Observer belongs to the category of games that intrigue more than entertain. It is an adventure from the first person placed in close proximity, namely the year 2084 in which humanity has many reasons for joys. The world is governed by a corporation, and people are suffering from the consequences of transhumanism, dependence on holographic content, and overall degradation of life. In that rolling hopelessness, the player assumes the role of Daniel Lazarus, Observer – a licensed “cop” who has the permission to hack another’s mind, or enter someone’s head.
Lazaric is looking for his son, and the trail leads him through a suspicious set of circumstances during which several murders took place. Investigating the minds of the victims, Lazaris is somewhat losing sight of the whole investigation, because he is not alone with his own brain. This plot may not be completely original because we’ve been hanging out in Psychonaut so far, and if you watched Ghost in the Shell then the Observer would act like a big deja vu.
However, this does not diminish the value of what the game manages to achieve. The story balances her right around the mysterious and anticipated space. Each chapter gives the player a bit of crunchiness to send some information that comes closest to the whole picture – what’s happening in the game. In such a approach, there is not much room for deeper elaboration of characters, but the Observer deftly pays attention to the current events. This is best seen on stocks when exploring other people’s minds. Then the scenes alternate and mix very quickly, but in each you see something interesting and you go in response to the question of “itching”.
Observer skillfully keeps your attention on current events and there is no slowdown that would kick you out of the clock.
Although it sounds fun, the Observer is actually quite poor on the gameplay itself. The aforementioned hunting of the other mind has been imaginatively designed, but most of the imagination went on a visual scouting of the vanity of other memories through different image distortions. There are very few ideas in puzzles or elements of survival. Observer is described as a horror game, with you feeling threatened in just a few occasions that you can count on your fingertips. And even those cases when your adversary is mostly scripted and done in just a few seconds.
But the Observer is so uncomfortable in other ways. The ambiance of this game is convincingly its best part. You’ve been in some sort of ecstasy environment, run through the narrow corridors and hallucinate that bloodstains are scattered around them. Tenants with whom you communicate through the closed doors are mostly hysterical, depressed and imprecise. In the building you face the horrors you would expect in such a dubious location; Cases such as drug extortion, illegal operations, trafficking in human beings, etc.
You’ve been in some sort of ecstasy environment, run through the narrow corridors and hallucinate that bloodstains are scattered around them.
Of course, this design is not quite random. It’s a game of independent production and a limited budget, which is noticed in a static and closed environment, a very small number of characters, and in very simple gameplay mechanics. There is no physical model here to support the game, no interactive hiding, and any intimate encounter with the enemy is an instant game over. Your minds are largely guided by a linear path, and detective scanning is just a scanning. Do not expect any kind of scene reconstruction by Ethan Carter or Telltale’s Batman.
It is a good thing that none of the above is necessarily taken as an objection. The observer uses his weaknesses efficiently for other purposes. For example, indoor spaces favor claustrophobic ambience, lack of characters goes in favor of strangulation, and a simple gameplay keeps the game dynamic enough that there is no slowdown that the player would throw away from. Observer is a game that does not try to be more than what it can offer, and focus on the atmosphere is full of guesswork.
We could discuss whether this game could be more fun and with this focus on the ambiance. The answer is probably true, but I do not think this is the point of the Observer. If you want fun in a cyberpunk you have Deus Ex. If you want great open-world cyberpunk themes, wait for Cyberpunk 2074. Finally, if you want an intriguing story of about seven hours or an adventure that does not need to load RPG or survival elements, take a look at that Observer.