Review: >Observer_ (PlayStation 4)
- Release Date (NA): August 15, 2017
- Release Date (EU): August 15, 2017
- Release Date (JP): August 15, 2017
- Publisher: Aspyr
- Developer: Bloober Team
- Genres: Sci-Fi, Horror, Survival Horror
- ESRB Rating: Mature
- PEGI Rating: Sixteen years and older
- Also For: Computer, Xbox One
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
The year is 2084
After a "disease" known as the Nanophage infected the world, turning implants and nanites against their hosts, a war ravaged what was left, leaving the all-powerful Chiron Corporation left to run the planet. In a classist society rampant with body modifications and mental sickness, you play as Dan Lazarski, voiced and modeled by Rutger Hauer. As a secret agent of the Chiron Corp., known as an Observer, they don't go out of it's way to publicize your existence and only call you in for special cases. Your purpose is to investigate crime scenes and, if necessary, jack into suspects implants to investigate their mind, inside and out, for clues related to the crime.
One evening, you receive a call to investigate the residence of a suspected terrorist, and shortly after receive a call from your estranged son-- a mysterious message warning of impending doom, coming from the same location. As you arrive at the aforementioned apartment complex, the whole area goes into lockdown and you are trapped inside. Thus, your adventures begin.
Gameplay and Visuals
Let me start off by saying that this game is gorgeous-- with a few exceptions. The environments are painstakingly detailed and robust, absolutely bursting with details and visual effects. The game seems to fall off when it comes to human models and facial animations, though. Every single mirror in the game is covered, too gritty, or simply does not reflect the main character (the latter I believe was a single, isolated oversight). Nearly all of the people you come across are either dead or are only represented over their apartments intercom by a 4 frame looping gif straight out of a 90s alt rock video. You can barely catch a glimpse of Dan's reflection in his rear view mirror during the intro, and his mouth movement looks like a puppet. It's pretty clear the development team lacked the skill to articulate a human face properly, and used these tricks to try and mask the fact.
You have 3 different enhanced view modes at your disposal. A mode for biological scanning, technological scanning, and night-vision. All 3 are used in carrying out your investigation, and all 3 are a pain in the butt to use. The view scoping and actual usefulness is questionable, as you are restricted to a very small area around you while in these modes. There only really needed to be a tech scanner, a view mode to see electronic devices and trace their connections, which is often used for puzzles. The bio scanner feels like the little brother tagging along for the ride, and the game could have easily just let you scan blood and other biological remnants from the main view without needed to flip-flop between the views. The night vision also has an extremely limited view scope, and is basically useless for 95% of the game, as complete darkness is never really an issue. On the PS4 version, the controller light changes colors depending on which view mode you are in... neat, I guess?
Dan must also struggle with dependency on a drug called Synchrozine; something that is kindly supplied by his employers, Chiron Corp. If you don't take it during the game, your vision becomes artifacted and fuzzy. You also experience some minor "hallucinations" when looking at posters and ads scattered about, but other then that it doesn't have any real impact on the game. In fact, after my first "required' dosage, I took it upon myself to help Dan get the monkey off his back by going cold turkey the rest of the game and, I have to say, it didn't seem to have any impact whatsoever on the outcome of events. Sure it was annoying to have his built in A.I. complain that he needed an injection every few seconds, but it wasn't really that big of a hindrance. You can find vials of Synchrozine just laying around, which is used to refill your Sync meter and keep Dan level headed and your vision clear. You can overdose (you even get a trophy for it!) which I've only read increases your movement speed for a bit.
Follow the Patronus Harr... errr... Dan!
The game starts out friendly enough, but as you explore the suspect's nightmarish mental imagery and progress through the game, everything gets a lot creepier. I don't do well with horror games, and this one was pushing it. It's absolutely brimming with stupid jump-scares like pigeons, falling objects, or extra loud peels of thunder. There is plenty of suspenseful moments and slow building scares, but the latter parts of the game seem to favor the cheap thrills. Luckily for me, there is a mini game you can unlock levels for that serve as a much needed respite from the fever dreams and dark corridors of the game. It's basically an "8-bit" variation of old paper mazes you could buy, which involved a maze and the need to first pick up a spear (or flaming sword, in this case) before being able to pass by monsters.
