Developed By: Blooper Team
Published By: Aspyr
Platforms: PS4, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, PC
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
When you get elements of cyberpunk like Blade Runner and mix it up with a touch of horror, it can get really bizarre. It’s an odd mix and at most times staples of the horror genre used religiously, like inside a dilapidated mansion or in an abandoned town. It is not very often you get one that puts you in a world that is not relatable and yet be able to make it believable. Blooper Team has a knack of making horror games that are both strong in storytelling and uses various effective elements to provide the scariest but immersive experience. Their previous effort, Layers of Fear, is a true testament to what the developers are capable of delivering. This time they are bringing a whole new layer to their newest scare-fest, Observer.
Right off the bat, Observer is a weird looking game due to the obvious cyberpunk inspiration. Though the game has been released on PlayStation 4, Xbox and PC on 2017, the port over to the Switch provides a fresh take for new players to bring the horror wherever they go.
This is a fear good story
You play as Daniel Lazarski, a heavily augmented peacekeeping detective that works for the megacorporation Chiron. His job as an Observer is to conduct neural interrogations using a device called the Dream Eater, delving into minds to extract information. One random day, Daniel receives a call traced back to a rundown apartment complex from his long lost son Adam. This is the scene that has been set for Observer’s main narrative thread as you will work your way floor by floor unravelling threads whilst discovering there might be more to Adam’s disappearance.
While the premise of the story sounds simple on paper, Blooper Team has managed to craft an engaging and compelling storyline. This is by far Observer’s biggest strength. While most horror games rely more on simple story beats but bombard you with the typical horror game tropes, Observer did an amazing job of enveloping this reviewer with fear and piqued my curiosity levels through the roof just to delve deeper into this thrilling tale.
The game does an exceptional job in nailing the creepy atmosphere naturally without overextending itself too much. The game is also very clever in placing breadcrumbs for the thorough player to follow in the form of news, files and mail you read through computer terminals. While they do not add anything impactful towards the gameplay, they do however supplement depth to the lore of the world. Every part of the story is well structured without ever feeling too simple and by the numbers or too overwhelming to the point of confusion.
The characters you interact with are just as bizarre and interesting as the game’s environment. Although you as the player will not see a diverse or unique range of character models, it does a phenomenal job in giving each of the denizens of the apartment intriguing dialogue to absorb. For example, talking to a cheap sex box only to find out that it is showing small hints of a growing human consciousness or a man that is part of a group called the Immaculates who refuse to rely on augmentations. I was actually quite motivated in talking to each person behind every door I came across to know more of their background.
The best part of the game is Daniel’s ability to plug into the cerebral cortex of anyone dead or alive. I really liked how the game portrays each and every level very differently based upon the person’s daily life like jacking into the mind of a Chiron engineer shows how she went through a very one-sided interview and the hectic life in Chiron itself. Though at times it can get downright confusing with all the warping and sudden shifts in the environment it does blend well thematically.
I am not a horror fan myself but this game got me very invested in it with its clever narrative points and a slow but well-paced plot. The developers clearly know how to deliver a strong story that knows when to unravel certain plot points when it needs to.
The audio in this game is amazing. Each and every area you walk into has immaculately placed sound cues around it. From the water drip to the subtle way the table fan responds when you switch it on. It is an incredibly immersive experience. During tense chases (after all, this is a horror game) as you are being chased down by a horrific creature, you will feel the loud booming footsteps closing in on you. I gripped on my Nintendo Switch as tight as the fear gripped me and it is all thanks to the brilliantly curated soundtrack. I absolutely recommend playing this with headphones or earphones on to really appreciate the sublime audio design in the game.
Apart from that, the voice acting in this game is actually really good especially the main character Daniel. Earlier I mention the clear inspiration from Blade Runner and it is made even more obvious how much Blooper Team holds that movie in high regard as Daniel Lazarski is voiced by none other than Rutger Hauer. Each character that you are able to speak to oozes with an authenticity that gives a very believable personality. Portraying emotions ranging from happy or sickly, the voice actors truly did a remarkable job in projecting the intended effect.
