I’m a sucker for science fiction, especially sci-fi mystery that brings you into situations that have an obvious mystery: derelict spaceships/stations, unexplained phenomena, etc. So Observation was right up my alley—it has a mystery, and mysteriously (semi) abandoned stations to explore. If I was a cat, this would be my catnip.
Observation is an adventure game with puzzle elements developed by No Code. There is a catastrophic accident on the space station Observation, and you must help Emma Fisher figure out what happened. The thing is: you’re the station’s AI, named SAM. You don’t have a body; instead you’re forced to interact with the environment through closed circuit cameras. Most of them are stationary, but sometimes you will be able to possess camera spheres that allow you to float (slowly) around the station. Your computer core has been corrupted, though, so you’ll be spending a lot of your time relearning your duties, and re-linking to various station systems you have lost connections to.
Your companion through the majority of this adventure is astronaut Emma Fisher. She serves as your human guide to what’s happening around you. She’s a human companion that is there to express fear and other emotions past AI SAM’s monotone. It works, as Emma seems like she has a genuine concern for even SAM. The voice acting of Kezia Burrows makes Emma the character she is, especially because the wooden, emotionless character model doesn’t do the character any favors.
As you’re discovering what has happened to Observation, SAM begins to get strange messages from an unknown entity. The entity only gives you one cryptic message: bring her. That is, after you play a game of picture matching with it with tones that remind me of the call and response from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
The puzzles are the meat of the gameplay in Observation, but they’re not what you’ll spend most of your time doing. The puzzles are often simple, with answers given through finding data or otherwise following on-screen instructions. That’s not to say they weren’t enjoyable, but I think only one of these “puzzles” stumped me by puzzle element alone. The hardest part of figuring them out was the UI. You don’t just interact with the interfaces of the various station systems, but you also have to relay information to Emma at times, and this isn’t always clear. It’s not always clear which part of these UI elements are interactive, either, so there was a lot of clicking random parts of an interface until I figured out what worked.
I wish Observation had me scratching my head as to how to get past a tricky obstacle, but that’s just not the case. Most of my time spent in Observation was looking for the next thing to interact with. I don’t mean because it’s not clear: there are objectives shown on your objective screen, but there are no markers. You must use all of your UI elements to figure out where exactly they want you to go, and what they want you to do once you get there. And there are never any instructions.
“Moving” around the station to the various closed circuit cameras is actually annoying after a while. Moving around in the sphere is equally annoying, as it’s incredibly SLOW, and makes looking for your next interactive object that much more annoying.
You can make no meaningful choices that have an impact on the story. No matter what you do, the story will play out the same way, which is sort of a bummer. This also removes most of the replayability options you have, unless you want to find data logs or other information that you might have missed your first time through.
Where the story goes wrong is its insistence on remaining cryptic. I won’t spoil it, but even after you have the curtain pulled away to reveal the machinations that brought you to the climax, I was left feeling unsatisfied with the conclusion. Not that I wanted it to keep going, or that I need more. It was more like: “That’s it? Well, that’s underwhelming.” Despite the game bringing you to this grand moment, I felt like there wasn’t enough connection to what happened before to appreciate it. And usually, I would just embrace the crazy and worry about the “why?” of it all afterwards, but that nagging “why” bugged me through the whole sequence.
It felt like the story for Observation was heading in two different directions, and instead of choosing one, writer/director Jon McKellan decided to go both ways—and instead of explaining either of them, we end up with both of them.
Don’t get me wrong: I actually liked the concept of the end, but I feel like it just didn’t stick the landing quite perfectly–which pretty much sums up my feelings about the rest of Observation.
But, I would definitely still recommend Observation for those die-hard science fiction fans like me. If you can get past the puzzles and their confusing UI, then you’ll probably enjoy your time bumping around Observation. It’s a solid sci-fi adventure mystery game that will hold you until the end.
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