‘Tis the time of year where we torture ourselves by sticking on a scary movie or start playing that game you’ve heard was a spooky one but never got around to playing. I personally don’t mind thrillers and psychological horrors, when playing a game, but horror/intense games with stealth segments usually put me off and makes me give up before I reach the ending. However, as it’s Halloween, I was kindly given >observer_ to take a look at due to Bloober Team recently releasing a double pack containing this and their other hit game, Layers of Fear.
So, I turned on my PS4 last night at 6pm, loaded up >observer_ and turned out the lights. I didn’t stop playing until the credits were rolling around six hours later. I know it’s not much but considering I made it all the way through, with a few jump-scares and horrific imagery, without having to look up help or hints online – I was rather impressed with myself. So, just what is >observer_ all about and why is it a perfect Halloween game?
I’d seen parts of this game when it originally released back in late 2017, but I’d never really looked into the story which was being told as I thought it was going to be rather generic based on the screenshots I’d seen – I don’t think I could have been further from the truth though. The year is 2084 (I would say that’s a nod to 1984 by George Orwell), crime had reached such a high level that a corporate-funded police unit, known as the Observers, was created in order to seek out suspects to a crime and hack into their minds for evidence and motive.
Our protagonist is Daniel Lazarski, one of the elite detectives within the unit. Little is known about our protagonist at the beginning other than we know he had become estranged from his son due to complications with his mother (your wife). So, receiving a call from him asking for help was not only surprising but also worrying as well. You track him down to a seedy apartment building in the Class C slum district, a building which is barely standing and houses some rather questionable residents.
Soon after you enter and are reunited with your son, the building goes into lock-down and all access to and from the building is obstructed by thick steel shutters. Whilst locked up, you uncover a series of crimes which have been committed and it’s down to you to investigate the crime scenes and hack into the minds of the dead in order to relive the past. The issue is, as you dive deeper into other peoples minds, you’ll slowly begin to relive not only their darkest fears but also your own as you seek the truth. The question is, how far will you go to discover the truth?
First of all, I just have to say that I love this setting the game is based in – rather than having a horror game set in the past or in a creepy building, like the teams previous game was, >observer_ is set in a dystopian neon-lighted, tech-reliant futuristic timeline where people rely on technology even more than they do today! Sure, the apartment building is creepy and a bit spooky, but the atmosphere the developers have created is sick and twisted with a hint of horrific and disturbed thrown into the mix. I would say I felt uneasy more than I was scared whilst walking around the halls on my lonesome as everyone’s door had become locked in the lockdown.
In terms of Dan, he’s like a cross between Batman and Connor from Detroit: Become Human. You’re technically half man, half machine as you flick between four visual settings. You have your normal vision, which is ‘normal’, Nightvision for looking in the dark, Organic View for seeking and analysing organic substances/items, and Mechanical View for seeking and analysing machinery. The latter two modes are used primarily within the various crime scenes you’ll discover, but you can technically turn them on whenever you want if you wish to have a nosey or get more info on a certain item or person.
The scene of the crime:
That’s right, just like the latest Batman games and Detroit: Become Human, you can observe and log what you see in a crime scene. Unlike those games though, >observer_ doesn’t give Dan the ability to reconstruct the movements which happened – so you’re limited to just finding out what you think happened based on wounds, blood splatter and the objects which are lay around the scene. However, one of the things you can do in >observer_ and not in the aforementioned games is hack into the minds of the suspects/victims and try and piece together what had happened which led up to their untimely demise.
This is where >observer_ gets very trippy and confusing. As you enter the dying subconscious of a deceased body, via their implanted memory chip, you’ll begin to work your way through their corrupted memories. In some instances, this may involve stealth segments as you evade gigantic beasts with represents what the host is scared of, and other times you’ll be walking around and shifting from vision to vision as you gain broken fragments of what could have led to this event. The craziest segments I saw were rooms spinning and turning upside down as you walk, a giant version of your host begging you not to kill them, your height growing and shrinking to symbolise you’re in the memories of a child, and even being stuck in a VR unit as you seek a way out.
Seriously, I can’t put into words how strange and crazy this game gets – especially if you uncover the game inside the game near the end of a playthrough – it’s like the mind of a gamer!
I have a question:
Other than freelancing for the dead within your unintentional prison, you’ll also have the ability to talk to almost every person who has an intercom on their door. They won’t open the door but some of them lead to new side missions, offer hints on various room codes, or just want to chat as their scared because they can’t leave the apartment. Don’t forget, you a new breed of cyber-cop, so questioning and making people answer you is second nature. I’d strongly urge you to talk to everyone and participate in every side mission as well as they can be just as crazy as the memory hacking segments.
I don’t want to spoil the side missions for you, so I won’t give them all away – however, there is one which stuck with me that I really want to talk about. After a bit of investigating, memory hacking and finding the code to a door, you find yourself in a black market organ farm! Anyway, you discover that it also houses a massive pig which is being used within this process. I’m not quite sure what is happening but it seems like things are being pumped into the swine and making it incredibly fat. Now, you have two choices, 1. Turn off the life support and end the hogs suffering or 2. Reboot it’s VR headset (did I forget to say the pig was wearing one?) so the pig thinks it’s on a farm and doesn’t suffer as much, but the process continues.
