>observer_ : Review

Hello again, everyone! A second video game review in a single week? Well, it was a long weekend, after all. This is a 2017 game so I’m going to avoid spoilers in this review, which means: read on with no worries, dearest readers!

Background

>observer_ is a first-person psychological horror and is very plot heavy. The game was developed by Bloober Team and published by Aspyr for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in August 2017.

Here’s a fun fact: the main character is voiced by Rutger Hauer, who was in Blade Runner. If you play the game, you’ll see that it was obvious that the game developers were influenced by the movie.

Discover a dark cyberpunk world beset by plagues, war and squalor. Play as the new front line of neural police known as observers as you hack into the jagged minds of the people you encounter. – blooberteam.com

Plot

You play as an “Observer” named Daniel Lazarski, living in Krakow in 2084. The setting of this world is so cool: it’s a dystopian world where people augment their bodies – in fact, it’s implied throughout the game that you can’t really get a job unless you have these cybernetic enhancements – and live in fear of a “digital plague” called the nanophage. The world itself was decimated after a war and, in the post-war aftermath, a mega-company called Chiron dominated everything. Observers are a type of detective that can dive into a person’s memories.

At the start of the game, Lazarski gets a call from his estranged son and traces the call to a slum tenement building. He goes there and finds a headless body. Determined to get to the bottom of things, Lazarski delves into the grimy, gritty environment – uncovering secrets and horrible visions – to find his son or what happened to him. The whole time, he is struggling against his own wavering sanity as his augmentations break down under the strain of the horrible things he witnesses in the brain chips of the victims he discovers.

Overall

One of the strongest aspects of this game are the visuals. The developers spent a lot of time making the world you find yourself in, it’s stunning and haunting. As I played through the game, navigating the twisting tenement halls and tight tunnels in the basement, I felt claustrophobic at times — that’s how realistic it felt.

All in all, you can tell they put a lot of thought into the details as well, for example: in the kitchen, I found a food machine where you can cycle through “meals”, push a button and food mush pours out of a tap. Another example: there are posters and ads for all kinds of things, giving you a glimpse into the world Lazarski lives in (I found a Layers of Fear 2 poster too at one point.) Another fun little detail the developers added was an in-game game, so you could take a break from the horror and kill spiders.

While you investigate the mystery behind the son’s disappearance, the sad story of Lazarski’s decayed relationship with his son is slowly revealed in flashbacks as the Observer’s sanity weakens. It’s gripping and I couldn’t stop playing it – I ended up starting and finishing it all in one day.

One thing I disliked was the sanity loss-stimulant use aspect. As you lose “synchronization” with your implants, you start going insane and have to use a chemical to boost your synch rates and gain back sanity. To do so, you click the middle mouse button and it brings you to a HUD – allowing you to use the stim or access your objectives. Using the stim automatically kicks you out of the HUD, so that, if you then need to check the objectives, you have to enter back in. A small complaint, it just got annoying after a bit.

Another issue was that I wish it had been longer. Overall, I think it only took me about six hours to beat. Still, an excellent game!

8/10

I gave this game a high score because it was an awesome game created by a smaller indie group (they only had thirty employees at time of development). I really enjoyed it and, though there could have been more substance to it, I think an 8 is a fair grade.

x P.L. McMillan

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