Observer has a great concept on paper. It is a survival horror game set in a cyberpunk post-apocalyptic world with a sense of mystery surrounding it. It also has a great voice talent behind it and the lead character is portrayed by Rutger Hauer (Bladerunner). Unfortunately the game is mechanically flawed that leads to an experience that provides frustration more than it does fun. It is a game that is definitely not for everyone and as divisive as it may be, it also has its moments of sheer brilliance.
The story of Observer is set in the year 2084 when the world is being ruled by a oppressive government organization called Chiron. You assume control of a detective Daniel Lazarski who works for the government. His character is played brilliantly by Rutger Haur even featuring his own likeness in the game. The setting gives a sense of post-apocalyptic world because majority of the humans have been wiped out by a ‘digital plague’ that managed to infect their cyborg bodies. The cause of the plague remains unknown and serves as a story backdrop before putting you in the shoes of the detective.
The story begins with the investigation of a death as you arrive in an apartment to witness a murder. This starting area also acts as a tutorial of sorts where you learn the abilities at your disposal. You can look around in first person and examine various objects around the room with your augmented vision that can classify two different kind of objects. You can use electromagnetic vision to look for electronics and the likes, while you can use the bio vision to scan for biological objects. These are used to gather evidence for solving murder mysteries and this is basically the gist of it. The cutscenes have multiple choices for dialogue so atleast the developers went the extra mile with them.
The issue with Observer is with the way the narrative is laid out in front of the player, often resulting in a confusing mess as you try to piece together the story events to figure out what happened. But it is also highlighted by moments where everything clicks together leading to a sense of sanctification. These moments, however, are few and far between during our experience of the game. I can appreciate the ambiguity that the developers have tried to achieve here by presenting the narrative in a non-linear structure, but it is also marred by a gameplay that is repetitive and doesn’t have anything interesting to offer so it unfortunately doesn’t work as intended.
While the game is touted as featuring survival horror elements, it is hard to find them throughout the main story campaign. There is not much of a survival horror as a sense of uncertainty and dread fill the entire game. The world in Observer is bleak and offers twisted perspective on life, but it never manages to turn it into something remotely scary. You will creep out by some of the elements presented in the story and the music can get scary at times but that’s basically the gist of it.
One of the aspect that annoyed me the most was the visuals. The actual game looks really nice but it is the post-processing that starts to get annoying on eyes. Maybe I am not used to seeing things this way but the chromatic aberration that is used throughout the game to mimic a cinematic presentation doesn’t mesh well with the overall aesthetics presented in Observer. I can understand the art style and visual quality that they developers were going for here, but it unfortunately doesn’t work for me, and looking around, I have seen similar comments echoed by others.
The visuals are not the only aspect as the performance of the game is unfortunately a little rocky on the PS4. I played it on the PS4 Pro and noticed slight hitches in performance during my time with it. This might not be a big deal but Observer doesn’t really look that demanding so the frame rate issues are disappointing to see here. They were not even hard to notice and I am normally not that sensitive to the frame rate but it was easy to spot them when I played the game. The overly dark presentation doesn’t really help here.
Observer is arguably a better game than Layers of Fear but it has some fundamental issues that should have been fixed. Ultimately, it is a fun game to play if you enjoy science fiction stories set in a cyberpunk world.
Observer Review (PS4)
Game Reviewed on: PS4
Game description: Observer (stylised as >OBSERVER_) is a cyberpunk horror video game developed by Bloober Team and published by Aspyr for release on Linux, Microsoft Windows, OS X, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on 15 August 2017.
Some interesting story moments and a fantastic performance by Rutger Haur manages to elevate Observer from a medicore to decent experience.