “Bizarre.”  “Confusing.” “Weird.”  Also words used to describe Obsidian.

Not surprising.  Whenever any creation slips the bonds of convention, we are going to have diverse views.  Obsidian has been around awhile, so a lot has been written.  I remember reading a few reviews before I first played the game, and I also remember that none of those reviews really captured the game experience.  So when I sat down to write this review, I sat a long time wondering how to describe this game and do it justice.  Then it occurred to me.  In as much as a highly innovative, complex painting cannot really be described but must be experienced, so it is with Obsidian.  The best I can do is open a door to that experience – an experience that, in your gaming lifetime, you should definitely not miss.  That's my take on it folks.  I think it's that good.

Now, fire up your imagination and let's take a look at this fascinating game.

A Little History

The year is 2066.  You, Lilah, a biochemical engineer and your partner Max, an environmental chemist, are taking a camping vacation in the Pacific Northwest.  You've certainly earned it since you've both been working for the last fifteen years on your creation, "Ceres."  Ceres is no small project.  It's really the only hope of restoring an atmosphere where life can survive.  The ozone layer has disappeared, and the pollution index is over the top.  On a hot day, the elderly drop like flies.  Others gag on toxic fumes.  The world is a mess.  But Ceres is designed to fix all of this by building and releasing nanobots into the atmosphere.  And it's working!  Ceres has been in orbit for 100 days and has already restored 95% of the ozone layer and dramatically reduced the pollution index.  So it's time for you and Max to relax a bit and enjoy the well-earned fresh air in the lush forest.

But it's hard to forget the misery of getting Ceres off the ground.  Endorsed by the UN but funded mainly by the chief polluter (the U.S.) you had to plead with Congress, jump through tons of bureaucratic hoops and plod through miles and miles of red tape.  You even had to house Ceres in an orbiting satellite, a safe distance from planet Earth, to satisfy the calls for caution.

You managed it all, but oh man, what a nightmare....

This is a Vacation? 

You and Max have been preoccupied with a black shiny rock you discovered near your tent.  It looks like it's from the mineral obsidian, so that's what you called it. "Obsidian."  When you first saw the rock it was only about one foot tall.  Then it seemed to be growing, so you kept measuring it and sure enough, it was growing like crazy.  Now it's at least fifty feet tall and still growing!

Unfortunately, for some reason you are cut off from all communication networks so you can't even report this.  Could Obsidian be the cause?  What's going on here? Is Ceres involved?

And Max has been having nightmares.  He keeps obsessing about Ceres becoming smarter than humans and taking over.  That's why he insisted on installing the "human override."  Maybe he's right to worry.  Maybe Ceres will even be smart enough to abort the human override.  Now that would be a nightmare!  We have given Ceres so much power….

Suddenly, you hear Max scream!  You run toward the direction of the scream and find yourself at the base of Obsidian.  No Max -- but you do see his cap.  Where is he?  You need to find Max.  You see your reflection in the shiny black rock.  Then the base cracks and you, too, are gone.

So Where Did They Go?

They have been sucked inside their dreams.  Well...maybe.

"Your Rules Do Not Apply"

This marks the end of the world as we know it, and we are launched into the first realm, a highly innovative and imaginative world of bureaucratic red tape and altered reality.  A world run by vidbots, absent all traces of individuality and human connection.  Your mission, of course, is to find Max; but the bridge to the Bureau Chief is broken and it is up to you to repair it.  Naturally, you will need instructions, approvals, permits.   Even in the real world it's never easy.  But in this bureaucratic nightmare, the task is Herculean.

Once we've successfully navigated the Bureau we will be entering three more realms of a dreamlike state, equally as surreal and equally as innovative.  By now, you know the basic premise of Obsidian and to describe the remaining realms would only serve to diminish the impact, which is a large part of the game.

One last comment here.  As the game advances, it becomes progressively more difficult.  So when you've finished the first realm and think...hey, this is too easy -- just keep going. You'll be banging your head in no time.


