Sep 25, 2017 Last Updated 9:00 PM, Sep 25, 2017

>observer_ Review

Published in Adventure
Read 493 times
Rate this item
(0 votes)

>observer_ thrives on your frustration

We need to go deeper, and Observer will take you there. In this cyberpunk horror release [1] from Bloober Team SA, the studio behind Layers of Fear [2], you enter the minds of suspects and witnesses in a grungy web of crime, conspiracy, and cybernetic implants more body horror than bionic.

Observer deserves thorough analysis and praise for its aesthetic. However, the same elements and design choices that make it a cerebral and provocative failed-future experience are those that deny you satisfaction in your gameplay. Much like Binding of Isaac, Observer thrives on your frustration and on captivating you with treasures you can't reach or obtain.

Worldbuilding shines through ingame text and theory yet falls drastically short in any actual spatial embodiment of forces and institutions. Dialogue and lore-studded interactables build a fascinating world you ultimately can't explore. The apartment building you're trapped in is a quaint microcosm of Observer's world, but in the end, it's simply too micro to satisfy you after rich promises of variety and exploration.

Level design succeeds in communicating claustrophobia through its constant hints at a world beyond what you can access, but frustration dulls your appreciation of that effect. It's a success to be discussed across the dusty, stained, fake wood table in a college lecture hall, after playing just enough of it to get the idea.

It's doing half of what Bioshock did, and the half it's missing is enjoyable gameplay.

Half of Bioshock is nothing to sneeze at. There's a reason the incisive Dr. Sean Latham [3] calls that title 'the game that launched a thousand theses'. I figure, if you launch five hundred theses, you're still doing something right. Unfortunately, that “something” isn't fun gameplay — perhaps a necessary compromise, if you want to use significant form to give players an overwhelming impression of imperfect integration between the biological and mechanical. Heavy Rain certainly made that work for me with Norman Jayden's drug addiction, as his shaky hands required intensive stretching of my own hands around my controller to perform simple actions that should have been easy and automatic for him [4].

You can think of Observer as a cyberpunk walking sim, if you're feeling charitable; a rusting roadblock simulator, if you're not. That's not to say a roadblock simulator isn't valuable or worthwhile.

The puzzles meant to break up aggressive railroading might have impressed me if I hadn't seen them already a decade ago in such illustrious titles as Neopets: The Darkest Faerie. Progression in your first hacking sequence relies on tedious gimmicks. Your forensic vision refuses to scan obvious clues like pools of blood, food, and chemicals that at least ought to be ruled out as causes of someone's untimely death. Instead, the most intriguing features prove shallow, betraying the problematic nature of neural implants in Observer's universe.

1. Observer. http://store.steampowered.com/app/514900/observer/
2. Layers of Fear. http://store.steampowered.com/app/391720/Layers_of_Fear/
3. Shadowrun: Hong Kong fan prelude. http://thedeadparrot.github.io/fic-projects/srhk_backstory/sr_hk%20backstory.html
4. Sean Latham. https://twitter.com/seanplatham
5. Norman Jayden. https://youtu.be/mqrW6e0RfF4

5

The Verdict

If you want to impress cyberpunk fans in a market saturated with dystopian fiction, you've got to punch up, usually through characterization — but Observer's characterization is lacking. You don't feel connected to Dan or his son the way, for instance, Shadowrun: Hong Kong binds you to your family (and which even inspires pocket derivative visual novels celebrating that well-written attachment [5]). Observer could stand to steal more wisely from its inspirations. You don't read Neuromancer for the plot, and there's a reason why Blade Runner didn't market itself on the unicorn scene. No character's dialogue in Observer ever delivers a punch remotely like “I want more life, Father”.

Image Gallery

Kelsey Erwin

Kelsey seeks out RPGs with the narrative clout of Greek tragedy and strategy sims more punishing than QWOP. Their favorite part about being a gender neutral PC gamer and reviewer is that it's probably the only thing no one else on the site will put in a biography. Super saiyan special snowflake originality! Kelsey always keeps a pot of hot tea close at hand, and the sign of a truly great game is when it can monopolize Kelsey's attention so completely that the tea grows cold. While a dedicated believer in the PC Master Race, Kelsey also still spends time with their old favorite console, a cinderblock size Playstation 2.

Related items

  • Beat The Game Review

    With deadly bugs that prevent key gameplay mechanics, zero replayability, and an astonishingly small amount of content (<30 minutes to complete), Beat the Game is a visual masterpiece more akin to a brief bad trip at a Tomorrowland than an actual game. If you’re into audio or music production and are looking for something that will let you develop and explore it in a different light, you will be disappointed. However, when it comes to cinematography, BtG is a high nine. With a bit more care and effort from solid game and sound designers, this novelty release could have been great. And if you need drugs to enjoy music, you’re doing it wrong.

  • Suicide Guy Review

    Suicide Guy caters to the underserved demographic of people who enjoy 3D puzzle platformers, except this serving is more of a home-cooked meal from Grandma’s house after she had gotten dementia. It’s made with love, and is good at certain parts, but in the end, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Graphics and level design can be clever at times, but are essentially ruined by the frustrating physics and collision, lack of any good music, repetitive sound effects, half-finished animations, and stale platforming. I want to love Suicide Guy, and I do, in a way -- I appreciate the effort that was made, but when I was done I felt unsatisfied and dead inside.

  • Neofeud Review

    Neofeud's futuristic, Bladerunner-like world, its thoughtful dialogue that's entirely voice acted, and its fresh point-and-click puzzles make it a title worth trying — as long as you're aware that it has some annoying flaws along the way. After a slow start, Neofeud develops into a complex tale that approaches profound ideas about what it means to be sentient, what it means to care about someone who may or may not be alive, and how it could be a big problem our society could face someday soon.

More in this category: ICY: Frostbite Edition Review »

Latest Shows

Mantis Burn Raci…

The OPN interview showcasing the release of VooFoo Studios' 'Battle cars' DLC for the fast-paced, competitive, top-down racer, 'Mantis Burn Racing.' A conversation with Creative Di...

Utomik Interview

The OPN interview with Frank Meijer. Utomik is the no-nonsense unlimited play gaming subscription that offers a growing library of games from over 20 leading publishers. Gamers can...

Out Soon

PC Gaming Incoming

Total War: WARHA…

Sequel to the award-winning Total War: WARHAMMER, Total War: WARHAMMER II introduces a breathtaking ...

FIFA 18

Score incredible goals in FIFA 18 as new movement and finishing animations unlock more fluid strikin...

Tangledeep Early…

Tangledeep is like the platonic ideal of RPGs: it has everything you want in a dungeon crawling roguelike without all the mess of outdated graphics or frustrating UI. This gem evok...

Another Lost Pho…

Another Lost Phone is truly a masterpiece in its kind, setting a bar in both creativity and meaning that will be hard for future installments in the genre to match. In addition to ...

Divinity: Origin…

With Divinity: Original Sin 2, Larian Studios creates a title that brings together the best aspects of table-top and classic roleplaying games. The graphics, along with the score a...

Life is Strange:…

Life is Strange: Before the Storm plays like a cutscene with a point-and-click element that is a joy; no button combinations or consulting a grainy minimap: Daedalus himself design...