The visuals in this game are actually not bad despite the limitations of the Switch. One odd thing of note though is the interior of the car you are in at the start of the game looks blurry in comparison to the other platforms it released on however the visuals seem to improve later in the game as it looked a lot sharper. It’s very minor nitpick but one that I personally felt bothered me enough to highlight. Nonetheless, the game’s environments especially the interior of each room in the apartment building is on point. From the dirty toilets to dark and bloody floors in certain rooms really further strengthens the creep factor even through a small screen.
However, the game looks terrible in Docked mode. It is clear that this game has gotten some graphical downgrades in order to get it to run smoothly on the Switch. When playing on a TV, the low resolution and muddy textures are way more obvious and makes the overall look and feel of the game very unflattering.
One thing I definitely have to highlight is the real time dynamic lighting. This is something I did not come to expect especially for a game that was ported over the Switch. The dynamic lighting is beautiful and to be able to see Daniel’s shadow as you move past a light source can be a wonder to look at. Furthermore, certain areas or rooms really rely on this dynamic light source to cast really realistic looking shadows that add a scary Immersive feeling as you walk into them. I was both scared and impressed.
The downside to this is there are moments where the game can get too dark and not in a good way. It is even more apparent when playing in handheld mode. I saw my own silhouette more than anything else I’m supposed to be able to see in the game. Turning up the brightness does help but I felt it detracts from the realistic atmospheric experience the game was aiming for. Not to mention, certain objects in the game are textured quite dark itself and makes it even harder to see them clearly. You will definitely need to find a sweet spot when turning up the brightness without losing much of the dark atmospheric look. There are also times where the framerate would actually dip but I was unable to pinpoint the source of the hiccup considering the game has no battles and it’s rather slow paced.
It’s quite elementary really
You play as Daniel through the first person perspective. The controls are mapped easily – the left analog stick is for turning around while the right moves. Pressing the left analog stick makes Daniel run but the sprint speed leaves more to be desired. The ZR button is for interacting with object, intercoms or doors. While the general movement is fine, I personally find the need to hold the ZR button while using the right analog stick to open a door quite cumbersome. It’s understandable the developers meant to make even the controls part of the immersive experience, but it gets old fast to open every simple cupboard or a fridge in this manner. On occasion, I couldn’t even open doors fully due to the left analog stick not being properly placed on the handle.
I must admit though the controls do feel sluggish. Despite having an option for sensitivity, it can still be difficult to smoothly aim at a tiny object to inspect it especially when the crosshair itself is a small tiny white dot. I do wish there is an option to change the control scheme so I can press a button just to open a door. Although this may well be a preferential matter, I do hope Blooper Team are able to add options to change the control schemes to a better fit for the player.
When not being bothered by opening doors, the actual investigative parts are great. Daniel has access to a few types of scans by tapping either the L or R buttons. One highlights biological elements such as blood and other fluid substances while others are able to scan electromagnetic waves emitted from items such as neuro implants, electrical cables and more. The investigative part of this game adds a very welcome mysterious vibe and creates an inherent interest to know more about what happened at the crime scene. This is also where the players get an opportunity to jack into the cerebral cortex of the unfortunate victims of the crime.
There is a downside though as using both scans will add stress on Daniel where his vision will start to get blurry and with technical glitches. When that happens though, you can inject a substance through your device to stabilize Daniel’s condition. While it does not really add significant value to the game mechanics, it does however highlight how thematically augmentation comes with certain risks. This also adds to the immersion and depth that the game already has in spades.
- Strong delivery in story
- Well pieced tertiary story to the lore
- Amazing use of the soundtrack
- Great voice acting
- That amazing dynamic lighting
The Not so Good
- Controls are rather janky and affects the pacing of the game
- Docked mode graphically looks horrible
- Handheld mode graphics is too dark to look at
- Pacing can be very slow to some players
Like tears in the rain
Observer is a solid cyberpunk/horror investigative game that offers a healthy amount of good investigative fun accompanied by a strong narrative experience. Despite the issues it has in docked mode and some rare occasions of framerate dips and the janky controls, the game is an absolute blast to play through from start till end. It is a shame though that the ending comes abruptly and does not wrap up the whole story in a brilliant and satisfying way. So in short, If you are a fan of horror games then this one is a definite must try. If you hate being in a tense and scary moment and aren’t patient enough to listen to the myriad dialogues and read the various texts, it is best you skip this one.