The stealth/survival sections weren't really fleshed out well, and either results in an unexpected and very sudden death, or a stealth sequence you can just run through without actually having to use much stealth at all. The rest of the game is spent walking around, reading lore or scanning different things. The developers claim that everyone will have "different interpretations" and every clue will "mean something different to each individual", but that seems like a pretty outlandish claim. The "clues" in each persons dreamscape are neither mysterious nor thought-provoking. An ex-convict worried about parole hearings in his past, so in his nightmares he has monitors off to the side displaying statistics on how unlikely it is for offenders to make parole. A woman worries about her incurable mental degradation, and there are packets of psycho-therapy drugs scattered around on the floor in hers. There wasn't anything obscure that couldn't easily be explained, and I don't think any of it was open to interpretation, everything was very straight forward.
Net-picking (see what I did there?)
There are a lot of things that annoyed my during gameplay. First and foremost was the fact that the Synchrozine warning comes out of your speakers AND your controller, it also displays a subtitle on screen if you have them enabled (which I recommend). While annoying, it's downright game breaking when you try to listen to recorder play backs. If "she " warns you about Synchrozine levels while listening to one, there's a very high chance it will completely stop the playback of the recorder. I was able to restart it in most cases and listen to the whole recording, but one particular recording towards the end was completely broken and was so long that there was no way to listen to the whole message without shooting up to stop the warning.
Second, what's up with Rutger Hauer's voice acting? I don't claim to be a hardcore fan of his, but I have seen him in a few things, and it wasn't anything like it is in Observer. In the game, his performance is very stilted, and he randomly over-enunciates words or will say a last name completely differently than he did before. He tries to put a local spin on last names, which feels awkward, and he loses conviction in his voice halfway through a conversation. Maybe he's just too old to do this kind of thing anymore, or maybe he just didn't really care about the project in the first place, but his performance just doesn't come off as genuine. The other voice actors in the game were top notch though, but that brings me on the point number 3--
Why the heck does everybody's last name end in "-ski", yet everyone speaks with a New York/Jersey accent? Is this Krakow or not? I don't remember anyone having a nationalist accent or even speaking Polish. When I say "everybody", I literally mean every character in the game (OK maybe there are 1 or 2 that aren't). It's incredibly confusing to have all these characters with nearly identical last names, despite the fact that they are Americans.
In-game cameo for the studio's other games (fourth image)
Collectors and completionists may want to avoid this game-- once you finish it, it wipes out your single and only save. If you want to watch the other ending, you either need to save-scum (back up the save to a USB drive outside the game) first or play through the ENTIRE game a second time. Didn't find all the hidden messages or lore? Too bad, you must replay the entire game to see them, no matter how inconsequential they are. Want to know what happens if you don't pick a certain choice? Be prepared for disappointment... nothing you do affects the 2 game endings.
There were a few other things that bugged me about the game, like in the opening sequence how there was some sort of equipment that was sitting at 14 km/h, except nothing around you is moving. Also, next to that, is a button for Automatic Pilot-- can the car fly? That's cool! But wait, why is it a manual transmission? Are you telling me you have to fly with a manual transmission? Or is this to automatically drive the car around... but then how does it shift the gears? Does it have an auto-shifter built in? Wouldn't that just make the car automatic then, except with an annoying shift knob moving around the whole time and getting in the way? Why do some of the motherboards in the game still use electrolytic capacitors? Ok, I'll stop... on to the score!
Observer Launch Trailer
+ Incredible Environments
+ Mind-Bending Visual Sequences
+ Those Bloody Spiders!
- Choices Have No Impact
- Stilted Voice Acting
- Synchrozine Warnings
Aside from some minor, nit-picky assets and the facial animations, this game looks amazing. A great amount of time was spent in the design and structure of locations and effects.
Frustrating controls on the console version and having to flip-flop between viewing modes makes investigations a chore, especially if you are of a completionist's mindset and want to make sure you don't miss any collectible... which ultimately don't matter as the game wipes your save at the end.
There isn't much reason to play this game a second time through, even a casual player will have assembled the entire story in one play, and it isn't worth going through the entire game again just to see the other slightly different ending-- most people will just look it up on YouTube to save themselves the hassle.
out of 10
(not an average)
As far as budget titles go, this one is a little steep for the relative lack of gameplay and storyline you get packaged with it-- but if you like incredibly detailed and spooky atmospheres coupled with plenty of jump-scares, this one may be worth a buy for you.