Originally released in 2017 by Bloober Team, Observer was a psychological horror noir tale told in a Cyberpunk world. Now in 2020, we have Observer: System Redux, a re-release of the original game with some updated graphics, raytracing, bonus side quests and quality of life improvements to UI and direction. The year is 2084 and you are an Observer, a special brand of police officer with an electromagnetic scanner, bio scanner and the ability to jack into people’s brains to see their nightmares, which leads into a whole heap of body horror elements. This is the world where we play: a world where people are replacing limbs with cybernetics and fusing with animals, and where cables and wires hang from every ceiling in a city covered in trash. It’s a grim future indeed.
As the classic noir detective gumshoe Daniel Lazarski–voiced fantastically by the late Rutger Hauer–you receive a call from your estranged son asking for help at a shady apartment complex. With the a shot at reconciliation in your sights, the plot reveals itself to be a madcap multiple murder mystery that spans the entire apartment complex and as always in these adventure style games, the plot is much bigger than you’d expect. I am a sucker for a good noir style game and Observer provides this in spades. Daniel Lazarski is brought to life beautifully with the perfect characteristics of a “down on his luck cop” with a “two days from retirement” attitude.
Observer: System Redux features a twisted story that kept me guessing until the very end and beyond, since multiple endings each bring new context to what the state of the world could be. Daniel reaches the site of his son’s distress call only to find a gruesome murder scene. This trend of always being two steps behind the killer continues throughout the narrative. He continues to explore the grungy apartment hallways interacting with the neighbors and looking for clues. The core mechanics of your investigations are analyzing clues found in the environment using your electromagnetic scanner vision for electronics, and a bio scanner for biological clues. This speaks thematically to a world where the electronic fuses with the biological. Where people replace their eyes with scanners, or arms with robotics. Finding the right clues will lead you down varying paths or conversations with witnesses later on, but this also gives plenty of environmental storytelling with neighbors giving flavor in conversations emphasizing the threats that loom in society as emails from characters reveal their character and true motivations.
The third key in your investigation is the Dream Eater, a neural uplink that connects to a person’s mind to see their nightmares, which when interpreted can provide critical clues to their past. These sequences are generally straightforward with occasional stealth sequences that if failed, can lead to automatic game overs. Neurally interrogating someone opens you up to a host of psychological frights, body horror, and intermittent jump scares, and are of a general unsettling nature, which plays to Observer’s benefit. I always found them interesting and unnerving, with breadcrumbs of the true nature of the person leading me down a path to the next fright. These always made me nervous, but the narrative pushed me to want to know more.
With Observer Redux, new bonus side cases are included. These side paths lead to secondary side cases that can be explored and solved, each with a storyline as complex and unsettling yet oddly satisfying as the main story. The characters and their stories further flesh out the already complicated world, exploring the cyber plague and body augmentation. Another of these cases is a bonus tribute to Rutger Hauer, which is a pleasant thing to find in a game that remains so dark and gritty. The bonus content also brings quality of life changes with more clearly defined interactive points in game, updated stealth sequences and clearer neural integration paths. Not to mention, the bonus 8 bit game within a game called Fire and Sword, an amusing little dungeon crawler has had more levels added to it. While silly, it is a fun time waster and strangely addicting.
These changes shave off the rough edges of an already well crafted narrative,making it much more accessible to others. Along with slight graphical improvements and ray tracing, Observer has never looked better. Redux takes an already well crafted game and improves upon its design to elevate the story and world even higher.
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