The last we saw of Return of the Obra Dinn, the next game from Papers, Please creator Lucas Pope, was a short but tantalizing demo released in November of 2016. We haven’t heard much since, but evidently the game is coming along. In a recent post to Obra Dinn’s TIGForum developer blog, Pope outlined the state of the game and some changes he’s made to it, offering a much clearer look at how it plays.
The premise is largely unchanged. The year is 1807. The Obra Dinn, the game’s titular ship and singular level, mysteriously returns to port after being lost at sea. With the boat damaged and its crew dead, it falls to the player to piece together what happened by finding corpses and visiting moment-of-death flashbacks.
“The central mechanic of the game is to determine the fate of everyone onboard the ship,” Pope writes. “You do this by filling out a little sentence describing how they died or disappeared.” As you visit flashbacks, you’ll fill in more and more of the book which doubles as your journal and table of contents. Because it wouldn’t be a Lucas Pope game without documents to fill out, now would it?
As seen in the GIF above, visiting a flashback will update that character’s book entry with details like the location of their corpse and examinable scenes of the Obra Dinn pre-disaster. Once you examine these facts and deduce the cause of a character’s death, you can update their entry with a subject-verb-object explanation such as “[Person A] [was shot by] [Person B].”
Visiting flashbacks is also integral to accessing new areas of the ship itself. The state of objects like doors and lanterns in the flashbacks you visit carries into the present. So, if you come across a locked door, you’ll need to find the correct corpse and flashback to a time when it was open. When you return from that flashback, the door will be open in the present.
Objects updated in this way are marked by a fuzzy particle effect which blends well with Obra Dinn’s pure black-and-white aesthetic. The same is true of corpses you find in the flashbacks of other corpses.
Indeed, relevant flashbacks won’t always be lying around. You’ll also have to find missing corpses by way of a dedicated “corpse hunt” mode, wherein specific corpses must be retrieved from within other flashbacks and then located in the present.
“Some flashbacks contain multiple corpses and you need to find them all to proceed,” Pope writes. There are 60 characters and 48 flashbacks spread across the game’s 10 chapters, so sleuthing will surely get complex.
Pope says the alpha build of Return of the Obra Dinn was completed back in May. He hopes, but does not promise, to release the full game later this year. In the meantime, you’ll have to make do with the free demo—that and the forthcoming film adaptation of the bleak story of Papers, Please.
PC Gamer Newsletter
Sign up to get the best content of the week, and great gaming deals, as picked by the editors.
Austin freelanced for PC Gamer, Eurogamer, IGN, Sports Illustrated, and more while finishing his journalism degree, and has been a full-time writer at PC Gamer's sister publication GamesRadar+ since 2019. They've yet to realize that his position as a staff writer is just a cover-up for his career-spanning Destiny column, and he's kept the ruse going with a focus on news, the occasional feature, and as much Genshin Impact as he can get away with.