I have many fond memories of playing games like MYST and The 7th Guest, having grown up in the days of early ’90s gaming. Then mystery / horror games evolved into more action-oriented titles like Resident Evil, and more recently Outlast and Alien: Isolation. And here we are today, with a return to a focus on storytelling – as well as top-notch visuals – in Bloober Team and Aspyr Media’s cyberpunk thriller: >observer_.
The year is 2084, and you are controlling police agent Daniel Lazarski, voiced by Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner). These futuristic detectives are known as observers, who are augmented with special abilities to analyze both electronic devices and scan for biological evidence. Observers can also plug into the minds of suspects to collect evidence, helping them to get to the bottom of violent crimes in the area. After receiving a message from your son, who you haven’t spoken with in years, you end up at nearby slum apartments to investigate. After discovering some terrifying evidence of violence, along with possible connections to your son, you realize that you may be in deeper than you originally realized.
The game is absolutely gorgeous. As a fan of films like the aforementioned Blade Runner (1982), and many others part of the cyberpunk genre (see The Matrix, Akira, Robocop, Ghost in the Shell, Hackers), the aesthetic is right up my alley. I remember playing the early ’90s puzzle games that I mentioned previously, and how stunning imagery added to the overall experience of the story. >Observer_ is no exception, as you explore the seedy apartments of Krakow (the Fifth Polish Republic) almost fifty years from now.
I played the game on PS4, which I truly feel is powerful enough to rival many of the gaming rigs out there. And I personally own a Geforce GTX 1080 and the latest generation Intel Core i7, so I’m no stranger to PC gaming. Although there were a few moments where the console lagged, due to all of the high quality textures and lighting on-screen, most of the time it was smooth sailing.
I constantly found myself stopping to take in the gorgeously crafted dystopian future. Even though the setting is dark and dirty, the surroundings are all beautifully crafted to fit perfectly into the cyberpunk genre.
Technically, the game is classified in the horror genre – although I would like to think of it as more of a psychological thriller. But in either case, it fits both categories well, and the sound design is extremely well crafted to make you feel uneasy throughout. Everything from footsteps, to the ominous score – and of course the creepy sounds and sudden bursts you would expect from a scary game – all add to the great experience.
I won’t lie, the controls took me a bit to get used to. I can see how using a keyboard and mouse could easily benefit the mechanics of controlling Lazarski. It is, after all, a first person game – which as a PC gamer I would usually say benefits from a mouse. However, after about an hour of playing I was a natural with a Dualshock 4, and the controls became second nature.
With a controller, movement is pretty basic with the usual analog sticks. Your triggers analyze objects and commence actions, while your bumpers control whether or not you are using the biological scanner or the electronic scanner. Both are very important, and need to be switched between during the same crime scenes for all of the evidence you will need.
Additionally, there is a hacking element which allows you to open doors and interact with terminals. Many of these require solving puzzles based on evidence you find, which adds to the puzzle element that I love.
While you are exploring the slums and searching for evidence, you interact with many of the tenants in the building. These conversations help your investigation along, and do a good job of adding to the overall suspense of story. Some of these people are pretty odd, and others are just downright funny. The developers created a lot of dialogue for the game, which I found to be quite intriguing as I played.
I found the story to be quite intriguing, while the game crossed off all my check-boxes for a horror / suspense game. >Observer_ is dark, and creepy. And there are definitely moments that will make you jump. If you can play the game on a large screen – preferably a projector – and with surround sound (or headphones if that is what you have access to) and, of course, in the dark – that is the best way to experience it. If you are fan of psychological thrillers, horror, and suspense – >observer_ has it all. And along with the beautiful cyberpunk visuals, it will have you sucked right into the dark and dingy dystopian future of 2084.