Observer is a game that offers a grim look at a not so distant future, offering a terrifying and thought provoking experience. It follows Daniel Lazarski a police detective with a special title and ability; he’s called an observer and he can jack into people’s minds.
Daniel is looking for his son who sends him a strange message after years of being estranged. >Observer_ (to give its slightly strange full name) is a horror based experience so the journey that Daniel has to take to find his son will not be a pleasant one. The rabbit hole that the player will go down is strange and surreal and not one that they will likely forget anytime soon.
The game is clearly inspired from a cyberpunk aesthetic; the world is dark and grimy, filled with technological refuse. A great global war has swept the planet leaving major governments in ruin, while a huge corporation called Chiron has taken over Poland. Daniel works in one of the major cities that Chiron rules over with an iron fist. Most of the game is set in a rundown apartment complex, tenements for the lower level people of this new society. All citizens are set into classes and the worst of the worst come here. The building is in complete disarray, trash is littered everywhere, lights flicker on and off, wires are strewn about, and graffiti plasters every wall. The building holds more than meets the eye however and you’ll see some unusual sights hidden in its walls.
Atmosphere is one of Observer’s greatest assets and despite the horrible surroundings, macabre beauty shines through. Something that supplements the immersion is the fantastic sound design. The sounds that you hear while creeping through the halls are all excellent, from creaking wood to the hum of computer systems, it adds a sense of place that really grounds the player. There’s plenty to say about the ambient music too, which is beyond creepy, ranging from industrial bangs to church bells. The graphics are gorgeous, Observer really shows what the Unreal Engine 4 can do, and both the textures and lighting are top notch, looking surprising good on the Nintendo Switch. I was especially impressed with certain sections where the game actions eccentric visual tricks like the many times where it goes into a timelapse on repeat around you.
These sections are the showcase of Observer, the segments when Daniel goes into a victims mind. The player does this several times while trying to solve the mystery and every one is more impressive than the last. This where the game is most abstract and creative, both visually and interactively. It’s so intriguing going through the subconscious of different people, and it can also be truly disturbing.
Most of the gameplay present through the experience focuses simply on walking around, solving small puzzles, and talking to the inhabitants of the building. However in these parts where you’re diving through people’s minds, the threats become much more menacing. The gameplay quickly becomes an aggressive hide and seek with an unknown creature; picture Amnesia or Outlast. These confrontations feel fair and can be truly terrifying as they often come as a surprise to the player. Sights that you see are also terrifying, every brain is different and the game does a fantastic job of creating a vision of a digitized subconscious that’s truly unique.
The writing is compelling the whole way through and it must be said that the mystery pulled me through the game. I wanted to know every answer to the questions presented, and once I got to the end was fully satisfied with the answers that were provided. Although I greatly enjoyed the main plot, the real highlight is found in the writing, especially with the conversations you can have with people that live in the tenement. There is a wide variety of strange and absurd characters that you will meet and they offer well written illuminations about the wider world. These are some of the best moments of the game. All of this is improved by the mostly fantastic voice acting, everyone besides maybe Daniel has voice work that is superb.
This is not a game for everyone however, as it is very slow and a mostly story focused experience. If you want a more involved or fast paced kind of game, then you’ll want to steer far away from Observer because in terms of gameplay it is very basic. In general the story that it tells is very local and in the broadest sense, not much happens. It can also give a feeling of being too short at only around seven hours, although it’s a testament to the game that I wanted more.
This port of Observer on the Nintendo Switch is surprisingly good and well featured. Observer is an intensive game and it’s quite impressive to see that the Switch runs it without any problems; the frame rate stays solid and there are few technical hiccups. It shows the Switch’s potential of being able to play a high production game on mobile. Not only that but the Switch port has new controlling functionality like being able to use the motion controls to open doors or using the touchpad to type in numbers. The development team didn’t need to add these features but it’s a nice addition nonetheless.
>Observer_ is among the highest class of narrative driven games, and the story is gripping with some of the best visuals I’ve seen in a long time. The world it creates is one that is intelligent and deep, making you want to learn more. There are not many games of this genre with such high production values so it’s really nice to see, and therefore, if you love horror games, Observer is more than worth your time and money.
It’s an immersive and bleak trip that you won’t soon forget.
Release date: February 2019
Formats: Nintendo Switch (Review)
Massive thanks to: Bloober Team