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Review

Observer Review

  • First Released Aug 15, 2017
    released
  • Reviewed Aug 14, 2017
  • PC

You can’t stop progress.

After Blade Runner implanted itself into the minds of moviegoers back in 1982, elements of its cyberpunk world and story would echo throughout pop culture for decades to come. Despite writers, filmmakers and game designers telling stories in similar worlds with outstanding results, the familiar dark rainy streets, grimy neon lights, and cautionary tales of body augmentations remained seemingly steadfast. With that in mind, it’s a small revelation to see Polish studio Bloober Team take early cues from these influences and use them as a springboard to create something new and exciting with Observer.

Set in the year 2084, Observer tells the story of Daniel Lazarski (played by Blade Runner's Rutger Hauer), a detective who works the despair-ridden streets of Krakow under the direction of the leading corporation of the Fifth Polish Republic, Chiron. The world at large has gone to ruin. A digital plague killed thousands of augmented people and a colossal war wiped out any previous global superpowers. Thanks to this all-consuming conflict, Chiron rose from the ashes and became the leading authority and manufacturer of basically everything. Lazarski takes jobs from his contact at Chiron and using his body tech, is able to violently jack into the minds and memories of people (alive or dead) to track clues and solve crimes. Hence his official job title: Observer.

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Lazarski gets called to a slum in the worst part of Krakow and this is where the majority of the game takes place. Citizens are divided into classes and this bleak Class C district is bursting at the seams with desperate, frightened people hiding in their rancid apartments and whose only escape from the absolute hell of their daily lives is drugs--chemical or technological.

Essentially a detective story, Observer almost immediately becomes more than the sum of its parts. Talking to residents, examining crime scenes and deciphering clues make up a lot of the gameplay here but it is all housed inside gorgeously detailed environments, the twisted memories of deranged strangers, and one of the most intriguing cyberpunk narratives in years. There's a constant sense of the towering dark skyline of the city but you're too focused on putting your hands in the muck to feel like you're missing out on anything greater. The society that has been carved out in this apartment building is all that matters and it’s here that Observer starts to pull away from its influences and blaze its own unique trail.

Told from a first-person perspective, Lazarski slowly unravels events with his augmented technology by scanning crime scenes for either biological or electronic evidence (either of which can reveal different clues). He also makes use of his "Dream Eater" augmentation, which is designed to observe people’s minds. Throughout the course of the game, it is these extraordinary sequences that present the horrific story beats in psychedelic, surreal ways.

From terrifying nightmare worlds, low-tech video game holograms and game designs that border on mad genius, both you and Lazarski emerge from these sections mentally exhausted but also instantly compelled to push forward to find out what happens next. Exploration, discovery and human interaction drive the narrative forward. In these bloody crime scenes and filthy apartments, the ability to open a door inches at a time adds another sense of sweat-soaked tension. Being in the moment is all that matters and every movement you make, whether it’s scanning ID tags on illegal body mods or sneaking a look at the tenant list before the janitor comes back, pushes you deeper into Observer's illusion.

Another key feature that helps this universe emerge fully formed is the outstanding sound design. Hallways creak as you stalk from door to door, listening to bizarre noises rising from each apartment. The crackle of terrified residents through speakers, broken video screens blasting static and the cacophony of rainstorms envelope you in an uncomfortable tale. Mixed with the truly disturbing sounds coming from somewhere in the basement and Arkadiusz Reikowski’s ominous industrial music and Observer’s clutches become almost impossible to escape.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of moments that are frustratingly jarring. More than once, you are forced to engage in some instant-fail cat-and-mouse sequences that really don’t fit with the rest of what Observer is trying to achieve. However, they are brief and are over within a few minutes. Problems like this are quickly forgotten when you’re lost in a discussion with a tenant telling you about his religious order which rejects body modifications or slowly discovering the oppressive extent of Chiron's reach, from desktop computers to picture frames. Everything is covered in a film of grime. Random neon lights sputter in and out of life in the hallways and obsolete technology is bolted onto apartment doors making it clear that nobody of importance cares about this corner of the city.

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No Caption Provided

That’s why Observer succeeds as well as it does. Every scene adds a meaningful piece of the puzzle to a world and a story that you want to immediately know more about. It consistently presents surreal moments and surprises that would seem like, on paper, the work of lunatics. However, in this grimy and hopeless corner of Krakow, they feel completely at home. The writing for even the most fleeting of characters (even dead ones) feels genuine. Every person here, from crappy parents yelling at their kids while talking to you through a grimy video screen to abstract constructs of lost souls trapped in their own minds, has a convincing life of their own and that commitment to detail make Lazarski’s descent into this future hell, and his own personal demons, all that more compelling.

Cyberpunk is a reflection of where we’re headed as a society, an oddly alluring reality where we've allowed impressive technology into our lives at the cost of our humanity. This is a niche genre that needs new revisions and new pioneers so it can keep evolving as we inch closer to seeing its fictional warnings play out in real life, and Observer adds to the familiar parables in fascinating and unexpected ways. In that respect, and on so many other levels, Observer is a haunting and remarkable achievement.