Obsidian plays in first person, point-and-click.  The escape key brings up game options and uses the Windows menu for saves.  The cursor offers seven directional controls and turns green when interaction is possible and red when there is nothing to do.  A hand appears when you can manipulate an object.

The graphics are excellent although a bit dark in spots.  The cutscenes are outstanding.

The musical score is by Thomas Dolby and, although mostly very good, I expected a slightly better overall presentation.  It didn't always seem compatible with the game.  But that's nitpicking.

The puzzles are many and there is essentially no inventory.  Some of the puzzles are quite difficult because they lack clues and are not very intuitive.  I suppose that's part of the perverse nature of this game.  There are also a couple of puzzles that are just plain tedious.  It's easy to figure out what you have to do but you need a ton of patience to get it done.  But in truth, the deviousness of the puzzles fits the highly developed satirical nature of the game and they are interesting as well as workable.  They are also incredibly varied in type, a lot of originals and a few old standards with new twists.  Nothing in this game, puzzles included, lacks in imagination and creativity.

The game plays on five CDs, so we are stuck with the dreaded CD swapping.  It's too bad, really, because particularly in a game like this, a break in the mood is very disruptive.  However, don't let this deter you.  Since we usually don't reenter areas, the swapping is minimal.

The game plays in a linear fashion but you are not in a straitjacket.  There's some flexibility in the order of some of the places visited.  Still, as in any linear game, certain tasks must be completed in order to advance.  Rarely are you confused about how to proceed, for the developers nudge you in the right direction by sometimes deactivating an area where you've already completed the task.  It's nice to report that even with the creative and graphic emphasis, something a bit more mundane like gameplay has not been ignored. 

What About A Plot?

A few Obsidian critics have referred to this game as "Myst-like" -- a bunch of innovative puzzles imposed upon great graphics with no plot.  Well, they're right about the innovative puzzles and great graphics.  But are they right about the lack of a plot?  If you go by the strictest definition:  a story with a beginning, middle and end, the answer is...yes.  But if you broaden the definition to include a game which offers a fertile field for writing your own mental script while equipping you with the background to do so; then no, they are not right.

The developers take great pains to set the stage of Obsidian.  Before you ever enter the dreamlike realms you are well aware of what has transpired to reach that point.  Once inside, the origin of the realms have been part of your conscious world when the stage was set, and you have at least some understanding of what they represent.  You never look around the game world and say to yourself:  "Hmmm...I think we're off the deep end here."  Obsidian has a coherency despite being surreal.  It is not a surprise casserole.  And because of that, the gamer feels a sense of direction and the anticipation of turning the page.  To me, that is plot enough.

Technical Stuff/System Requirements

I found the game to be very stable and had no problems playing it on a Windows 98SE, PIII machine.  Once in awhile it hung up for a few seconds on disc change but always recovered.  I think this game would probably play on XP using the emulator mode, but I haven't tried it.  Requirements are:

PC:  Windows 95, Pentium 90 MHz Processor, 16 MB RAM, 16-bit video, Sound Blaster 16, 4X CD-ROM

Macintosh:  OS 7.5, 280 MHz, 4X CD-ROM drive, 16-bit, 640x480 display, 1 MB video RAM, 16 MB RAM.

Final Thoughts

A few games I've played managed to do a bit more than entertain, and Obsidian is one of them.  The game tinkers with some heavy philosophical questions about modern-day technology and bureaucracy by playing out a satirical version of potential scenarios on a surreal dreamlike stage.  It therefore becomes pretty impossible to travel this game on a purely entertainment level without forming some rather provocative questions of your own.  Don't get me wrong, the developers don't lead you down a philosophical path with a noose around your neck, nor do they attempt to spoon feed you salient points.  All they ask of you is to step into your own imagination, and once there, let the game entertain you, frighten you and maybe...give you a few morsels to chew on.  And they do it very, very well.

So now, I've opened the door.  Enter Obsidian.  It's a game well worth playing.

Final Grade: A-

design copyright © 2004 GameBoomers Group

 GB Reviews Index