I hadn’t heard of the psychological thriller, Observer, until I saw it was being bundled with Layers of Fear. I watched the trailer of the game which is set in the near future in Poland and is reminiscent of Blade Runner. It immediately piqued my interest, so I figured I would give it a shot. A few hours into playing Observer, I realized the game wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I was impressed by a lot of what it does. It mixes interesting game mechanics, with unique visuals and a interesting story.
The main character, Daniel Lazarski, is a detective with the Krakow Police Department. He has the advantage of using technological implants to aid him in solving crimes. One of the implants allows Daniel to analyze biological material and another one lets him see hidden electronics. Using these implants too often disrupts Daniel’s own biological functions. resulting in erratic heartbeat and vision. Sometimes the images degrade and framerate drops. Daniel is able to resynchronize by taking a drug injected into his bloodstream. While having visuals change isn’t new to video games, Observer does it in a truly unique way.
I found the visual changes caused by desynchronization to be too much for my tastes, but I do appreciate it that it is original and it changes the gameplay; it adds to the immersion.
Without giving away too much of the story, Daniel Lazarski is investigating a series of murders in the “The Stacks” which amounts to the slums of Krakow. Being an “Observer”, Daniel is able to connect to the memories of recently deceased using one of his implants to jack into an implant on another person. Going into someone’s memories was a bit much for me for a few reasons: 1) the memories themselves were sometimes disturbing, and 2) because the visuals were disjointed and erratic. To me, these sequences were frustrating because I didn’t know where to go and what to do. This of course, was the point of these sequences I surmise. In some of these sequences, it was lost and after a few trips around a room, the scene would change. This frustrated me as I am used to having direction in a game. These scenes were also filled with abstract and unstable imagery.
Being a psychological thriller, there are some disturbing images in Observer.
Sometimes walls and the floor wouldn’t be visible, rooms were too dark to navigate effectively, and the scenes would often change rapidly. The visual changes were too much for me and really made it difficult for me to play this game. That being said, they contributed greatly to the psychological thriller aesthetic that Bloober Team was going for. By making the game visually disturbing, it immerses the player into the world of pain, misery, and suffering that is the slums of Krakow in this dystopian future.
The visuals are arguably the most important tool Observer uses to draw the player into the game.
I don’t want to spoil the story too much. The world is reminiscent of Blade Runner and Altered Carbon. Interestingly enough, To me, the story of how the world got to where it is, the main story, and the dialogue were all well written. In addition, the writing fit the psychological thriller motif very well. Rutger Hauer, lends his voice and likeness for the protagonist Daniel Lazarski. His voice acting was convincing for a detective with the motivations he has in the situation. This may sound vague, but I don’t want to ruin the story for anyone.
While Observer wasn’t my cup of tea, that is more a product of my tastes than the quality of the game. This game is very well made and did a lot to impress me in terms of gameplay and immersion. I haven’t played many games that do so much to implant the player into their world and story as Observer does. This is where Observer shines over many contemporary games. It is clear that immersion was one of the main goals that Bloober Team had during development. Personally, I don’t like psychological thrillers, but if you do, I recommend Observer! This game will be right up your alley and is now bundled with their other horror game, Layers of Fear. I give Observer, 4 out of 5 for immersive visuals and excellent writing.