REVIEW – From the developers of Layers of Fear, comes the next harrowing horror title called Observer, in which Blade Runner fame Rutger Hauer goes on a mind bending investigation to find his son who he has not heard from for ten years. While Layers of Fear was a rather simple, and trippy adventure game, it was not special regarding narrative or graphics – plus it was rather bare bones, and felt like a horror version of Gone Home.
Still, Layers was a successful game which allowed the development team to expand and try out new ideas, and their newest project is, to say the least one of the most interesting adventure games of 2017. While initially, it might not seem that much of a refinement has been made from Layers to Observer (at least from the trailers), this game is much more stylish and deep compared to their initial experimentation with the horror genre.
Eye in the Sky
In Observer you play as Daniel Lazarski (voiced by Rutger Hauer) in the near future Poland of 2084 as a detective who can mind hack people and gain information if the person is not cooperative. The world of 2084 is one that has seen a global epidemic which was called the nanophage, a war simply dubbed as The Great Decimation, and after all this, now drug and VR is used by poor people to cope with reality within the walls of Krakow. Corporations rule the world, and the biggest one is Chiron that has all kinds of shady dealings within Krakow.
After a routine patrol, and check up by the local chief Daniel is contacted by his son, and after an ominous warning, he travels to an apartment complex that is full of lowlifes called Class C Citizens. In this building, Daniel will try to uncover not just a murder plot, but a conspiracy which might change the course of history.
While this all sounds exciting, do not expect to go into guns blazing against wild Cybermen. This is a more atmospheric game with lots of walking and reading text on futuristic computers in dimly lit rooms. It is essentially a future sci-fi noir game, and it is a mix between Blade Runner and The 13th Floor. While it is not an action game Rutger Hauer sells the hard-boiled detective in a dystopian future, and most of the voice work is pretty much on point. However the lip-synching sadly is at times a bit off when it comes to other characters. The scenarios presented within the story are spine-chilling and creepy (with the occasional jump scare). Also since this is made by Polish people be prepared to be depressed, and experience depressive scenery (just like in STALKER, and the Metro series).
Futuristic highly detailed poverty
While Layers of Fear was not a looker, Observer is both stylistically and graphically is a superb product. It runs on the Unreal Engine 4, and boy does it show! While most „walking simulator” games are low effort regarding environment and atmosphere (hell even Outlast 2 was mediocre in this regard), here the developers play with the weird trippy aspect of investigating memories. From weird metallic sounds to silhouettes of people shifting rapidly, and being transported to otherworldly sights the game has it all. In fact, it is a stark contrast to Layers of Fear’s simple narrative and the visual world (even though that game also had some trippy elements). The trippy scenes here are much more complex, and the environments are incredibly detailed. Sadly though while it is a highly detailed game with incredible atmosphere, it is a bit linear, and for some, the game might end up being boring.
The puzzles are also rather limited in this case and are a mixed bag. While some are fun and unique, I found that a few of them are pretty annoying, and some of them contain the usual tropes of be stealthy or die! However, it felt out of place for such a game especially since this is more of a noir game than a survival horror game. It forces a „horror” theme to the game, which it already had with its oppressive atmosphere, lore, and trippy visuals, but the developers for some reason decided these small sections are required somewhere within the gameplay loop. It’s not horrible, but at the same time, this type of gameplay could have been skipped entirely.
The other main gameplay loop for Observer is using your different view modes to investigate the crime scenes. One analyzes body parts, and blood, while the other allows you to scan electronic devices, and to hack doors to advance the storyline. The sequences experienced when exploring the NPCs’ brain is also fantastic, but at times it can drag on, and i
In the end, Observer is a rather long game, with great graphics, a fun plot, but a few off putting puzzles do lower the overall enjoyment of this game. It is not a full blown horror game though, and people should expect a much more tense, and slower game with more trippy scenes, than a monster chasing you down the hallways. A great game to experience, and a must for adventure game fans.
+ Rutger Hauer is awesome as a voice actor
+ Storyline is superb
+ Graphics are great
– Might be too boring for some (Walking simulator)
– Not enough refinement to advance the gameplay
– Forced „survival” sessions break the atmosphere
Developer: Bloober Team
Genre: Survival Horror
Relase date: August 15, 2017