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Game Review: Observer
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Xbox One l PS4 l PC
DEVELOPER: Bloober Team
PUBLISHER: Aspyr Media
RELEASE DATE: Aug 15, 2017

From Bloober Team, the developer behind the 2015 horror Layers of Fear, comes a cyberpunk horror titled Observer (stylized as >observer_).

The game is set in the year 2084, in a dark and depressing world that’s the result of two devastating events: the Nanophage—a sort of computer virus which caused thousands of deaths when it affected the cybernetic augmentations most people now have in their bodies—and a massive nuclear war known as the Great Decimation, which killed millions and left many areas of the planet uninhabitable. You play as Daniel Lazarski (Rutger Hauer), a neural detective called an Observer who’s able to dive deep into the minds of others to acquire necessary information.

Observer opens with you in your car, in need of a dose of the medication Synchrozine. This is important, because instead of worrying about finding health packs or medkits and so on, in this game you rely on Synchrozine to stay functional. The longer you go without it, the worse your heavily augmented body will perform. You’ll know when you’re in need of a dose when your vision becomes increasingly glitchy, but if you really stretch things out you will be warned that you’re in danger of shutting down.

After that, you’re led to the first area you’ll investigate. This isn’t just a walking simulator (not that there’s anything wrong with those!); you have work to do. This includes using some of your cybernetic augmentations to investigate. You have two types of vision enhancements that help greatly in your work; one which locates and identifies different types of technology such as augments and computers, and another which does the same for biological material such as blood and hair. These tools are invaluable in assessing a crime scene.

Using the former, you’ll find implants embedded in people’s skulls. And this is where things get a bit wild. As a neural detective and Observer, you’ll be able to connect to these people’s minds in order to uncover useful information. Basically, you’re going to pay a little visit to their nightmares, which is where a lot of the horror of this cyberpunk horror game comes from. These segments are not for the faint of heart. To put it bluntly, in the words of the great Doc Brown, “you’re gonna see some serious shit” when you get to these sections. Buckle up.

You can also spend time talking to people and trying to uncover more useful information. This can sometimes even unlock additional cases to investigate. If you want to get the most out of Observer, I highly recommend resisting the urge to rush to your next objective and instead knock on some doors, talk to people, do some exploring. These things will add a great deal to your overall experience. You may even uncover a fun (or terrifying) Easter Egg. In my running around, I found myself in an apartment that ended up being a nice tip o’ the old hat to that P.T. demo we eventually found out was for Silent Hills before it was unceremoniously killed off on us. I was happy to get the hell out of there, make no mistake, but it was cool to see.

One of my favorite things about Observer is the attention to detail. You’ll encounter plenty of puzzles while playing, some of them involving finding a code to unlock something. In trying to find one such code at your character’s son’s apartment, I found an old family photo. On the photo was a date, so I decided to try the year. It was a shot in the dark, but why not? As expected, it did not work. But in entering this code, I was delighted when the character responded to the attempt, saying something along the lines of “you were never that sentimental.”

Another high point worth mentioning is something gamemakers sometimes enjoy including in their new titles: retro style games within the game! There’s one of these titled With Fire and Swords: Spiders found on computers in Observer, and I very much enjoyed figuring out each new level as I discovered them. Also, I’m not gonna lie, I really got a kick out of the visual of cyborg Rutger Hauer excitedly playing this game on some stranger’s computer instead of doing his job and figuring out who’s murdering people.

The only real problem I had with Observer was with framerate. I’ve never been bothered much by games that aren’t smooth as can be, which is why I can play on consoles with few issues. Playing this game on Xbox One, however, I had quite a few instances where I was surprised by how laggy it was. Thankfully, in this particular game I can pretend that it’s doing that simply because I need a dose of Synchrozine soon. There’s also many more jump scares than I would prefer; though to be fair, some were well done jump scares and not just the usual BOO! accompanied by a loud noise. These were by no means game killers for me, just worth noting.

Observer presents a world many will enjoy visiting in digital form, but one few would ever want to see become a reality. There’s nothing warm or inviting about it. You might have a nightmare or ten after playing. But without question, it is one experience you won’t soon forget.


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