Set in a cyberpunk future, featuring augmented humans and robots; Observer will undoubtedly be compared to Deus Ex or even Bladerunner. In some cases, the comparisons are quite easily made, but an almost detective noir-like twist and with some of the most bizarre level design, Observer aims to stand out above what came before it.
You are Daniel Lazarski, an augmented agent that has a special “leech” ability to dig into the minds of anyone with an implant and explore their inner thoughts and experiences. The tool is aptly named the “Dream eater”. Your prime goal is to investigate murders, and you seem to encounter more dead bodies than living. You use electromagnetic vision to scan mechanical items and a similar biological vision to scan organic matter. All of these allow you to piece together what is going on and progress the story.
You start off in your car and get a phone call from your estranged son. This leads you to show up at his apartment complex and there you find your first corpse, and a decapitated one at that. Not knowing whether this is your son or not, you begin investigating using the abilities outlaid above. The story is narrated by the protagonist himself, voiced by none other than Rutger Hauer, who at first I found a little stiff, but soon felt absolutely perfect for what an augmented human in a corporation led Eastern Europe may sound like.
The majority of the game is set inside one apartment complex; it is in lock-down much like in the latest “Judge Dredd” movie. All external contact is blocked and you spend most of the time talking to the landlord, the only “living human” you see, or the visual display units of the other tenants’ door bells.
The game design is quite non-linear, and the “dream eater” sequences are twisted and bizarre. Just like a dream they are disjointed and in many cases horrifying, which is where the gameplay is truly unique. The logic of the world is non-existent and you find yourself trudging through them confused and somehow making your way out. Some sections feature stealth scenes and will be the only time you will see a “game over” screen. Mostly because they aren’t designed as well as they could be, and lead to some trial and error. Other interactions involved reading emails and playing a mini-game that unlocks new levels on every new machine to access.
There was a particular physics based puzzle that I managed to cause a game breaking bug with, and I managed to repeat it twice. Which led me to have to reload the last auto-save checkpoint over 5 minutes back. The object in question was a floating monitor with a plug that you use to unlock certain doors. In one section I was able to make the monitor go through a partially unlocked door and get stuck on the other side, leaving me trapped with no option.
One of the other issues with this game is the frame-rate. It stutters constantly, particularly when moving from or to new areas. The visuals aren’t very complicated and the bulk of the game is indoors, which makes this simply unacceptable and takes you out of the experience.
Observer is very unique, yes it borrows a little from Deus Ex, Bladerunner and SOMA but overall it is a gripping story that has a few design issues that hold it back. The pacing is generally good, apart from when you get stuck in some of the bizarre worlds the developers created. This game doesn’t hold your hand and doesn’t have a large glowing arrow to tell you where to go either. It is a grown up game with a matching premise and story, one I will likely not forget for a while. If it was only in VR it could have been taken to a whole new level, but as it is, it’s still quite impressive.
Observer has no multiplayer and a single playthrough will take you between 6-8 hours if you don’t go for all the collectables. I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a story-based game that doesn’t involve shooting.
- Replay Value