Observer (sometimes >observer_) has had an interesting journey. Releasing back in 2017 as a follow-up to developer Bloober Team’s acclaimed Layers of Fear, Observer felt like a heavy hitter. It had a great dark cyberpunk direction, and even had the great Rutger Hauer lend his voice and image as the game’s lead. Late last year the System Redux version released with new gameplay, including new quests, new secrets, new interactions, added mechanics, etc. (See our coverage for Observer: System Redux here) but it’s only now that System Redux has made its way to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One—and it’s just now that I’m finally getting around to playing it.
Observer: System Redux is an adventure game with a heavy psychological horror aspect. You play as an Observer—a specialized police officer with the ability to hack into people’s minds as a sort of advanced interrogation. If that sounds dark, that’s only the tip of the dystopian iceberg. Taking place in the year 2084, Observer features a particularly dark cyberpunk future where a techno virus killed thousands, and an ensuing war ensured that corporations held the most power over the people. And those people live in abject poverty and fear in a world overcome with horrible body modifications and nightmare inducing neural implants.
Rutger Hauer’s Daniel Lazarski is the vehicle for the story, and it’s through his eyes you see the world. Not much is known about Daniel besides what kicks off the story: his son, Adam, has gone missing. You search for him in a rundown apartment building (where most of the game takes place) and must use your investigative powers—both in the real world, and in the cyber world—to discover the fate of your son. Most of the game consists of walking around the maze-like tenement building, looking for clues, interacting with tenants, and solving puzzles. I wish I could say that the late Rutger Hauer really carries Observer, but his performance is mostly subdued, and mumbled. I had to turn on the closed captions to understand a lot of the dialogue.
Observer is at its best when it has you solving puzzles and investigating. It’s a bit like a point and click adventure in that—a highly stylized, horror-themed adventure. And as with most modern horror games, you don’t really have the ability to fight: there really isn’t combat, though there are sections where you have to avoid enemies. These are done in the typical modern horror cat and mouse style, and while they can be tense it’s mostly out of frustration than enjoyment. Some games really get these types of sequences right, but I’m not a fan of Bloober Team’s attempts, and it’s no different in Observer: System Redux.
While System Redux brings in some fantastic visuals to a game that already looked pretty great, a lot of what’s on screen in Observer feels overdone and cramped. Like Bloober Team was trying to fit as many trippy effects and detail at once. The effect, at first, is great—but after a while it felt like sensory overload. But, the attention to detail in Observer is great for world building, and I really appreciate the retro-future aesthetic, like Observer was ripped off of an 80’s VHS.
Observer: System Redux is the definitive version of Observer, and now that it’s finally showing up on last gen consoles, it feels like Observer has gone full circle. And now that I’ve finally gotten a chance to play it myself, I’m glad I did: it has a particular brand of horror that only Bloober Team can produce, and while Bloober Team tends to go a little heavy on trippy imagery, Observer: System Redux manages to stay focused, and thus, is one of their best outings.
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