A tale of cyberpunk terror
It has come to my attention that the cyberpunk sub-genre has found its way to my desk and across my TV screens several times as of late. I feel like I’ve been looking at technologically modified humans, androids, rogue AI, and dystopian futures in some form all year long. First, it was Detroit: Become Human, then, the similar yet so very different State of Mind – I’ve also viewed TV shows and movies that touched on the genre. Now, the game Observer has made its way to me. It may have come out last year but it is a brand new adventure for me. When I first discovered that this game, developed by Bloober Team (who also developed Layers of Fear), was yet another adventure into a bleak, depressing future where humans lost their way trying to make more of themselves through technology – I honestly let out an audible sigh followed by the words, “here we go again!” Observer may have a similar setting when compared to the other games I mentioned, but that is as far as the similarities go. Observer is a frightful take on the cyberpunk scene and it is one that I will never be able to forget.
Welcome to Krakow 2084
Observer is set in the not too distant year of 2084 in Krakow, Poland (this is also where the development team is from). It seems as though most of the world’s population has somehow altered themselves with technology, which eventually led to the outbreak of a digital plague known as the nanophage. The nanophage resulted in countless deaths and led the entire planet to war. In the aftermath of this conflict, people were split into a class system and mega-corporations reign supreme. The story setup could lead into almost any game genre it wanted but the developer decided to stick to their guns (they also made Layers of Fear) and craft one hell of a horror tale with its box of toys.
You play as Daniel Lazarski, who is voiced by Rutger Hauer of Blade Runner fame. He is a detective that has been upgraded with some serious technology and is known as one of the infamous Observers. After tracing a phone call that is supposedly from his son Adam to a derelict class C (the lowest class) apartment building, Daniel decides to do some investigating and stumbles into a horrible series of events that kept me engaged and on the edge of my seat at all times. Observer is psychological horror adventuring at its very best.
The entire game is played from a first-person perspective, but don’t go in thinking that it is like a first-person shooter. In fact, you will never be tasked with any gunplay or attacking of any kind. This is much more like an adventure game and its world feels very lived in and organic. Everything seems to be coated in a very believable layer of filth and grime that will make you want to take a shower after a play session. The majority of the game places you in nothing but an apartment building. It’s a small map; one that is extremely detailed and fleshed out. The class C citizens of this place felt very real and they, along with the wonderfully realized setting, made the detective legwork of this game enthralling and mesmerizing every step of the way. When I was in control of Lazarski, I really felt like I was doing actual detective work. Walking door to door to pick up on potential new info was always pleasing. Exploring gruesome crime scenes with the use of Lazarski’s two augmented vision modes, which are the perks of being an Observer, was always fun and never out of place.
The game will also expect you to solve several puzzles along your journey. None of these are huge brain teasers, but they do expect you to be very observant of your environment. You’ll be searching for passcodes, messing with wiring and performing several other tasks that I don’t want to spoil here. There are also sections of the game that will have you jack into the minds of others to discover new information. These sections are where the horror elements truly shined and gripped me in ways that few horror games ever have. The game managed to get under my skin and actually disturb me quite a few times. Observer strings you along a fairly linear path, but it is a path that you will want to see to the end. It’s a mystery narrative that will pull you along and mess with your mind in the best of ways.
An invasion of the senses
I think what sells Observer so well as a horror game is its extremely top-notch audio and visual approach. Every hallway, room, and back alley that make up the game’s setting look extremely realistic and the first person perspective really helps to put you in Lazarski’s shoes. The psychedelic horror effects are pulled off amazingly well and everything is backed up by a sound design that may carry even more of the weight than the visuals. Every footstep that I made, all of the noises of the various inhabitants of the building and the synthesized science fiction score really helped to place me in every horrifying moment. The audio alone is something that must be experienced. Lazarski’s raspy voice really sets the mood perfectly and every character you meet, whether dead or alive, is written admirably with voice talent that matches everything else. I didn’t have to knock on every single door during this excursion, but the exceptional writing and voice-work led me to do so anyway. I wanted to hear what everyone had to say. This led me to find a few side cases that let me stray from the main path. While these side ventures were always brief, they were always worth my time. To say that the audio and visual experience is well done is a bit of an understatement in my opinion. Turn the lights out and the sound up to truly experience what Bloober Team has crafted here. It’s a treat that will invade your senses.
The one and only flaw.
As much as this game impressed me, all is not perfect in the halls and minds of Block C. There is one particular blemish on the product that stood out to me. Occasionally, you will be tasked with a few cat and mouse stealth sections where you must run and hide from a particular monstrosity. These sections of the game aren’t extremely long or difficult, but they can ruin the wonderful pacing of the game if you get hung up on any of them. They all take a bit of trial and error to overcome but don’t present any real difficulty. While they did cause me quite a bit of anxiety, they always felt a little out of place. These sections certainly don’t ruin the game by any means, but I can’t help feeling that the development team could have done more with them. The rest of the package is so good that these mediocre sections stand out that much more to me.
Even with the one single blemish that is the stealth sections, Observer is a stellar horror title that I don’t think any gamer should miss. You can get Observer for any of today’s consoles or the PC. If you have Microsoft’s Game Pass, you can download it to your hard drive right now. I highly recommend the title. I was so impressed that I will be keeping an eye on Bloober Team’s future titles from here on out.
As of the time of writing, a Nintendo Switch port of this game has been announced but a firm release date has not been given. We do know the port will feature support for both the system’s touch screen and gyro controls
Note: This game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
- You really feel like a detective.
- The audio/video design creates stellar horror experiences.
- The setting is extremely gripping.
- The forced stealth sections.