There are a lot of “want to play something cyberpunk without playing Cyberpunk 2077” posts going around and I have an addition to suggest: claims adjuster with a twist simulator Return of the Obra Dinn.
Wait, let me explain.
I’ve played very little of Cyberpunk 2077, confining myself to the character creator and the prologues of the three life paths. For my “main” V, I’ve gotten just far enough to finish the first Braindaince—the CSI/Ace Attorney Investigations portion of the game in which you inhabit someone’s recorded memories and use them to discover clues to advance the plot.
When they’re not triggering seizures, Braindances are my favorite part of the game. I would love a version of Cyberpunk that’s just me, Jackie, T-Bug, and the Delamain AI solving crimes via Braindance. I think it’s so cool how you’re able to isolate different visual, sound, or thermal cues that the person whose memories you’re investigating isn’t even aware of. There’s something appealing to me about how our brains can pick up so much information that we ourselves don’t notice because we’re focusing on something else. What bits of life am I missing out on? What clues is my wetware cataloging right now that can tell me which of the two animals at my feet just farted? I would love to play a game that’s only Braindance investigations, but I don’t have the time or the inclination to sit through the shooty shooty talky talky parts of Cyberpunk 2077 to get to the next one. So what’s a puzzle-starved brain like mine to do?
Return of the Orba Dinn to the rescue!
Return of the Obra Dinn is a murder investigation game created by Lucas Pope, the same guy who created Papers, Please. It’s about an insurance adjuster exploring the Obra Dinn—a trading vessel recently returned after being lost at sea for four years. It’s our job to figure out the fate of the Obra Dinn and its 60 passengers, armed with a notebook and a magical compass that can display the moment of death for any corpse you find.
I’d heard of Obra Dinn, seen a few incomplete let’s plays, watched a former partner piece their way through the game, but I’ve never sat down to play it myself. Since I’m utterly fascinated by Braindances but lack the wherewithal to continue Cyberpunk, I thought Obra Dinn would satisfy the memory investigation gameplay cravings I’m left with. Oh, sweet Jesus, it does.
The Return of the Obra Dinn is not for the impatient or easily distracted. The game gives you two tips to start—how to use the Memento Mortem compass and the log book—and sends you on your merry way. The extremely sparse tutorial can be frustrating. I wasn’t paying close attention at the beginning and I thought, as the game dragged me from one corpse to the next, that I had done something wrong and needed to start over. However I persevered, and my face lit all the way up when the game chimed to tell me I’d correctly deduced my first three fates. In this way, the lack of a tutorial makes the payoff of getting a fate right that much more satisfying. Like, “Hell yeah, game, I did this in spite of your almost hostile unhelpfulness.”
Cyberpunk’s Braindances are not a one-for-one replication of Obra Dinn’s gameplay, but I was surprised to see how similar they are. In Braindances, you can switch between a visual,thermal or audio layer to find clues. And while Obra Dinn wants you to primarily rely on what you see at the moment of death, what you hear at the same time is helpful too. It wasn’t a particularly challenging puzzle, but I was extremely pleased with myself when I was able to deduce a victim’s identity after another victim lamented killing his wife’s brother and best friend in his final moments. As I excitedly checked the crew manifest for people with matching last names, I wound up changing my original answer from when I thought two people who shared the same last name were siblings instead of spouses. I thought something was off though, so I listened to the moment again, and went back to the crew manifest only to realize I missed that the wife’s middle name matched the last name of another character. I changed my answer back, the game dinged, and I was rewarded with a “you got the answer right” shot of endorphins—the same happy feeling I got parsing through Evelyn’s memories in the first Braindance.
Obra Dinn isn’t as sophisticated as Cyberpunk’s Braindances, but I don’t need it to be. When CD Projekt Red releases its big Cyberpunk patches next year, maybe they’ll carve out a Braindance only version of the game so I can return to it. In the meantime, I’m happy to continue in Obra Dinn, hopping from one body to the next, waiting for my compass to calm down with all the new discoveries so I can sift through all the information and start making some educated (or not so educated) guesses.