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Game Info:

>observer_ 
Developed By: Bloober Team SA
Published By: Aspyr
Released: August 15, 2017
Available On: Linux, macOS, PlayStation 4, Switch, Windows, Xbox One
Genre: Adventure
ESRB Rating: M for mature: intense violence, blood and gore, partial nudity, sexual themes, strong language, use of drugs
Number of Players: Single-player
Price: $29.99
(Humble Store Link)

Thank you Aspyr/Bloober Team SA for sending us a review code!

I remember when I was a child, consuming media that came out in the ’80s and ’90s that would talk about the “distant future of 201X” or whatever—featuring flying cars, towers that would reach the clouds, and interstellar travel resembling the daily commute. I’m sure you can all feel the disappointment when we are still nowhere near the fantasies of our minds that came to life on paper or in a film. Usually, these forms of entertainment would look at the future in a positive and hopeful light. Our Polish developers, Bloober Team, take the cyberpunk approach of gazing into the future with >observer_.

Set in 2084, >observer_ is a futuristic cyberpunk game where detective Daniel Lazarski is part of a corporate-funded police unit. Lazarski is a special case as his kind are known as Observers. An Observer has the ability to hack into a suspect’s mind. As you see, almost everyone in this distant future has augmentations to their body, such as robotic limbs or chips installed in their brain. Before the game begins, Lazarski narrates about how the current world came to be. A large-scale war broke out between the East and the West. It went horribly wrong. After the war, a disease broke out called the Nanophage that killed off a huge chunk of the population. Whoever is left in this crapsack world is now a broken shell of a human being. They desperately try to find any way possible to distract themselves—whether it is drugs, VR, or slapping on so many implants that you barely resemble a human. The world of >observer_ is already off to a bad start and doesn’t show any signs of getting better.

After resting from a previous investigation, Dan is awoken by his dispatcher, who is checking up on him to see if he is keeping up on his daily medication. Dan is then interrupted by an unknown interceptor over the communications, who then identifies himself as Adam, Dan’s estranged son, who fell out of contact years prior, pleading for Dan’s help. The call was traced back to the Stacks (more or less the slums of this time) and Dan hurries along to see what the issue is. After interacting with the strange and heavily augmented landlord, Janus, Dan enters Adam’s apartment. Unfortunately, Adam is nowhere to be found, but a headless body is found on the floor. Immediately after finding the body, the entire complex goes under lockdown and now it is up to Dan to find out what happened to his son, as well as to why the building is under lockdown in the first place.

>observer_
Highlights:

Strong Points: Excellent world design, visuals, and aesthetics; solid voice acting
Weak Points: Some of the gameplay portions feel tacked-on, and messy as a result; you have to replay the entire game from the beginning if you want to choose the other decisions
Moral Warnings: Constant swearing and blasphemy, typically f**k and s**t in almost every fourth or fifth sentence, and characters saying things like “godd**mit”; blood and gore shown throughout, with decapitated heads, intestines, and a literal tub of blood being a few examples; some rather immoral decisions can be made during some optional sidequests; a poster is seen later in the game showing a woman’s bare breasts; some email messages read in the game talk about issues such as drugs and drug trafficking, organ harvesting, and other questionable actions; slight instances of racism and sexism in dialogue; Daniel Lazarski, our protagonist, is forced to break police protocol to continue his investigation

>observer_ is entirely in first person where the majority of the plot takes place within the building. The overall gameplay is similar to “walking simulators” where the narrative and visuals take precedence over interactivity and feedback, with a first-person perspective to further immerse the player into. Dan is freely able to walk about and interact with objects and scenery while keeping up with his Synchrozine medication. Do not fret, there is more than enough of the medication scattered around to not be an issue to any player. Due to his augmentations, he also has the ability to see in three different vision modes. There is the electromagnetic vision that helps point out electronic devices, the bio vision that lets him see blood and wounds more clearly, and night vision. Dan also has the ability to hack into panels to unlock doors or other kinds of passages. Throughout the game, Dan will investigate areas, look into computers, and interrogate the residents to find more clues into his investigation. Even though it is not required to speak with every resident that you can, it’s well worth checking out to find out more of this depressing world and what the people do in it to get by. Also, each of the computers that Dan comes across contains a minigame called With Fire and Swords: Spiders, a rather simple 2D game where the goal is to collect all the 2D gold in a maze and deliver it to a wizard while avoiding or killing the spiders in the way.

Inspired by Blade Runner, >observer_ looks very depressing, with the game introducing you in the rain, and most of the scenery looking worn and out of shape. Even though >observer_ takes place much farther in the future, it keeps itself rather grounded in the advancements of society, unlike its other futuristic cyberpunk brothers and sisters. It does have the excuse that the people are just coming out from a major war and a severe outbreak so, in hindsight, it does make sense as to why there aren’t flying cars about. The dark and dreary realistic landscape does look really nice, and the few human models in the game look good too.