There are a few multiple choice options within >observer_, they don’t seem to change the story but I guess it’s up to you which one you would do in terms of your morality.
Horror, Stealth or FPS?
I was a little thrown back by >observer_ at first, in a good way. As I’ve played Layers of Fear a few years ago (well, I was in the room whilst my mate played it), the controls all felt very natural. It plays like Amnesia, and Layers of Fear, where you walk around in first-person and hold the R2 trigger as you move the Right Stick in order to open doors, move objects, slide panels etc… You have no weapons, so if anything comes after you, run. However, there are a few annoying stealth segments within a few memories and towards the end of the game. Not annoying as in they are bad but annoying as in “I don’t like them”.
Saying that though, I managed to get through them by only getting caught about a dozen times – so that’s not bad – plus the checkpoints are really good as you get one almost every time you progress a little further. I was also kind of happy with the number of jump-scares the game threw at me – again, not a big fan of these. It seemed like there were only a few but they were done really well as each one made me jump and swear at the TV for a few minutes before moving on, rather than the game being solely based around the jumps.
As a whole, the creepy nature of the environments, dynamic shadows, disturbing noises, horrific imagery, and constant fear of “what’s coming next”, is what made this game really intense for me.
>observer_ is a mixed bag, but not in a good way I’m afraid. Let’s start with the positives – the visuals look amazing – everything is textured really well, little to no clipping issues, fantastic aesthetic, and a really cool way of looking at the dystopian future. Similarly, the sound design is perfect. I had on headphones as I played the game – not the best idea for someone like me – and you could really hear all the sounds coming from all directions as you were in the stealth missions as well as the growls and screams as you walk down the hallways. I wish this was all I had to say as I was really impressed with the level of detail put on display in these two areas, however…
>observer_ isn’t a ‘smooth’ game to play. Let’s back up a little, I’m on the PS4 Pro, I have Supersampling on and Boost mode as I don’t believe that >observer_ has any form of PS4 Pro support included. Unfortunately, even with those enabled, as you run around the apartments, go through doors or up and down the stairs, the game gets really, really sluggish. If I was to guess, I would say 10-15fps in terms of the framerate. Does this impact gameplay? No. When you’re in the segments where you have to move fast, it runs perfect. However, you’ll lose some immersion within the game as you try and go upstairs and the framerate suddenly drops right down with no warning.
I’m not sure if Bloober Team is still supporting >observer_, as it’s a year old now, but I would love it if they added Pro support to iron out the framerate issues on the console.
As I stated above, I’m not a massive fan of horror game, especially ones which require stealth by hiding or running away from danger. However, >observer_ drew me in with it’s original and interesting story and then it kept me hooked with the memory hacking mechanics and wanting to discover the truth. By the end of my play session with the game, at 1 am this morning, I didn’t even care if the game threw another stealth segment at me as I was ready for it and I had the determination to overcome it as I was so close to finding a certain thing in-game. When a game can flip my opinion on a mechanic I don’t like all because of its story and engagement it’s created, that’s a massive positive in my book.
For myself, the framerate drops which I occurred on the stairs and in various rooms didn’t impact my enjoyment of the game – sure, they were annoying, but at least the game didn’t crash or corrupt my saves as some games have previously. I do need to do a second playthrough at some points though, as I only collected about 10% of the collectables and there were a few side things I missed out on, so I really hope the team can do something to resolve the drops so everyone can enjoy the game at it’s best . Even if it’s just enabling Pro support so it uses the full GPU and extra CPU power to stabilise the game – as boost mode only enables half of the Pro’s GPU.
I’ve played a few games this Halloween which have been quite spooky but this one is the one which actually had me jumping a few times. This isn’t as disturbing as Death Mark, but it was certainly more intense.
>observer_ is a fantastic cyberpunk horror game with a hint of stealth and mind-fucking. The story is all about finding out the truth, leading spontaneous investigations, and trying to lift the lockdown on the building. However, this will require you to hack into the memories and nightmares of dead bodies as well as explore the run-down apartment building as you scourer for clues and evidence. Not everything is as it seems, some things will disturb you, you’ll get hit with moral choices, and you will get creeped out.
The only thing holding the game back is the poor performance in certain areas, other than that, >observer_ is a really freaky game which should be played by everyone who loves the horror genre.
- Visually stunning with its realistically horrifying imagery
- The story is really interesting and has you hooked from the start
- Lots of places to explore, people to talk to and things to discover
- Creepy and disturbing as hell
- The voice acting and overall sound quality is great
- There are quite a few performance issues on the stairs and in certain rooms, even on the PS4 Pro
- Personal point:- The stealth segments were a bit easy and not scary upon capture, it was more annoying than frightening
- I wish more of the game was interactive as there was so much in the world you couldn't look at or touch