Observer is the latest adventure-horror game from Bloober Team that has its roots sunk deep into a retro-future cyberpunk dystopia. It holds many similarities design choice wise to Layers of Fear which precedes Observer (of course a key difference behind locale and setting). You’ll spend most of the game locked in a poverty-ridden apartment block complex (which looks most brilliant on the outside especially) and, Observer makes proper good use of that space for the first part of the game. That being said though, Observer ultimately does overstay its welcome. Observer pushes an eight plus hour game when it would have sufficed to have done without all the “time filler”.
The year is 2084, and you play as Dan Lazarski, a cyber-enhanced cop that dons the title of ‘Observer’. In this dystopian future, everyone has a brain chip implanted in their heads which logs all the memories and past events done in their life. Dan is able to hack into these implants and witness their memories to gather useful information, but in-game this is more implied to be useful than actually being of a convenient use. When “merging” with the host you are able to take them on in persona and wonder about a virtual reproduction of their memories which will come off as very worn, jumbled, and glitchy. Its dramatized to give a “horror” feel but when cross-compared to the lore… you start to wonder how Dan ever solves a case because everything is so jumbled and left inconclusive.
Due to the events surrounding the game, a lock down has been placed upon the apartment. In your search to find your son and solve the crime scenes that keep popping up, you can interrogate the nearby tenants. Each door has a cool “vidcom” system that lets you talk to them through the door and interrogate them. This part is implemented well and even with the lack of faces, these people feel alive in this spliced up world. Observer does have that going for it as well as some light puzzle solving here and there.
As Dan starts cracking into skulls he finds himself falling into madness as the virtual world recreation, the world itself, and Dan’s own memories start to merge. Observer tries to throw a bunch of weird things at you in various sequences this way. Usually that includes a lot of warping imagery, flashes, and glitches which goes to the extreme and frequency that could make some nauseous. In theory this could be frightening but as the more it becomes overused, the more flat it falls on its face. Luckily, there are some other features that are less intrusive like a “Batman-style” crime scene scanner that lets you scan items and give you information on them. You’ll have plenty of crime scenes to scan (believe it or not) in this small space and its a well done part of the game.
Truth be told, Observer has an interesting premise. It’s world is very deep in overall concept. The real problem here is that a lot of the focus feels misplaced. Bloober Team relies a lot on a “shock-factor” that really desensitizes itself after a short period and as some have pointed out “becomes a walking simulator where you look at the next weird thing to happen”. The mainline of the story does have heart but sadly games like Soma have already done the overall undertones better and with much more connectable\lovable characters.