The visuals do not stop at the typical cyberpunk fare. As I mentioned previously, Dan has the ability to hack into people’s minds, as long as they are connected to the grid (which nearly everyone is). The moment Dan enters into someone’s mind is when >observer_ starts getting weird—very, very weird. This is also where the horror elements come into play. People hide many things in their subconscious—things that people would rather not have others look at if possible. There is a fine line between reality and the mind, and >observer_ plays with this concept. While the real world is spooky but grounded, the mind of these troubled and insane individuals is when it all breaks loose. The world of dreams is distorted, corrupted, and maddening, almost like a mixture of schizophrenia and a bad acid trip (not that I would know what either of those is like, mind you). The scenery of these dream sequences are not scary in the screaming kind of sense, but more of the unnerving kind that makes you feel like your skin is crawling. As Dan hacks further into the minds of these crazed individuals, it becomes harder for him to distinguish what is and isn’t real.

When using the different visions, almost all other sounds are blocked out. For example, the electromagnetic vision gives off a digital hum, while the bio vision makes it so that Dan’s heartbeat is the only audible sound. There isn’t much in >observer_ when it comes to musical score, but it makes up for its sounds. The tapping of Dan’s feet when walking through the building, the flapping of wings by the pigeons—it brings the world of >observer_ to life, or, you know, what’s left of it. The sound in the dream sequences, like the visuals, is of a distorted mess—a cacophony of madness. The voice talent is well done, with almost all lines of dialogue spoken by a voice actor. The people sound familiar and real, especially Dan, portrayed by Rutger Hauer. (Blade Runner fans will recognize him as Roy Batty.) Hauer’s performance of Dan is very authentic and captures the role of an aged, beaten man fed up with what the world has become, biting back with sarcasm. There also seems to be a small hint in his voice that he is holding on to something in the world—like he made a promise to upkeep.

I did come across some issues when playing. There was one moment where, in a dream sequence, Dan got stuck in place and I was forced to quit out of the game. Supposedly it isn’t the only case as other players have reported other instances of them getting stuck too. My biggest issue does actually come from the actual gameplay portions. In some dream sequences, there is a hide-and-seek mechanic. If you get caught, you get a game over. It took me by surprise at first because I thought the strong emphasis on narrative would mean there wouldn’t be any of these instances. It’s not like any of these game overs even mean anything as you immediately start at the point right before the hide-and-seek sections. There’s even one hide-and-seek section that puts you back to the starting point without a game over. It feels tacked-on to me, and the only reason it’s there in the first place (to my guess) is that it makes the achievement for not getting caught much easier to track.

My second biggest issue is the autosave function, in a way. There is only one save file for the whole game, and it autosaves at most points. Autosaving in itself is not the issue more so than the numerous “points of no return.” >observer_ has collectibles, you see. Now when there is at least half-dozen of these points where you can’t return scattered throughout the game, you understand what the issue with this is? It doesn’t end there either. Once you beat the game, you have to start the entire game over from the beginning. Considering that this is a game where you can make choices to see different outcomes and that you only really have one chance to collect all collectibles, it’s a rather strange, and poor design choice to make. I’m glad I got through my completionist phase or I would have put my head through a wall.

>observer_
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 82%
Gameplay - 15/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 45%
Violence - 0/10
Language - 1.5/10
Sexual Content - 6/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10

As evident of basically everything mentioned above, >observer_ is not for children in any sense of the concept (not that most children would be interested in the narrative in the first place). Blood is present in rather large quantities throughout the game, either on the floor, on the walls, or in other places. There are dead bodies present, such as a headless body, one guy’s intestines spilling out of his body, a literal tub of blood, and another committing suicide via hanging. You’ll rarely encounter any of these in action—mostly the aftermath of the violence, but it doesn’t make the act any less gruesome. With the gritty atmosphere, there is also constant language and blasphemy uttered, with f**k, s**t, and godd**mit being the words said the most. A few characters aren't the nicest bunch and do say some slight racist and sexist overtones. There are a lot of immoral decisions made by characters in the game explained through text or the dream sequences, and Dan has the option of making a few himself during some of the sidequests. (I’m a good boy, so I made all the ethical ones.) Some of these actions go into organ harvesting and drug trafficking. I also came across a poster pretty late into the game that showed a woman’s bare breasts. At one point in the narrative, Dan is forced to break police protocol to go further in his investigation.

When I think about cyberpunk films such as Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, The Matrix, or even cyberpunk games like the Deus Ex series, I never get that feeling from any of the mentioned that those situations can ever become real. The most frightening thing about >observer_ is that it really feels like a situation that can happen. With how grounded it keeps itself, how it adds commentary about relatable situations, and how it dives into the fears and worries that we push all the way in the back of our mind. It might, in fact, become our future if we’re not careful about our over-reliance of technology.

With a boatload of moral issues and concerns, I implore most of you to take a second look at >observer_ before buying, renting, or borrowing from a friend. The story lasts about six to nine hours, and an extra two or four if you’re willing to do a second playthrough for the choices you missed or skipped out on. If you can manage to get past all that, the gameplay issues, and some rather idiotic design choices, you are in for an engrossing, spine-tingling narrative with great sound and visual design that feels all too real.

About the Author

Cinque Pierre

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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