There are two things I love, cyberpunk and horror. Seeing Observer combined both I had to play it. I was not disappointed.
The game takes place in the Fifth Polish Republic, ruled by the corporation Chiron after a digital plague and a war. The game takes place in a dystopia where many have become drug or hologram addicts. You play as Daniel Lazarski, an Observer. Observers are a special police unit that have license to hack others minds.
You start the game hanging out in your cruiser talking to your supervisor when you get a strange call from your estranged son. You track the signal to an apartment building. Arriving at the building you start investigating and discover your son was involved in some shady stuff. He also might be dead. The beginning of your investigation triggers a lockdown of the building. Further investigation into your son is what drives the main narrative of the game. It’s mostly a personal story about the hunt for your son and reconciling the personal history with him.
Most of the game is a traditional adventure game but in the second half of the game there are some run or die sections that have become standard in horror games. You walk and look around with your standard WASD and mouse setup. You can interact with the environment but you don’t have an inventory. There are a couple of scanner devices you have that highlights things in the environment you can scan for more information.
The selling point of the game is the fact that you can enter other people’s minds to explore their memories. The memory environments are really well done and are where a lot of the horror elements come in. They are not straight forward and feel like what it would be like to be in someone’s head. Disjointed and abstract. The game is pretty linear so you have predetermined individuals you jack into for narrative purposes. I think it would be cool and would enjoy it if someone took the ideas here and applied them to a game with a more open-world set-up.
The puzzles were well designed. They felt natural to the environment you navigate. They can be a little weird but that is down to the nature of the game. The technology in the game allows for interesting puzzle designs. My favorite puzzle was the hologram trap puzzle. You enter a room and then find yourself in an endless forest. Using your scanners you see that the forest is just a holographic projection. You end up having to sonar your way around the actual room to set yourself free.
The memory environments are also used nicely for puzzles. There is one point where you seem to be just looping around the same rooms but if you pay attention to the TV screens you can find your way out. There is another one that involves a floating TV set crying like a baby that provides the light and key for you to advance ahead.
The game does have a few run or die sections in the back half of the game. I was really annoyed when they first came up. I’m not the biggest fan of the run or die design that has become so pervasive in horror games. But I did get used to these sections and they didn’t bother me as much. There is only one enemy you have to run or die from in the game and these sections are only in the memory environments. There is another enemy in the real world but your only confrontation with him is more of cinematic thing.
The parts of the game of the game I enjoyed the most had nothing to do with the main narrative. Walking around the apartment building you can communicate with the other tenants. You get little snippets of the lives of the people in this world. You can go into some of the apartments and look at people’s e-mails. Again another nice peak into people’s lives. Like I said the game is pretty linear but it does have one side mission that involves organ harvesting. You can completely ignore it but it was a nice flourish of world building that made the game more enjoyable. Even though it was only a small part of the game I think I enjoyed it a little more than the main story.
Observer is a gorgeous game. I adored the cyberpunk world it presented to the player. There aren’t a ton of cyberpunk games out there so it’s always a pleasure to see something as well done as Observer. The game also has decent horror and unsettling imagery. The voice work in the game is good and of course the character you play is voiced by Rutger Hauer, who is no stranger to the cyberpunk genre. He does really well here in a video game.
Overall Observer is a solid game. I tried doing everything I could and I think I played it in about 6 hours. There are only two endings to the game and which one you get is based on a decision you make at the end. Your choice somewhat depends on your philosophy of identity. Well I enjoyed the singular narrative of Observer I would like to see some of the ideas and concepts presented in the game picked up and done in a more open-world or RPG setting. I liked the world I played in and would like to see future games in a similar vein.