First Impressions: Observer

Genre: First-person adventure, survival horror
Developer: Bloober Team
Platform: Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Mac, Linux
Release: August 15, 2017

I bought this game off Steam last Friday after reading a handful of reviews. The PC version fell short of an 80 on Metacritic, but that isn’t a failure condition like when I was younger. I’ve played nine hours so far, and it seems decent, although I haven’t reached the ending yet. I’ll post a full review after I finish.

An epilepsy warning. Global war between East and West. Cybernetic implants, and a plague that makes them consume your organs. A corporation so powerful it governs a nation, dividing humans into social castes with different voting rights. Your character introduces himself before the title screen, delivering a monologue on the game’s backstory. It’s an effective introduction, although I could imagine some players accidently skipping it.

You arrive in the first gameplay scene slumped back in a car, injecting Synchrozine to stabilize your mechanical parts. Your vision blurs when you go too long without it, and after memory sequences. My supply of the drug has never run low, but it makes your powers a little more threatening. It’s a classic cyberpunk setup, but it’s refreshing to find a game where you aren’t a super soldier.

Instead, you’re a augmented police officer working for the corporate structure. Nine hours in, I haven’t found any firearms, blades, or other weaponry, except as unusable props. There’s no hand-to-hand combat, or even a jump button. Instead, you follow a trail of murders, scanning electronics and body parts in an effort to find the killer. You spend the game in a class C apartment complex, filled with hologram addicts, controlled sedatives, and the occasional organ dealer. The residents fear you, partly for your invasive evidence gathering, and partly for your association with corporate power. It’s been an intriguing journey so far, although the lead’s voice acting is too sluggish for my tastes.

Your implants allow you to scan for electronic parts and organic matter, produce night vision, or hack into the brains of others, experiencing their memories in tortured, hallucinatory binges. These binges are your primary means of gathering information. You’re thrown between rooms that grow, pulsate, scream demonically, sprout intestinal tissue in your face, and pour electronic feedback into your ears, while you try to discern plot details from the translucent, jerky human figures around you. Most of the visions can’t kill you, but you never know what to expect. I once saw a pipe vomit bloody laundry, complete with shaking and very human gurgles.

That said, it quit scaring me after the first few hours. It threw too many screams and furniture at me in too short a period of time, and because I’ve rarely been in danger, I’ve rarely been forced to confront them like in other horror games. Movies let you look away until a particular scene finishes, and Observer mostly does as well.

When enemies do appear, Observer follows the Amnesia school of not allowing you to fight back. In some ways, it goes further. When detected, you’re immediately dragged out and killed. But the monsters I’ve run into have a narrow visual range, and I was able to avoid them by hiding under desks, even when they trudged right beside me.

All in all, it seems like a strong title. It has an extreme ratio of story-over-action, which might drive some players away, but I’ve enjoyed it so far. I’ve noticed some of the dark backstory elements haven’t made a strong appearance in gameplay, and I’m hoping they’ll be integrated more by the time I finish. One reviewer thought the ending was very weak, but I haven’t spoiled it for myself, and I’ve only used guides to solve a small number of puzzles I didn’t have time to figure out manually. I’d like to write a review later this week, but I have an essay to write for school, and I want to study technique a little first. I’ve been reading old issues of Game Informer in my spare time.


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