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Review: Observer (Nintendo Switch)By Insanoflex At 02.03.2019 15:06

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Team Blooper has certainly proven one thing; they know how to make a video game that can effectively twist and warp space in convincing and creative ways. Back when Layers of Fear was making its rounds, it was applauded for how it disoriented players with procedurally generated maps and randomly placed scripted scares. With Observer, Team Blooper would go on to refine some of their craft with even more sublime spatial distortion, and hallucinatory imagery. The developer's dedication to delivering something that strives to look and feel like Blade Runner is not limited to just the visuals, but the casting of Rutger Hauer as protagonist Daniel. It is too bad Hauer sounds like he is sleeping through his line readings, as he is giving his worst performance since Split Second.

Just how dystopic is Observer? The world has more or less endured two holocausts; a plague that affects cyborgs, and a nuclear war... compounded with the stereotypical evil corporation taking over Poland as a totalitarian regime. Everyone is always suspicious of the player-character Daniel, who is effectively working for Big Brother, and is quick to treat him with hostility. Dan is sort of a detective who is able to link into people's brains to find leads or clues into whatever case he may be on; in this situation it happens to be the searching of his estranged son's whereabouts. There also may or may not be some kind of werewolf creature stalking the apartment complex, which also happens to be under lockdown. Dan is not having a great day; he has to deal with all of this while being an elderly and tired Rutger Hauer, who is also suffering from some serious AR sickness and a kind of psychosis that comes with being an observer.

Playing Observer is often a laid-back endeavour that has some surreal moments when Dan has to do his official Chiron work. For the most part this can be best described as a first-person adventure game with some walking-sim qualities. Expect lots of walking around and examining objects, reading flavour text, and making dialogue choices. Having to switch between various types of augmented vision modes adds an ugly filter that also highlights important objects that are usually plot related. This is not exactly riveting or exciting material in an age where Soma, the other cyber-horror, exists, since the latter had a much more intricate exploration, and was way scarier since it explored profound existential dread and fear. Observer is a much more pedestrian kind of horror game, but it does manage to nail down the cyber-punk atmosphere and aesthetic that fans of this sub-genre of science fiction would enjoy.

The art direction and visuals are what make Observer unique among horror games. Blooper Team's attempt at aping the sets from Ridley Scott's Blade Runner is spot on. A haphazard network of cables and ducts are strewn about the environment like a circulatory system; it is as if the building itself is a living thing. Personal computers are all bulky CRT displays with vry retro looking keyboards as if this was a vision of the future as imagined by people living in the 1980s. Everywhere Daniel looks is some kind of sardonic advertisement that further illustrates just how far this future society has fallen. Buggy and glitchy AR are displayed in a way that the Switch's low specs work to its benefit. Often Daniel has to wilfully take medication to ease these effects that resemble a computer monitor display dying while watching a youtube video with very unreliable internet. It is both an eye-sore, yet also totally appropriate for the kind of feeling Observer is aiming for. It is no Outlast II, but this is a very good looking game running on Switch. There are some annoyances: sometimes doors that lead to the outside won't open until some time has passed, since the environment has not been fully loaded yet.

The developers most likely did not have the resources to fully realise everything they hoped since Observer barely has any actual character models to interact with. A substantial bulk of conversations will be done with tenants who are mostly unseen and typically is represented with Daniel talking to a door's intercom. There are a lot of dialogue choices, but they do not have any substantial affect on the story since Observer sadly opts for the Deus Ex: Human Revolution philosophy of having a last minute choice at the game's end to determine the plot's final outcome.

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Final Score
[i]Observer[/i] could have been more. It has style and exceptional art direction, a creative premise but flaccid and unimaginative gameplay. Maybe this comes with the territory when it comes to walking-sims or first-person adventure games, but there really is no excuse for the lack of imagination because much older games have found ways to keep things fresh while adventuring. There is very little attention to detail when it comes to interaction and player-choice. [i]Observer[/i] should have been like playing a pacifist run on the original [i]Deus Ex[/i].



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