Posted by Eran Cohen.
First posted on 01 March 2012. Last updated on 01 March 2012.
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The nanobots are supposed to repair the planet's atmosphere.
Max is trapped inside his dream.
Max meets Ceres.
Will it be for better or worse?
A new world awaits.

History recorded that, sometime during the Roman era, a man returning from the Ethiopian highlands brought back with him a piece of black, shiny volcanic glass. According to the Roman historian Pliny the Elder, the man's name was Obsius, and the mineraloid he found was named after him—Obsius Lapis or Stone of Obsius or Obsian for short.

Aside from Pliny's reference, little else was known about the life of Obsius. In Pliny's Naturalis Historia, he mentioned only the name of the discoverer. Over the following centuries, Pliny's work was copied and reprinted many times. Due to a copyist's error or a typographical misprint, the man's name was changed to Obsidius, and the mineraloid which he discovered was renamed accordingly—Obsidius Lapis or Obsidian.

Obsidian, the game, is developed by Rocket Science Games and published by Segasoft. It is a first-person point-and-click adventure. The game comes on 5 CDs, a rarity for the time for its release. Installation is simple and straightforward. The game supports a resolution of 640x480 pixels and 16-bit color natively, though it also supports a resolution of 800x600 as long as the color is lowered to 16-bit.

In the game, the player assumes the role of Lilah Kerlins. She and her friend, Max Powers, are enjoying a well deserved camping vacation in the forests of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. The year is 2066. For the past decade or so, Lilah and Max, who are environmental scientists, have been part of a team working on a satellite called Ceres that has just been launched into orbit around Earth. The purpose of Ceres is to decrease the planet's air pollution and the consequential ozone depletion by releasing purifying nanobots into the planet's atmosphere and monitoring the activities of these nanobots. Because Ceres is supposedly equipped with the most advanced artificial intelligence to date, the mission team deems it to be best and safest to leave all subsequent control and handling of the planet saving operation to the satellite.

Unfortunately, it appears that Ceres has become too smart for humanity's own good. In a plot reminiscent of Arthur C. Clarke's Dial F for Frankenstein, Ceres soon develops a mind and soul of its own. Now, it seeks to explore its inner self, its history, and its surroundings, all the while pondering on the logic behind the existence of mankind. In order to do so, she (Ceres refers itself using a female persona) has created a parallel world using her nanobots for simulation. From the outside, it appears only as a strange black, crystalline rock formation known as the Obsidian. Through a series of chance events, Lilah and Max become trapped inside the structure and are compelled to explore this world from within, thus assisting Ceres in exploring herself. Ultimately, Lilah will have the fate of the world literally in her hands, and her choice will determine forever the future of humanity.

The opening sequence of the game serves as both an introduction to the game's back story and a tutorial to familiarize the player with the game's interface. The game adopts the typical point-and-click mechanic, with small and nonintrusive directional arrows highlighting the possible paths of movement on screen. Pressing Esc brings up the main menu, from where the system options (such as save and restore) can be accessed. There is an option to adjust volume, but there is no option to enable subtitles.

The game makes use of the Mobile Information Unit which Lila carries to assist the player. In the beginning, it provides the player the necessary background history of the characters and of the strange outcrop. It also enables the player to read e-mails as well as browse through mission records and personal documents. Its usage can be a bit confusing at first but is easy to grasp quickly. The game makes a point of going through (though not necessarily reading) all the documents stored on this device—only then will the game proper commence.

As the game begins, Lilah hears Max's scream outside her tent and rushes to his rescue. In a cut scene which is both stunning and thought provoking, she finds herself inside the mysterious rock formation, where her adventure is destined to begin.

The game is comprised of a trio of large worlds—each world exploring the mind, the dreams, and the subconscious of Lilah, Max, and Ceres, in that order. There is a large amount of complex symbolisms and analogues in the themes and the puzzles in the game. This necessitates the player to immerse deep into the game's story in order to fully understand them.

The game's graphics are nicely done, with some imaginative and quirky touches. Surreal elements are blended with what may be best described as an in-game stimulation of the physical world. For instance, in the first world, the player is fronted with a rather ordinary looking governmental bureau of some sort. The clerks working there, however, are mechanical bots with video screens that are substituted for heads and faces that are almost never fully shown. This world, called the Bureau, puts the player inside what is essentially a cube. Each side of the cube is made up of a wall that defines a separate zone. Since the cube is a representation of Lyla's dreams or subconscious, the regular laws of physics do not apply while the player is inside the cube. For example, the player can climb to the different walls in order to reach the different zones of this world, and each of the zones can be viewed from atop from the other zones (or walls) of the cube. In other word, the floor of a particular zone is the wall of another zone or the ceiling of yet another zone. This can be disorienting at first but quite fun to explore once the logic behind it is understood.

Snippets of Full Motion Videos (FMV) filmed with live actors are seamlessly merged with computer generated graphics. The production is on par with other FMV games of the era. Although the acting is frequently too artificial and the actors are often too self-aware to stir up real emotions, these live action scenes are still nicely done and manage to add an extra depth to the underlying theme of the game—namely the contrast between men and machines.

The game's music ranges in styles from electronic to minimalistic to symphonic, though always appropriate and never intrusive. Alas, the scores are largely forgettable. This is a big letdown, considering that the scores are written by famed British musician and composer Thomas Dolby. The game's sounds effects are good but not extraordinary.

There is relatively little inventory handling in this game. Most of the game's puzzles are based on either logic alone or information deduced from hints and bits of information collected when wandering around Ceres' soul. Some of the puzzles are quite challenging, but they are consistent within the logic of the game worlds. Careful analysis of discovered clues, a good memory, a notepad, and a pen will allow any patient player to crack even the most difficult puzzles. Many puzzles can be reset by using the Esc key.

All in all, Obsidian is a very good game that falls just short of being excellent. It has all the ingredients of a terrific game—an original story, immersing graphics, challenging puzzles, and a convenient interface. Yet, in the end, the game leaves the player a little disappointed. It is difficult not to wonder if budget and schedule constraints that are known to have hampered the developer have dampened the full potential of this game. At a minimum, Obsidian's premise—that of an electronic network which can come to life and develop a mind and a soul of its own—is a prophetic idea that still rings true to this date and to any gamer who dares to ponder on its significance.

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