Allow me to preface this review by stating that I had to restart the game after several hours due to >Observer_ saving whilst I fell through an apartment floor. I experienced many, many bugs and glitches with Observer, and I’d have uninstalled the game without a second thought if I had not been hooked by several parts of the game before these issues started to appear. So, with that said, let’s get down to the brass tacks!
>Observer_, like one of my game of the year contenders, starts in a car. From there we witness the catalyst that starts the journey of Dan Lazarski, a detective-stroke-hacker known as an Observer. Dan Lazarski is voiced by Rutger Hauer – yes, Rutger Hauer of Blade Runner fame– and his performance is fantastic. He lent his features to main character’s model, too. After receiving an off-the-grid call from Adam, your Son, the game begins.
There are a lot of twists, turns and socially offensive moments in >Observer_, and I’d be remiss if I spoilt any of them for you. That being said, I’d struggle to review the game without at least painting a silhouette based on certain aspects of that game, so please bear with me.
What is immediate about the world of >Observer_ is that it’s gone to hell in a digital and augmented handbasket. Upon entering the courtyard of the apartment building you’ve tracked Adam down to, where you’ll spend most of your time – the use of the building is masterful by Bloober Team, you are greeted by bleeding neon, glitchy environments, and very little visual life – a message that flows throughout the close to dozen that you’ll spend with Dan. It doesn’t get much better when you enter the apartment complex. You’ll meet a war veteran, a scrap bot turned cleaner and even more hints that this experience won’t be any less of a mind-frick than Bloober Team’s previous hit, Layers of Fear.
After being introduced to the conversation system, which is simple by design, but encourages exploring the answers of those you talk to, you head off in the direction of Adam. This is where you will get what can be considered the tutorial section of >Observer_. You must establish a crime scene, using both electronic and biometric scanners to discover clues that will allow you to move forward. Most areas like this have the minimum items you should interact with, then several other bonus type items – these can lead to side quests in your police log.
The biometric scanner is by far the worst of the three vision modes that you have, as it can faux-blind you if there is nothing in the area; however, you need to use it, otherwise, you could be backtracking to swab that splatter of blood you missed several rooms back. Whereas the electronic and night vision modes allow you to still move around the world mostly unhindered whilst activated.
Dystopian Poland is the setting, though you’ll be hard-pressed to find any accents that aren’t heavily soaked in American. The general feeling of the world that Bloober has created with <Observer_ is one that’s only limited by the digital borders crafted by the mega corporations. Poland may be the setting of the adventure, but it may not look much different than an East Midland small town in the UK.
You see very few people in >Observer_, but that doesn’t stop the characters in the world from delivering chilling performances from the other side of their doors, or via distorted imagery within their digitally decaying minds.
As an Observer, you will spend a good chunk of time within the minds of other people, and it is apparent that it takes a toll on the Observer; These effects are a core strand of the passive narration in >Observer_, you question at times if what happened was real or simply a side-effect of your mind hacking activities. Hacking into the minds of the population of the Apartment building isn’t as regular as I’d have wished for, however, when it does happen it will consist of puzzles, some mini-games, and other activities – these usually mind specific, apart from burning Spiders.
Early on in your exploration of the apartment block, you will find a computer terminal that has a ROM on it that can be played, and this is where I had the most challenging times in >Observer_ that wasn’t due to bugs or glitches. The game consists of 10 levels, not all are on the same terminal and not all are on terminals you discover whilst playing the main story; you will find a good percentage off the beaten path, as well as finding other world building situations. These can range from following the roses left around the world, to collecting RC cars, and more.
I’ll hold my hands up, I had a really tough time reviewing >Observer_. Being forced to restart due to constantly falling through a floor, getting stuck under floorboards, or reloading the game due to not being able to continue the story as an NPC was not present in a room, and more annoyances.
However, I can say that outside of all those frustrations, I had a good time in the shoes of Dan Lazarski. The social messages laid around in the world created by Bloober are clear and at times all too real. Having my dozen hours being narrated by Rutger Hauer sure helped keep me invested, as did the nicely placed story – which, if not a little cliché near the end, was a joy to experience.