Review by Leigh
>OBSERVER_ is a cyberpunk horror that will make you question your optical circuits. Bloober Team, the developers behind Layers of Fear, have done it again with another narrative-driven first person abstract puzzler game, only this time the narrative is little less open for interpretation and brings the player into a futuristic detective noir setting.
The year is 2084, Poland. You are Daniel Lazarski, a cop with the ability to interrogate suspects by hacking their minds, also known as an Observer. Lazarski is rudely awakened from slumbering inside his police vehicle by Dispatch when a surprise call is received from his estranged son. Lazarski tracks the origins of the call, leading him to an apartment block in the slums. Lazarski hopes to find his son but stumbles upon something more sinister instead. The large apartment block goes into lockdown trapping him and most of its residents inside. Will you stay alive long enough for Lazarski to report his findings and uncover what is stalking these halls of residence?
Even though the emphasis is on immersion and narrative, this is far from a walking sim. You will rummage through the slum occupants’ personal belongings, question residents behind their locked doors using dialogue tree selections, access personal computers (the mini-game is fun … but those damn spiders!), hack keypads and investigate crime scenes. On top of the impressive cyber-brain hacking ability which launches you into surreal cybernetic memories of an accessed mind, Lazarski also possesses an additional three optical outputs when investigating crime scenes and navigating his surroundings: Electromagnetic Vision (screenshot shown on right) allows the player to see electrical and other mechanical devices, Bio Vision allows the player to see and identify blood samples as well as identifying other biological materials, and Night Vision … well … lets you see in the dark.
Outside of the investigation aspect of the game there is exploration, including some stealth elements and also abstract puzzles that mostly take place inside the minds of the people Lazarski “interrogates,” or inside his own mind and other overlapping simulated environments. Your enjoyable romp through an incredibly impressive visual treat of a holographic-infused, neon-lit, disheveled apartment block is frequently interrupted by intense dread inducing moments, cyber glitch-infused surrealism and a few jump scares. Your advanced cyber bio-bowel will spray the inside of your holojocks more than a few times before the end of the game. You’ll feel like the Lion from Wizard of Oz trapped in the Tin Man’s suit. The sound design is so intense that at one point the groans and moans of some kind of animalistic creature had me crouched in a small tunnel for over two minutes before I built myself up to step out.
Puzzles are creative and the story is well paced although perhaps a little choppy and hard to follow. Intended jump scares sometimes missed their mark when I had approached particular trigger points a little differently than how the developers intended. Some of the horror elements I felt that worked incredibly well were not used to their full capacity where as other elements, such as some jump scares, I found cheapen the experience albeit a little. The flow of the level and puzzle design can be unnecessarily jarring and cause confusion or irritation among some players in which case they probably shouldn’t have been playing this game in the first place.
My nit-picking aside (I gotta somehow justify being a critic by providing critique) this game is a beautifully constructed work of art and just short of being a perfected masterpiece. It’s so good you should buy two copies so you can put them in front of a mirror then you can pretend you have four copies. The price is worth it. Bloober Team games just get bigger and better with every new release. I am very excited for the future …
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