Caution: Minor Spoilers
Observation is a narrative driven thriller developed by No Code and published by Devolver Digital. The game places you in the seat of an AI with no memory of any previous functions. As you traverse the space station and perform tasks, you’ll find that things aren’t what they are supposed to be and that you are responsible for the problems.
Observation will be available for PC on the Epic Store, and the PS4 starting on 21 May 19.
Open the pod bay doors Ha…errrr SAM.
Observation places you in the role of SAM, an AI that assists in running a space station. Since you are acting as an AI, you’ll be performing many functions that range between basic and pivotal. Much of the game will rotate between possessing the stations cameras, making observations, performing tasks, and driving flight-capable spheres (drones).
The computational functions performed by SAM are often lost to the perspective of the player. This ties into the story as SAM’s memory was wiped clean prior to the start of the game. He has to reacquire his functions as he figures out what those parameters are. This situation is compounded by the fact that something on the station is clearly amiss and SAM can sometimes choose to be disobedient if the player feels something is incorrect. In terms of the story, sometimes the humans will accept this, and other times they will override SAM or attempt to subvert him.
To move around, SAM will utilize the stations cameras and will eventually gain the function to possess spherical drones. Both of these modes allow for SAM to make observations and to perform tasks. He typically needs a line of sight to link with and interface with the stations various functions such as hatch locks and personal laptops.
SAM’s duties in Observation will find you both in and outside of the station various times, but your role typically remains that of a AI based assistant. Since this is a story based game, SAM’s minor choices won’t derail the main plot, but they can provide some interesting dialogue options and scenes. Examples of SAM’s duties include analyzing station alerts, making reports to human counterparts, and then attempting to repair anomalies based on human input.
Observation is a single player offline game and there are currently no alternative modes. As of the time of this writing I do not know of any planned DLC. There is a small factor of replayability for completionists as you may want to collect all the documents and other memory nodes. I would rate the average play-through at 10 to 15 hours, though as usual, that will vary depending on the player.
As SAM, Observation takes you on the journey of an AI who has recently come into consciousness with no recollection of his primary duties or functions. SAM’s journey of self discovery and his compliance and disobedience helps drive the narrative of Observation alongside his human companion, Dr. Emma Fisher.
On the space station, odd things are happening and as Emma investigates, she primarily relies on SAM for assistance, but there are times when SAM needs Emma to help complete his tasks, forcing a co-reliance on one another. As the story progresses, SAM and Emma find that they are not where they are supposed to be and that SAM may be the reason behind the dislocation. Both characters must then explore why they are there and what the catalyst behind the odd circumstances are.
In addition to the primary narrative, you can also explore data logs and documents throughout the various locations you’ll visit. These don’t really provide any advantage as the game is story based, but it does fill in many gaps in the story. It will also allow you to learn each supporting character’s role, fate, and backstory.
On the control side of things, Observation plays very much like a Telltale game or other similar story driven narrative type of game with assorted inputs. Since you play as an AI, many of your tasks will be analytical in nature and will require simple button presses. Some of them however are puzzle based and will require more dexterous approach. At times, a simple button command is used while others require short term memory or analog calibration.
One area where I think Observation shines is in the omission of some directions. As an AI whose memory has been wiped, you are often assigned tasks for which your are simply not ready. Relearning these tasks is part of SAM’s growth process and is intrinsically tied to the story.
Camera settings vary depending on what SAM is doing. His primary method of observation is the internal and external cameras of the station. After some progress, SAM gains the ability to transfer himself into a mobile spherical probe which has its own controls for flight functions and the camera.
As SAM can only see through objects which possess a camera, the game takes place in the first person perspective. The overall graphical quality is ample for a story based game. Some of the effects such as a storm on a certain planet, liquid particles, and some screen glitches really tend to shine at times. There are a lot of screen transitions and perspective changes due to SAM’s ability to transfer himself , getting shut down, performing his processes, or otherwise getting interfered with.
There is very little loading once your inside each sequence which is nice and I noticed no lag throughout the game on PS4. Transitions between inside the space station and outside is smooth and unobtrusive. Character animations are done fairly well although the lip syncing is noticeably not acute.
The sounds and effects used are simply phenomenal and fit with the setting well. Computational noises are very 80s “future” inspired and are very reminiscent of 2001 or Blade Runner. There are many audible cues used alone or in tandem with the music which are synth rich and are meant to strike a thrilling or mysterious overtone. All of these sounds form a rich symphony of sci-fi grade sweetness that is easy for any fan to enjoy.
Observation’s voice acting is well done and the scenes strike all the right chords in terms of emotion. From SAM’s monotone droning and self discovery to Emma’s frustrations and confusion, each part is acted out very well for a narrative driven game. Dr. Emma Fisher is played by Kezia Burrows who played Nilin Cartier-Wells in Remember Me; SAM was played by Anthony Howell who recently voiced Dr. Johnathan Reid in Vampyr (See our Vampyr review here!). Both actors also worked together in Alien Isolation and have a great synergy together in Observation.
Composed by Robin Finck and Omar Khan, the OST and supporting audio for Observation is nothing less than sci-fi bliss. It feels heavily inspired by John Carpenter style synths and possesses many suspense based climaxes. Though sparsely at the front line, the music strikes when it is appropriate and has a commanding presence when utilized. Overall, Observation walks a harmonious line between the ambient bleak sounds of space and the suspense fueled OST.
Check out their credit sequence which features a very rich art and music style!
Observation is an absolute thrill to play for any fan of sci-fi films such as 2001, Carpenter-esque films, narrative driven games, or AI evolution stories. Though it is short and sweet, Observation tells a compelling story of human and machine evolution from the perspective of the machine. And while the parallels from 2001 are fairly obvious, Observation manages to tell a story which branches off to be it’s own. The ending will leave you wanting more and will make you want to shoot someone out of an airlock for not making it just a bit longer.