Release Date: August 15th, 2017
Developer: Bloober Team
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
As I sit here in my Ghost in the Shell shirt playing through Observer, I realize that Bloober Team's new game is hitting all the right parts in what I've wanted in a science fiction game for a very long time. It has intriguing ideas, engaging dialogue, authentic acting, incredible, meticulously crafted level designs, horror elements, and so much more without being compromised by recycled enemies or an over emphatic need to push guns and action into it to appeal to the modern casual gamer.
Observer, brought to you by the talented folks behind a personal Horror favorite of mine, Layers of Fear, has a cyberpunk setting that's believable and curious to go through. You'll play as an old man, Dan Lazarski, who's been a neural detective - a specialty officer with the ability to hack into the minds of suspects - for quite some time that's looking into the disappearance of his son, who suddenly calls him one day, but seems to be in a need of help. While you track down what's happened to him, you'll come across a multitude of scenarios and people that dig deeper into the investigation of what's really happening, and you realize that, besides your son, there is something that is inherently wrong with what's happening within the city and the civilians that inhabit it. Technology, drugs, cryptocurrencies, cyborgs, and so much more come to life in the world of Observer, and it's all perfectly painted to make you feel invested and want to explore every nook and cranny possible.
Upon starting the game, Bloober Team have crafted one of the best opening sequences and videos I've seen in a while, rivaling some films and really sets the tone for the rest of the game much like The Last of Us did. The way it all seamlessly flows into each other is captivating, and on top of all of that, the game runs like a charm. The graphics have no right to be as gorgeous as they are, heightening the immersion further, and it all controls really well with a clean UI and system in place. Auto-saves are frequent and makes it great for the game to be enjoyed in short bursts or long sessions - whichever you prefer. The only real issue I noticed Observer had was that for whatever reason the main menu has some heavy lag. It's odd, since when you're actually in game and rendering everything it runs flawlessly, but the main menu chugs along, and it's noticeable as the cursor chops its way along the screen, meanwhile if you open up the start menu (not to be confused with the in-game menu that shows your tasks) that same cursor gracefully makes its way around the screen without fault. I suppose if there's any issue to have, it's better that it's something within the main menu than the game itself, but I found it very odd given how well optimized and impressive the game is from a technical standpoint.
Observer's pacing should be commended as it has a nice balance of exploration, investigative sequences, environmental interactions, and the like. Going from crime scene to crime scene, you're able to change your retina scan to read bio signatures like body heat, blood, artificial occurrences, while the other option allows the player to scan objects of interest, like picture frames, computer parts, bottles and the like. Using these mechanics will help uncover the environment and crime scenes to make sure you're getting all the information you need before moving on to your next objective and helping to further uncover the case. There are a lot of Ghost In The Shell elements here that really made me fall in love with it - as I feel there still hasn't been a proper GITS game made besides the limited Stand Alone Complex on PS2 and the heavily-inspired Oni - while having a familiarity that Bloober Team has stamped from their signature feeling and style from Layers of Fear.
Observer has equal parts investigation, explorative portions, and sections where you'll jack into the minds of people to uncover their memories and briefly relive their past to help make more sense of a situation. In some cases, memories will glitch out heavily (purposefully), and the way this is done is incredibly impressive. A lot of the scares are unexpected and authentic, achieving a better level of eerie atmospheres than Horror games and films where jump scares have become the norm and highly predictable. While you explore the minds of suspects or walk around the environment, most of what you see can be interacted with in some way, either by being able to be scanned or simply helping to bring the narrative to life through visuals of your surroundings, and causing odd things to happen either behind you or in front of you to make the sense of unease linger further. The sound design that absorbs you is a feat of its own, providing familiar yet new noises that keep you understanding yet curious.
Bloober Team have put together a game that touches just about every kind of aspect you'd want in a captivating cyberpunk detective story while bringing new ideas without overwhelming the player with too many mechanics, unnecessary moments, or forcing combat when there simply doesn't need to be any. My only real complaint with the overall game is that there isn't a feature for VR. Being put into that world would make Observer just that much more incredible to go through and experience - especially the glitch sequences. Tons of fantastic moments make Observer memorable and easily recommendable for those that want a great story in a thought-provoking setting, along with great graphics, performance, and easily one of the best first-person adventure and profound titles to come out in recent memory. Also, there's an awesome mini-game called Fire and Sword: Spiders that you'll find installed on various computers throughout the game, and it's fun and addictive, and adds another layer of depth and reason to what makes Observer so great. Observer is a treat and almost a love-letter of sorts to the sci-fi and cyberpunk genre that touches upon the likes of Ghost In The Shell, Bladerunner, and The Matrix, all while achieving excellence in storytelling, gameplay, design, and just about every facet of game development.
- Gorgeous, detailed, breathtaking graphics
- Immersive, investigative gameplay that feels like a thriller, with horror elements sprinkled on top
- Fantastic voice acting that feels genuine and further brings the characters to life, even irrelevant NPCs
- The environmental design is in a class of its own and tells a story along with the narrative
- Has probably the best opening video I've ever seen, on par with the likes of The Last of Us
- The investigative aspects of it, though great, can get a little tedious and feel prolonged. With no indication of when you've discovered everything you've needed to, it's hard to tell sometimes when you're done with an area and can move on without being penalized.
- There's no hand-holding whatsoever, which is rather nice, and though you have an objectives list in your menu, they're not checked off as you complete them. Some of them also say they're optional when they're in fact mandatory.