>Observer_ was a game that had interested me from the moment it was announced for a number of reasons. The amazing team at Bloober Team, the group behind the stunning psychological horror game Layers of Fear, were set to make a new horror game with a neo-noir styled cyberpunk theme and a very interesting premise. Set in the slums of corporate owned Fifth Polish Republic town of Karków in the year 2084, years after “The Great Decimation” (read: World War 3), where drug use and fear of the “Nanophage”, a digital disease that effects cyberneticlly augmented persons (which is a vast majority of all persons left) run rampant, we find ourselves in the shoes of KPD officer Daniel Lazarski, an Observer. Observers are a sort of elite corporate-funded police force equipped with a device called the DR-3AT, also known as the Dream Eater. With the Dream Eater, Observers can hack into the minds of suspects and pull clues straight from their psyches to help them glean information vital to their cases. As one could expect, this leads to some very interesting gaming moments.
Now, not only was >Observer_ set in an amazing dystopian cyber punk world (it’s pretty much on par with Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner movie) but its main character is voiced by Rutger Hauer (the actor who played Roy Batty, the primary renegade Replicant from Bladerunner).
Immersive Story Telling: Rutger Hauer really delivers in the role of Dan as he moves about the dilapidated tenement building, interacting with the diverse cast of characters that live there as he works to unravel the mystery thrust upon him. But talking to the tenants isn’t the only type of interaction Dan has with the world around him. He’s also exposed to various visual clues which hint at the condition of the world they are stuck in as well as the mental landscapes of several individuals, each one wholly unique from the last. All of this, paired with an ending that changes based on your decisions, is nothing short of a wild ride that works its way to a grand finale that will keep you hooked until the credits start to roll.
Beautifully Crafted Cyberpunk World: From the moment we awake in Lazarski’s vehicle, we are exposed to a gorgeous, dark cyberpunk world. Our first exposure to this world comes in the form of the interior of Dan’s vehicles (something Rick Deckard would feel right at home in). Here we are also introduced to the Dream Eater before we drive off to the tenement where our investigation begins. We see a number of things portrayed in such magnificent neon light that it’s hard to describe them without taking away some of the awe that had lured me in.
Mental Landscapes: Each person that Dan enters the mind of has their own unique psychological issues, fears, and mental imagery associated with them. Not a single one of them are the same as the next nor the last. These segments are the most interesting bits of the whole game and remind me of something one would see in Psychonauts, albeit a much more mature and darker version.
Horror: It’s quite clear that this isn’t Bloober Team’s first horror game and, with any luck, it won’t be their last. Sounds that previously exist only in nightmares call out in their twisted and sometimes mechanical tones, warning Dan to stay away yet beckoning him ever closer at the same time. The world distorts and deforms around you as you try to dig though broken minds for clues. Not ever single second of the game is filled with this anxiety inducing fear of what might be lurking just around the corner though, and that’s a good thing. The breaks from the fear and trepidation help to keep the actual moments of heart pounding dread terrifying by not over exposing the player and weakening the effect by making it just a constant part of the game.
Loading: Now, there are no loading screens in the traditional sense. Loading happens behind certain doors in the same way that Layers of Fear did it, with the door’s handle having a ‘loading’ icon which then turned into the ‘open’ icon when the area had loaded. The loading isn’t the worst I’ve seen, not even close, but personally, I feel as if these loading moments take a bit too long which destroys the immersion and pulls you out of the moment as you stand, staring, at a loading door knob for several seconds.
Performance issues: This is a slightly disappointing section for me as I was not met with the terrible fate of having my data corrupted but was met with a medley of other issues. A game crash, the screen freezing, and scripting errors were just a few of the issues I faced. The bit that got me the most though were also the frame rate drops. Now, while not overly common, they weren’t the ‘few and far between’ I would prefer, if I had no choice but to have frame rate drops. And when they happen, they are rough. This mostly happens when we are loading from one area to the next, like running up a set of stairs, going through certain doors, or entering particular areas. When the frame rate drops, it drops hard but, after a few seconds, it recovers. Sadly, these drops are bad enough to warrant a spot on the downsides section. Now, there is a patch planned to address these issues but, as of the time of this writing, that patch has not been released nor has there been an estimated date in which it will be released.
My overall experience with >Observer_ is a rather positive one. Bloober Team did an amazing job yet again. The characters, the locations, and the setting were all blended with a story that, once I really got going, I just couldn’t stop. The premise is intricately woven but is also thought provking with all of its psychological related themes. This made for an amazing experience that, without a doubt, warrants a second play though even if just to see their second ending.
>Observer_ was developed by Bloober and published by Aspyr Media. It was released for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (Reviewed) on August 15th, 2017 in North America and Europe. A press review copy was purchased on behalf of The Hidden Levels. Many studios submit copies for site review but this is in no way factored into our review scores. Games are scored on their individual merits and our rating system is explained here.
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