Developer Bloober Team has an excellent track record when it comes to creating memorable experiences. The team’s Layers of Fear was a terrifying addition to the very short list of games that actually scare me, and I knew they’d be one to watch from there. With the introduction of Observer, my love for the developer has grown significantly. The Polish outfit has come a long way since its first DSiWare title in 2011, and it’s clear they’ve found their niche.
While Layers of Fear dealt with psychological horror and similar themes, Observer is a completely new beast for Bloober Team, serving up a decadent slice of cyberpunk horror, treading waters I always find myself asking why other developers simply can’t – or won’t. It is, by far, one of the best games I’ve played this year, and while it certainly won’t be for everyone, it’s reminiscent of the classic sci-fi and cyberpunk FMV games and innovative RPGs of the ‘90s. It’s grimy, morbid, and deeply disturbing at times, and that’s part of what makes it so good.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Policework?
You’ll take up the role of one Daniel Lazarski, a Class B citizen in 2084’s Poland, where castes determine how you’ll spend the rest of your life. Class A citizens may as well be above the law, Class B citizens may as well be the middle class, and Class C citizens are doomed to a life of poverty. They also make up the majority of Observer’s vision of Poland.
Lazarski happens to be a police detective but also an “observer,” or part of a special police force whose members are equipped with special cybernetic enhancements that allow them to jack into others’ minds in order to obtain information. It’s not pretty work, but it’s extremely necessary in some cases, offering additional insight into citizens may have been murdered or wronged, since the dead obviously can’t talk. It’s a rugged role, and one that Blade Runner’s Roy Batty himself, Rutger Hauer, plays with such skill and excellence it seems as though he was destined to play it.
Lazarski finds thrown into the middle of an investigation when he receives a call from his estranged son Adam at the beginning of the game. Shocked that he’s hearing from Adam, Lazarski ends up losing the call but tracing it to a dingy old Class C apartment block. He arrives to find all the citizens on lockdown for some reason, which is where you’re expected to begin investigating. What’s happened to Adam, and why are all the citizens trapped in their apartments?
The Observer of Greatness
Observer is all about looking around and finding different pieces of useful information, items, and persons of interest to jack into so that you can proceed. You can use your own cybernetics to scan the area for clues, then piece them together to figure out where you need to go next. Interestingly enough, there are no enemies you’ve got to watch out for save for some particularly trippy segments few and far between, but that doesn’t make it any less tense. These stealth areas can be frustrating and slow down the pace, making it more difficult to unravel the mystery ahead of you, but they’re not insurmountable.
Though most of your time is spent investigating the apartment building and the surrounding areas picking up clues and questioning people, Observer is hardly dull. The thrill comes from doing those very things. It’s easy to say you’re just interviewing the tenants in the apartment, but speaking to them is much more than that. There’s a particularly colorful set of people in these rooms, many of them with their own special affliction.
Some are addicted to the virtual world, others are part of a cult-like group with no cybernetic enhancements that view themselves as “pure,” some are drug dealers and others are just off their rockers. It’s easy to understand why they might be when you discover the reason for the lockdown as well as some of their tortured existences, which I won’t ruin here, but speaking to these people reveals some truly disturbing and mind-numbingly terrifying stories.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, however, because you’ve also got some particularly harrowing moments where you’re forced to enter the minds of some of the individuals you meet along the way. These areas are home to some of the most chilling work I’ve ever seen in a video game, and as a horror connoisseur I’ve seen it all. The atmosphere and visual effects during these segments are masterful, from the mind of a young child where an adult woman has made her own home to the deceased mind of a young woman stealing company secrets and selling them to keep her unborn child and her husband afloat financially.
Glitch-like hallucinations, disgusting creatures, and uncomfortably vivid scenes that mirror the horror of real-life predicaments are here in full force. There’s a child sex ring being ran by some of the tenants in the apartments according to hidden emails you read on terminals, and even an illegal organ market to be uncovered. The devil’s in the details, and if you search through every nook and cranny in Observer you’ll find the nastiest of things you probably hoped to never see.
Observer may only take nine or ten hours to complete, or a little longer if you search through the rubble even more so for collectible cards, and it feels like watching an excellent art house cyberpunk film every second. Its grimy characters, seedy underbelly of futuristic Poland, and uncomfortably bizarre storylines combine to make some of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had in gaming. It may be a little unorthodox, but it’s executed fantastically. If you’re looking to be simultaneously terrified and intrigued, you need to spend a few days with Daniel Lazarski as an Observer.
Brittany Vincent is an Editor at GameRevolution. You can follow her on Twitter @MolotovCupcake.
A PC copy of Observer was provided by its publisher. Observer is also available on PS4 and Xbox One.