Back To Top
The Good
Sets a new bar for cyberpunk storytelling
A beautifully suffocating vision of future Krakow
Rutger Hauer inhabits the main role with anger, empathy and despair
The writing and plot is consistently captivating
Disturbing and inventive sound design
The Bad
Brief but frustrating instant-fail sequences
9
Superb
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

David Rayfield is still waiting until technology becomes convincing enough for him to live in a shipping container hooked up to a VR headset. It might be a while. Observer was played on PC using a complimentary copy of the game provided by the developer.
70 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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Avatar image for Liquid_Snake2
Liquid_Snake2

this is a patrician game, not for little plebbies with adhd

Avatar image for naasum
naasum

a mediocre pile of a niche game but hey, its indie so its an auto 9.

Avatar image for skywalker70771
skywalker70771

looks & feels very similar to SOMA, for that reason itself I'm out

Avatar image for electronic_eye
electronic_eye

@skywalker70771: for that reason itself, I'm IN.

Avatar image for kocur
kocur

well, this looks more like LSD-punk than cyber-punk...

Avatar image for wareagle2008
wareagle2008

I've read two different reviews and haven't found anything about fighting or shooting anything. Usually in a horror game theirs at mostly some action and others just a little but are you just walking around and looking through memories or whatever through the entire game?

Avatar image for chrisdeckard
ChrisDeckard

I feel like an outcast after reading and watching all these reviews, this isn't the idea that I got from the game when I played it. The game had a very real issue with some of its major mechanics and writing and Observer has more than a handful of bugs and frame-rate drops as well as some weird physics. It's a really breathtaking experience when your doing the Dream Eating, and the world and atmosphere itself is wonderful. But the game is shallow, and it falls apart at the part where it's supposed to be a game. If the game cost less, and identified itself to be a visual novel, instead of a game, I'd be more happy to accept it as it is; but the way it stands it's just a very mediocre, pretty face. A wonderfully atmospheric and interesting romp in a dystopian world, but a flat, bland and uninteresting game play.

On my review I gave this game a 6.5. Realistically that's where the game should be I feel, and I think some people are getting caught up with a pretty face.

Avatar image for Liquid_Snake2
Liquid_Snake2

@chrisdeckard: go play WW2 CoD kiddy

Avatar image for skywalker70771
skywalker70771

@chrisdeckard: it's not the first time that these unreasonably high scores are awarded to an indie game. Not sure if it's coming out of craving for something new in the age where making games from a template is common money making practice but either way it's not helping the industry.

Avatar image for p1p3dream
p1p3dream

I usually find myself pretty in-tune with GS reviews, but this time I'm pretty opposite. Really surprised this got a 9, actually. GS is usually pretty spot on with their reviews, not sure what happened here.

The voice acting is really weak and wooden, and I can't believe all the praise I'm seeing is for the same game. I really wanted to like this game, I love Sci Fi and Cyberpunk.... but they just kind of missed on the execution.

Rutger Hauer was just really bad as the main character...

Avatar image for forester057
Forester057

@p1p3dream: Its artsy, trippy and edgy which, for critics, means an instant bump of 3 points. Looks as you describe it. Terrible.

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p1p3dream

@forester057: I feel like a more accurate score for this game would be a 6 on the low end and a 7 on the high end.

Avatar image for karavanasam
karavanasam

Just finished it.Didnt like much.Not 9.Sorry lads.But that last level was nice.Like from the mind of Lovecraft. :D

Avatar image for peterboksic
PeterBoksic

maybe its gets better but its a difficult and frustrating game to progress. not impressed so far. maybe i'll come back to it. you definitely need a walkthrough.

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off3nc3

Boring game , uninstalled it 2 hours in.

Avatar image for aiat_gamer
aiat_gamer

The fact that Hellblade sold more than this shows how messed up the gaming industry is at the moment.

Avatar image for p1p3dream
p1p3dream

@aiat_gamer: I found Hellblade much more compelling than this game. I think the fact that Hellblade has sold so well, despite it not compromising at all on its mission or subject matter is really uplifting.

Avatar image for karavanasam
karavanasam

@aiat_gamer: I finished both games.This game is not for everyone.Of course it will sell less.But this game is not 9.Maybe 7.

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PeterBoksic

@aiat_gamer: for real. hellblade is awesome. didnt play it did ya.

Avatar image for aiat_gamer
aiat_gamer

@peterboksic: I have both, I can show you my steam account if you want.

Avatar image for off3nc3
off3nc3

@aiat_gamer: How can you even compare Hellblades to this boring , wannabe-detective , non-scary game ? You don't deserve a gaming platform boy !

