Saturday, 23 September 2017

Observer ★★★★★

It’s the year 2084, and augmentation is commonplace among humans. The nanophage, a deadly virus affecting the augmented, has wiped out thousands, and the remaining survivors live now under Chiron, the overbearing corporation that seems to be involved in everything you do. This is the dystopian future you find yourself in throughout ‘Observer’, Bloober’s latest survival horror game available for Xbox, PS4, and PC, and one of the reason it’s so scary is that it’s not all that unrealistic a prophecy.

You play as Daniel Lazarski, an augmented detective working for Chiron who is also known as a Dream Eater (nothing to do with Drowzee or Haunter) as he has the ability to connect to the minds of others to see what they have experienced. Your main focus is to find out what’s happened to your estranged son, Adam, after a distressing call is received, yet things get more and more grim as you find yourself investigating a series of murders within a creepy apartment complex and trying to track down the ominous killer. 

If you’ve played and enjoyed Bloober’s last game, ‘Layers of Fear’, then this is definitely one to play. Although similar to games like ‘Outlast’ and ‘Resident Evil 7’ in format it contains less enemies and jump scares, but it still has the same level of fear (if not more, at points). There’s no weapon to be found and so your only way of surviving is to hide, which made a refreshing change from the wealth of combat-orientated games out there right now. It also didn’t make the same mistake ‘Resident Evil 7’ did either by making combat more prevalent half-way through, which turned the game into a first-person shooter rather than a survival horror.

‘Observer’ instead uses its chilling environments and compelling storyline to keep the excitement fresh. The first few hours of the game are spent exploring your surroundings and investigating crime scenes with your biological and technological scanners, with a few dream-eating sequences thrown in. As you get deeper into the game the dream scenarios start to merge with reality as your mind begins to unravel, leading you to question everything around you. It certainly keeps you on your toes, as you can’t be sure what’s real and what’s not (and at points, what’s from your memory or the other person). As the title suggests, observing really is the key to succeeding in this game, and it’s actually quite easy to miss stuff – there were several points where I found myself going back to places because I knew there was something I’d missed. The game doesn’t give out too many hints either, meaning that you have to rely on just your case log and your eyes.

The storyline was a really well-done aspect of the game, and was perfect considering the short length of the game (it took me about 8 hours to complete in all). The plot is so immersive that you’ll want to read every document and speak to every neighbour which I think is always a good sign (there’s an achievement for that, too!). You can skip this, of course, but it would be easy to get confused if you don’t read everything you can, and so I’d advise focusing on the details instead of trying to rush through the game. 

At no point did I want to rush, as the environment was just so disturbingly beautiful that I had to stop and admire it all. I’d say graphically the game is on a par with ‘Resident Evil 7’ and, although you spend most of your time in the same apartment complex, the intricate detail of broken walls and holographic disturbances never gets old. In many scenes you’ll find yourself plunged into darkness, meaning you have to really focus to work out where you’re going (top tip: make use of the video settings!). The environment is erratic and distressing, and the way it can completely change from the slightest of movement makes you feel scarily out of control throughout.

I found the tension spot on, but if I had to be picky there could have been even more puzzles and choices – although choice was a big element it was more towards the end of the game where it really kicked in. The framerate could become choppy at points too, but thankfully this wasn’t too big an issue that it got to me. One point that did irritate me slightly though was the case log – at the start of a new scene your case log updates with what needs to happen next, yet I found it would often update you on what you hadn’t quite discovered yet, so that ruined the surprise element for certain things. This wasn’t too big a deal though, and I soon learnt to wait a bit before checking the log. 

As someone who finds it quite easy to lose interest in games, I particularly enjoyed ‘Observer’ as that moment never happened for me. If you’re all about the action then it won’t be the greatest game you’ve ever played, but for someone who’s looking for an immersive experience that focuses on the philosophy and the art of the game then I couldn’t recommend another game more. 

Hannah Read

Observer at CeX

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