Observer PS4 Review

September 12, 2017 by  
Filed under PS4, Reviews & Features, PlayStation

Publisher: Aspyr  Developer: Bloober Team  Genre: Psychological Horror  Players: 1  

Age Rating: 16+  Other console/handheld formats: Xbox One

Set 60 years from now in a bleak future in which people can be augmented with robotic limb or organ replacements (Deus Ex style), a deadly disease known as the ‘nanophage’, which targets augmented people, keeps everyone on tenterhooks and fearing another outbreak. The Great Plague caused public unrest and riots, aimed at Chiron, the Umbrella of this world, who were criticised for the questionable methods used to contain this fatal outbreak.

You can play mini games on some of the computers, and can also find collectable images of people who were infected by the nanophage.

Highly populated areas are most at risk, especially in areas where there is a surge in cheap, defective implants. Because of this, quarantine methods have been put in place, one including a lockdown of apartment buildings upon any detection of the disease. The building is completely shut off from the outside, steel shutters keeping people from entering the building, and sturdy metal doors on individual apartments keeping residents from leaving, their only communication to the outside being through an electronic monitor on their front doors.

Observer takes place in one such building. Daniel Lazarski turns up looking for his son, Adam, who has phoned him urgently. Upon entering Adam’s apartment, Daniel notices a dead, headless body, with no sign of his son. The alarms in the building are suddenly set off, resulting in a lockdown, and with Daniel Lazarski trapped inside, the mystery is set in motion.

In this world, an ‘observer’ is a special kind of police officer who is fitted with implants that allow them to examine crime scenes, and who can also connect to the victim to extract any vital information. Daniel Lazarski is one such observer, and it’s his special abilities that you will be using throughout the game.

As Daniel wanders around the building, various missions crop up that he needs to investigate. These missions are optional, but are worth discovering as you’ll find out more about the world that Daniel inhabits. Some of these missions include finding and examining dead bodies, Daniel’s augments being put to good use. Pressing the L1 button brings up his Bio vision, which allows Daniel to inspect blood and other natural elements, such as metals and fibres. Pressing the R1 button brings up his Electromagnetic vision, whereby Daniel can examine electronic hardware, and also allows for you to see objects that you can interact with.

Daniel, upon coming across a crime scene, can examine dead bodies for injuries and augments, and his special Dream Eater augment allows him to connect to his victims, and here is where Bloober really put their special effects wizardry to the test; the makers of Layers of Fear, if you’ve played that game you’ll have an understanding of the trippy visuals they like to employ. Daniel connects to his victims to find out what their movements were before their current predicament (they have to be alive for Daniel to connect to them), their memories blurring together and welcoming you into a world full of glitchy and buggy static, mixed surreal imagery and haunting, echoey voices.

Daniel needs to take Synchrozine periodically to keep stabilised; you’ll know when he is low as the screen becomes fuzzy.

A horror game, you’d expect these trippy moments to be scary, but they certainly aren’t. These moments do manage to make you feel exactly as you would expect if you found yourself in a dream – lost, and confused. But while this visual style offers something quite different, it never really made me anticipate what was going to happen next, and after a while these moments started to grate on me. They are trippy moments, so you expect the unexpected, and it’s not as scary if you know something is going to happen, it’s just a matter of waiting.

I did expect to be wandering around a lot during these segments, expecting to be taken on a psychedelic journey, though Bloober do make sure to mix things up and sometimes you’ll be given something to do. In some visions you’ll be given puzzles to complete, and will even be chased by an enemy at times (game over if he gets you). Despite trying to show off what surreal visuals games could be capable of though, mostly these sections felt like filler, and I found myself desperate to get back to some proper, grounded gameplay.

By far the scarier parts of the game is when Daniel is in reality and roaming around the grungy apartments, which look incredibly creepy and run down, and gives a sense of claustrophobia as you walk around. He can speak to people through the monitors on their doors, interrogating them for information. Rutger Haur provides the voice of Daniel and he does a decent job of making the character feel believable and as though he has been through the mill, though the voice acting of some of the other characters feels a bit out of tone with the game itself, exaggerated, almost cartoonish. I expect the developers were trying to go for a horror noir tone for the game (it’s actually cyberpunk), but it certainly didn’t mix well.

Sound design has been done well though, with noises just out of earshot that make you feel as though you don’t really want to explore any further, but know you have to if you want to make any progress. Shadows of something lurking down a corridor also stops you in your tracks and makes you feel hesitant to move forward; exploring the apartment block and uncovering its secrets is definitely the better part of the game.

Towards the end, I felt Daniel’s abilities were used less and less. Adding a few more bodies to examine would have balanced the gameplay.

Observer adds a bit more substance to the plot than what Layers of Fear had. You have Daniel and his estranged son trying to reconnect through whatever is happening in the building; Daniel needs to find out exactly what has caused this lockdown, amongst other mysteries, and even needs to come to terms with some inner demons of his own, his memories bleeding into those of his victims who he connects to. The morals surrounding augmentation is also questioned again; is it good? Bad? Are you still human if you have these synthetic limbs? Some of the residents will give you their ideas on what they believe, and you can choose Daniel’s responses.

I didn’t know what to expect going into this game; I assumed it was going to be a linear experience, going from one place to the next, though the entire game takes place in one apartment building, giving you only glimpses into the outside world and making you wonder what has become of this future.

Bloober certainly know how to create some very strange visuals, though this time they have managed to couple that with a competent story, rather than it just being about exploring a ‘scary haunted house’ where random stuff happens; the trippy visuals here do help to move the story along, if only prolonging the eventual revelation. Daniel Lazarski is an intriguing character, helped by Rutger Haur, though much of the rest of the voice acting is questionable, bordering on terrible. Observer can be tense and scary, but not in the places the developers probably expected – the real world is far more scary to wander around than the dream worlds.

However, Bloober has managed to make a very playable game, one with interesting visuals and a mysterious story that will keep you invested. There are some aspects that let the game down but certainly a lot of effort has been made to make this an entertaining experience, and one I would definitely recommend playing.