Layers of Fear was a promising title, but it fell short in a lot of regards for me. For starters, the setting felt way too familiar. A haunted house inhabited by a guy whose sanity is slowly being eroded? It’s been done. However, when I heard about Observer, the new title from the same studio, I was much more excited. See, ever since the great Amnesia changed the face of horror gaming, there have been dozens of new takes on the concept. The issue is, a lot of them go in similar directions, treading familiar horror territory. However, Observer switches things up right away by jumping all the way to 2084. And we’re about to find out that the future can be pretty scary too.
Set in Krakow, Observer (actually written >observer_ )is based on a future where Poland sees the rise of the Fifth republic, under the control of the shady Chiron Corporation. In the game, residents of the city find themselves being infected by a strange technological virus that results from their abuse of biological augmentation. Chiron sends out agents called observers to investigate. Our hero is Dan Lazarski, an observer who gets a strange call from his estranged son at the beginning of the game.
Now, while Observer’s cyberpunk future feels very familiar and takes a lot of cues from classics like Fifth Element and games like Deus Ex, Observer is unique in that it’s the first time a horror game is set somewhere outside a Victorian mansion. So we land in a courtyard that you will often have to cross afterwards. The game manages to make the sleek, shiny buildings look imposing and unfeeling, and it creates an unnerving sense of isolation.
The horror starts to emerge as we see the vile underbelly of the slick exterior on display. The lower castes in this cyberpunk society are forced to live in squalor, and they fear the observers’ wrath and that of the Chiron corporation. The story manages to build some decent intrigue, and the voice acting is top notch. Fans of the seminal dystopian hit Blade Runner will recognize the supremely talented Rutger Hauer’s voice at the helm, and he manages to give a really solid performance.
Overall, Observer is much more fleshed out than layers was, and it feels more like a horror take on the classic RPG formula than it does a walking simulator. As an observer, you function as equal parts detective and enforcer, and in the game you need to talk to npc’s and other characters and piece together the truth.
The horror on display here is much more profound than jump scares or monsters; it’s the horror of a world where we let technology take over. Again, it’s hardly a brand new theme, but it’s actually pretty original for a horror title. Usually in these games you feel like a tough-guy super soldier, but in Observer you get the impression that you’re not exactly the good guy. The script really sells this, and it manages a surprising amount of nuance for a cyberpunk story. Granted, there are tons of really, really obvious references (2084 guys? Really?) but the story functions as more of a cautionary tale than it does a parable.
In terms of core gameplay, Dan’s main tools are augmented vision devices that allow him to piece together the evidence in a crime scene and pick up on any clues. But the most valuable and impressive tool at our disposal remains the Dream-Eater. Through this mechanism directly connected to his own brain, Dan Lazarski can penetrate directly into the memories of an individual, if he has not already passed the weapon to the left. Each of these sequences tells a story, but in a cryptic way, through multiple scenes, often surrealistic, that crystallize both the anxieties and the buried memories of the individual. It is then up to the player to decrypt these memories.
Ultimately, Observer delivers a memorable experience, not just for horror fans but for people that like the grim world of Cyberpunk. It’s violent and gory at times, but it avoids turning into a SAW-esque horror show, instead preferring to be more disturbing than gross.
Observer was reviewed using a PC downloadable code of the game provided by Bloober Team. The review was tested by Mazen Abdallah on a PC running Windows 10, with an 8GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 1070 fitted on a 4th Generation Intel i7 4790 3.6Ghz CPU and topped with 16GB of RAM. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One via digital release. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• Rich and detailed visuals
• A new take on the horror genre
• Branching dialogue
• Amazing voice acting
• Still lots of cyberpunk cliches
• Some of the mystery solving sections are tedious
• Plot takes a while to get off the ground