Avatar image for PfizersaurusRex
PfizersaurusRex

I'm seriously hooked on this game. Highly recommended. Not familiar with this Rutger Howard guy's work, they could have cast an anonymous actor and it would still be a great game.

Avatar image for RO-nIn187
RO-nIn187

@PfizersaurusRex: seriously you dont know rutger hauer? he was in a lot of movies, some of them very famous (blade runner, batman begins, sin city, ...), you probably dont know his name but surely you saw at least 2 movies with him...

Avatar image for Pelezinho777
Pelezinho777

I just couldn't dig into this game. It has some nice visuals, Rutger Hauer, but everything else is not that great.

Avatar image for Naylord
Naylord

Will this game get VR support? Sounds like it should.

Avatar image for forester057
Forester057

@Naylord: I came here to see if it is a VR game. The way the video was presenting the walking and turning being so slow made me think it was. Agree it could be a good fit for VR.

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3partan341

Very interesting! :D

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edargnwod

I'm wondering if anyone knows if the game has any enhancements on PS4 Pro? Developers are finally making good use of the Unreal Engine 4. Higher framerate, 4K support, & HDR would be sweet.

Avatar image for forester057
Forester057

@edargnwod: No apparently.

Avatar image for Bahamut50
Bahamut50

I love stories like this but sometimes i get worried that it will make people hate tech enough with enough of these stories that we just stop letting science happen altogether xD.

Avatar image for forester057
Forester057

@Bahamut50: Lol. People are so addicted to the screens hahhahahahahaha. Nice thought. I can dream that people will actually live again, but no this is our hell. To miss life because a screen beckons is a shame. To have no experiences by 18 except those had on a screen is commonplace. Worthless experience that creates useless humans.

Avatar image for billlabowski
billlabowski

@Bahamut50: Nonsense. If the elite want us to adopt something, they will make us adopt it and the ones who do not will be shunned.

Avatar image for forester057
Forester057

@billlabowski: You're a clown. Moron sure of his own surety.

Avatar image for tingtong
tingtong

Really? So far I haven’t been shunned for saying f***: Facebook (ok, only when I’m really desperate for a piece of *** and don’t know the locals), Twitter, IG (in other words, social profiling/spying), pharmaceuticals, watching TV/the news, going church, getting married, working 9-5 (in other words, brain washing/slavery), smoking tobacco, eating mcdonalds, processed foods, poison-laced produce, drinking fluoridated water (in other words, fueling the cancer/pharmaceutical business, doctors, population control.

Just kidding!

Avatar image for Itzsfo0
Itzsfo0

@tingtong: lol who actually gets desperatefor ass just bust a nut and be done with it...trolling online for human contact..sounds like a waste of time i wouldnt want to even attempt...as for all the processed foods n drugs n yap yap...every life comes with a death sentence (gotta love those breaking bad euphanisms) so screw it stay single dont marry do drugs lay around be anti social...do whatever you want...but im not giving up meat or marijuana...cause going all healthy to the extreme usually means your gonna grow tiny little vaginas all over your body like stan fr south park. Vegans n those guys in tights on bicycles hogging up the side really are giant cancer pussies (lol that could be a punk rock band name) The Giant Cancer Pussys.

Avatar image for tingtong
tingtong

@Itzsfo0: So you basically say you only live once so “f*** it” & live life to the fullest (I very much agree, with my own best interest & quality of life in mind), but no nut busting via human contact? Contradicting to the most extreme, & I must say u’re missing out ;)

And I never said anything about going vegan or not smoking treez…much better alternative to popping pills.

Avatar image for darthrevenx
DarthRevenX

i was kinda eh on this but knowing Rutger Hauer is in it, I'm way more interested......

[on the list you go observer]

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Pelezinho777

@darthrevenx: I wanted to write the exact same comment, but you have stolen my words. :)

Avatar image for darthrevenx
DarthRevenX

@Pelezinho777: well as a not so wise man once said.....

I am not a crook

-Richard Nixon

-----

i am not a crooks head

-Richard Nixon's head

Avatar image for Pelezinho777
Pelezinho777

@darthrevenx: lol!

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Shimonhead

Hell yeah!! Rutger Hauer!!!

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Jmangamer85

glad to see they made a big hit after layers of fear

Avatar image for matty_h2o
Matty_H2O

@jmangamer85: Layers of Fear was super creepy, it was great but hard to play at night. I hope Observer is less of a horror game coz I'm keen to see what else this team can do.

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Observer More Info

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  • First Released Aug 15, 2017
    released
    • Linux
    • Macintosh
    • + 4 more
    • Nintendo Switch
    • PC
    • PlayStation 4
    • Xbox One
    Observer is a game from Bloober Team, the developers of Layers of Fear.
    7.2
    Average Rating40 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Observer
    Developed by:
    Bloober Team
    Published by:
    Aspyr, Bloober Team, Oizumi Amuzio, Limited Run Games
    Genre(s):
    First-Person, 3D, Adventure
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs