Set in 2084 Poland, you are introduced to a dark, cold, world after “the nanophage” and “the war.” Citizens who managed to survive spend their time using VR and advanced tech to keep themselves isolated from the terror that surrounds them. They live in fear of crime, war, plague, and of course the “Observers.”
You play as one such Observer, Dan Lazarski. If he sounds familiar, it may be because the voice actor is Rutger Hauer, who starred in Blade Runner. The man has an aesthetic, that’s certain.
Lazarski is a detective who uses neural connections to tap into people’s minds in the pursuit of justice. Memories, feelings- nothing is safe, and anything can be used against you. Right off the bat, your normal life is interrupted by a transmission from your estranged son. Things don’t sound good, and you need to find him, and help him, whether he wants you to or not.
>Observer_ plants the seeds of a massive, terrifying world. A narration and text crawl introduces you to the history of the world, and the introductory scene in your police cruiser sets the aesthetic.
Strength in Setting
What you get is a game that primarily takes place in a very tightly contained tenement building, not this wide open world. This creates a much more intense sense of tension to the game. The claustrophobic, dirty building is viscerally real. There are thousands of cyberpunk stories out there; Observer is at its core a murder mystery taking place with the backdrop of a world torn apart by war and sickness.
There is something about the clear acknowledgement of how horrible this is for the people who don’t have everything that makes the setting more realistic and intense. Lazarski even mourns that his son has moved to such a dead end location. A call from Lazarski’s son, Adam, sends the detective to see his son. What he gets though is a chase to find the identity of a murdered man. Through investigation and mind hacking, Lazarski needs to get to the bottom of what happened before he ends up dead too.
The dialogue with people through their peepholes is fascinating. There is real variety in NPCs, which makes the setting and gameplay more interesting. You don’t have to deal with a ton of characters who all have the same one note cop hating attitude (although plenty do, for one reason or another). One of the highlights is an answering machine message of an overly chipper couple. You listen to their cutesy dialogue while in a hallway strewn with mysterious stains. They do a good job of making the characters seem alive, even though you don’t interact face to face.
The Creep Factor
Observer hits the “creepy” nail square on the head. The dark, quiet atmosphere leaves you nervous every time you have to enter a room, or go around a corner. With the other residents of the building all shut behind doors, a movement in your periphery or a noise behind you ratchets the sense of dread up. The sequences of neural networking are fantastic. The art is so eerie and unsettling, that you feel yourself hesitant to proceed forward.
To investigate, Lazarski also has bio and tech vision in addition to normal sight. His bio vision can help you identify things like blood stains, while the tech vision can identify technology worth investigating. The limited colors make the setting even more creepy, as they make the possibility of a jump scare even higher.
The trouble is the controls on the Switch are extremely awkward. You move painfully slowly, and to sprint you have to click down on the joy stick, which even on the pro controller is uncomfortable.
It doesn’t help that the game isn’t fast paced either. It’s a thriller that isn’t constantly ramping up the tension. Most of the excitement comes at the end, all at once. It’s hard to know when you’ve gotten all the info you’re going to get from a location. There aren’t clear cues for when it’s time to move on, which just adds to the drag.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Observer_ was provided by the publisher.