“Classic.” “Innovative.” “Brilliant.” Words used to describe
Obsidian. “Bizarre.” “Confusing.” “Weird.” Also words used to
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
7.5, 280 MHz, 4X CD-ROM drive, 16-bit, 640x480 display, 1 MB video
RAM, 16 MB RAM.
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,
So now, I've opened the door. Enter Obsidian. It's a game well
Final Grade: A-
design copyright ©