Observer Review – A Sci-Fi Walking Sim at its Best

Bloober Team released on PC (coming to Xbox One and PS4) its next game following on from their success with the haunting Layers of Fear. Now with legendary Blade Runner actor Rutger Hauer at the helm, is the sci-fi laden Observer or >Observer_ worthy of your time? Take a look at our Observer review for the full picture.

Today we’re taking a look at Bloober Team’s Observer which just released on PC and offers some intense sci-fi adventuring in a similar vein to their previous outing Layers of Fear. Except this time, fans of Blade Runner and the like will feel right at home. Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat though. This is not an action game, there are no guns and you won’t be hunting replicants or collecting bounties. It’s a walking simulator but in such an over-the-top way will leave you drained and bedazzled in equal measure.

Rutger Hauer who featured in the Ridley Scott Blade Runner movie (amongst many others) plays the lead role here, Dan Lazarski a neural detective or an Observer set within a technologically advanced future metropolis in 2084. What starts off as an investigation into his long lost son turns into something a lot more sinister and murderous. Such is the nature of the game it’s easy to spoil things which should be experienced first hand for full effect so that’s all that will be said regarding story specifics.

Gameplay comprises of talking to people, but not in the normal manner you might expect, in fact Observer is quite devoid of actual people with the only ones you encounter are superimposed in visions as outlines of a general populace or simply are deceased. You’ll spot more birds flying around than anything else. Conversation are mostly via knocking on apartment doors and questioning the occupants. A small video screen displays a warped view of the person talking and doesn’t give much to go on. However, thanks to some clever script writing you’ll be intrigued by the personalities you encounter. Some are pretty creepy, others deranged but all leaving an image in your head as to what’s on the other side of the door. Whilst it’s hardly going to win fans with the impatient, there are some neat discoveries to be made for those who dive a bit deeper considering you can actually skip a lot of the door knocking investigations if desired.

During various moments Dan is able to use his tools to scan crime scenes which enables him to piece together what’s happened and unearth new leads. There are two vision modes to swap between which gives the game a CSI like flavour. The interface is well implemented making you feel a part of Dan’s world which is neat. There are alternate means of investigation and something unique to the Observers which allow them to jack into peoples minds (including those who have passed away) and dive into their past. This is often a harrowing experience where some puzzles are thrown into the mix alongside confusing navigation and warped imagery that completely throws your senses around like a rag doll. The visual audio experience here is second to none and whilst there’s the odd jump scare, it rests more on the side of abstract mental than pant wetting horror.

In terms of visuals, the game looks wonderful on PC especially in 4K with excellent lighting, texture detail and shadow effects. The futuristic look is perfected here although it’s a shame we can’t explore more than what’s offered. There’s an overarching darkness to the locales and at times some claustrophobic elements thrown in to keep you on your toes. The vision of the future is very much well realized here and then some, with fine details and warping imagery to really pull you into its world without remorse.

On a technical level, there are some moments where the game chugs a little dues to less than perfect optimization, but for the most part the experience is pretty smooth even when playing in 4K. A selection of options are available so you can tinker to get it right with your set-up although a good sweet-spot is running in 2K to maintain 60 frames per second. Obviously on lower end systems reducing to 1080p is more feasible.

Audio barges its way in to suit the visuals here but it’s Hauer’s laid back delivery which is the icing on the cake. He never sounds surprised at what’s encountered making for a robust performance of a man who perhaps has seen everything all the way through. Special note has to be given to some of the responses during the door to door investigations which might cause a smile here and there. Bloober Team made a good choice using the talents of Rutger Hauer for this game.

In terms of length, you can complete the story within 5-7 hours, possibly less if you’re speeding through. However, there’s lots to miss by doing so. There are multiple endings and at times different choices to make during conversations. Then there’s looking off the beaten track for collectible cards which show off members of the development team in various cyborg states. Finding all these adds some time to the overall play time due to being more thorough.

Observer looked great in previews and trailers and thankfully plays excellent as well. If you’re no fan of walking sims then the pure assault on the senses here might mean this could be an exception. It’s an incredible journey full of neat touches which makes it very hard to criticize. The only beef aside from not being able to explore more of the game world are some moments where progression forwards can be a little contrived or unclear, but this is a minor niggle. The core game, its character Dan and the world around him make for an exceptional journey for players that comes highly recommended.

Score 9/10

Written by: Robert Cram

Robert Cram has hundreds of video game reviews and thousands of articles under his belt. He aims to remain objective and fair in his analysis. With years of experience, feels his gaming opinions are valid and worth sharing. Agreement is entirely optional.