In a locked down, filth-riddled slum stack, the only sounds you can hear are the swish of your trench coat and the beat of your old, augmented heart. You know damn well that you’ve got to question each and every single tenant in the building and find out what they know. Why might the building be locked down in the first place? Has anyone seen any signs of your son, who is your main reason for being here in the first place?
You know that somebody has got to know something, and you’re going to find out—whether by asking nicely, or using your unique abilities as an “Observer.” Some of these strange, deluded junkies tremble even just having you outside their door. They know the awful things you can do to them to get what you need or want. Welcome to the filthy, scummy, depressing, and terrifying world of Observer.
Observer has got one of the most interesting worlds of any horror game I’ve ever played, in terms of the apartment complex it takes place in. You’ve got free reign to go to pretty much any floor and knock on any door, but you won’t get an answer at every door every time.Almost every single tenant—even when you don’t get their name—are quirky and memorable, and offer unique points of view to the strange happenings in the building. The people and side-stories that they’re involved with make you want to explore every nook and cranny of every hallway and room.
Half the time, I forget what objective is part of the main story, because some of the situations that you investigate are so deep and disturbing that they pull you in. When you finally finish them and are forced back into the main story, it’s almost jarring to walk away from some things that you see and continue on.
Seriously, there’s like fifteen mini storylines that are all so enthralling it makes Observer more than worth the price of admission.
The flow of the game, and the gameplay, is slow 95% of the time, but constantly building through disturbing and terrifying segments. Speaking to the tenants of the building through their doors teaches you about what’s happened before you got there.
The main reason you’ve come to this building is that you received a message from your son whom you haven’t seen in many years. The main character, an “Observer,” is a sort-of detective, voiced by Rutger Hauer, and uses his laptop in his car to track the signal of the call to the previously mentioned apartment complex.
On a side note, let me just say that Rutger Hauer was the perfect voice actor for this role. He is so damn good and makes you feel every word he says. He truly is that grizzled, old, frustrated authority figure who refuses to put up with any kind of shit from anyone. He’ll pander to and manipulate people to get what he wants, whether it be inflating someone’s ego to get information out of them, or blackmailing a suspect into providing info on his drug dealer. He might be the best use of a celebrity talent in a videogame this year, if someone doesn’t come along and do something REALLY spectacular soon.
I know that the thought of a game that takes place entirely in a gross apartment complex is…less than stellar. The game makes up for this, though, with the memory-invasion sequences that are prevalent throughout the game. The only way to get the information that you need most of the time, is to rip it straight from the brain of someone involved with your current investigation.
Jumping into these memories is pretty fucking terrifying, with twitchy, disturbing shadows, TVs that cry like babies and giggle when you tote them around like a flashlight, and more. The locales you can expect are forests, office buildings, prisons, and some rather indescribable places that are just architectural nightmares.
The basic gameplay is walking, talking, and looking at stuff, with a very minor mechanic that keeps you from dying or passing out. Your augmented body can only last so long without your medicine, and, after a little while (or after seeing too many disturbing things) your vision starts to blur, making it hard to see. At least you can find and consume the medicine to keep your vision corrected. It seemed like a neat mechanic at first, but it never seemed like a problem. I always had enough medicine. I think it’s more of a plot device than anything, and having it be constant keeps it from being a cop-out when it’s part of the story.
You have a night vision option for dark corners, tech-vision that highlights and scans important objects and pieces of technology, and bio-vision for blood-stains and corpses. You spend a lot of time just gathering information and talking to people in-between invading memories, and it’s so damn fun. It’s almost a breather when you finally finish the disturbing sequences to get back to the apartment complex and gather more info.
Now, the setting is great, the main character is likable, the gameplay is simple yet fun. So, what’s the bad part? Well, remember when I said that the gameplay is slow and builds up very well 95% of the time? That’s because the other 5% of the time, the game throws you into unfitting instant-death sequences that belong in a very different game. They only really seem to happen in the memory sequences, but they’re really jarring and try to make use of sneaking around. Sneaking around in this game is dumb, and it doesn’t feel like it was implemented really well, thrown in to get some cheap FNAF-type jump-scare thrills. They’re frustrating and boring; however, there’s not very many of them, so it doesn’t ruin the game or anything.
The one other very small criticism I have for the beginning of the game involves the dispatcher that speaks to Rutger Hauer’s character. This woman gives the most phoned-in line delivery I’ve heard in a video game lately. Again, it doesn’t ruin the game or anything, but you gotta listen to this lady when you play for yourself.
Observer is my favorite horror game of 2017 so far. It’s enthralling, disturbing, and makes you want to explore every corner of the building and scan every little thing. I highly recommend this game to anyone that’s into horror, sci-fi, or just good storytelling in general.
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