Anyone looking to get their sci-fi, story based gameplay fix on, should look no further than Bloober Team’s >observer_ game which we will refer to as Observer, without those special characters, from now on. It offers a compelling story set in a terribly dystopian world where technology and greed have far outpaced our collective humanity. Thankfully, the dreary world presented is filled with lots of cool shiny things to look at and experience, so if you don’t think about how horrible the setting presented by Observer actually is, or how bad the lives of the people forced live there probably are, you should enjoy your stay.
The main character in this first-person adventure is voiced by the legendary Rutger Hauer. His voice acting is mesmerizing. I think he could be interesting if he were reading the phonebook, which is a good thing because some of the longer dialog sequences within the game might start to grind on a little bit too long with a lesser actor. They kind of do in a few places within Observer too, but Hauer keeps things moving.
Observer’s gameplay is probably best described as a cross between a walking simulation and a story-based adventure. You get to do a lot more here than in games like Dear Esther or Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, figuring out puzzles at different points and deciding exactly where to point your investigation, but there is still a lot of walking around and talking to people, or at least talking to people through closed doorways.
Using Hauer was a brilliant move because of his Blade Runner credentials. Observer really wants players to make the connection between that game and the classic (and now new) movie. Little hints referring to Blade Runner or paying homage to it are within the game for fans to find and appreciate, though mostly the similar dystopian world run by technology corporations is the biggest similarity.
You play a futuristic police officer named Dan Lazarski with seemingly supernatural, technology-based powers. You see, everyone in the world of Observer is trying to escape reality in one way or another. The use of drugs is heavily implied, and even the subject of a side quest you can obtain. However, the main drug of choice is a hyper virtual reality that is indistinguishable from actual reality while people are playing. Who wouldn’t love something like that? But in Observer, it’s given to just about anyone who wants it. It’s implied that the main mega corporation supplies the VR to workers for free as a way of keeping them passive and compliant. Work a 12-hour shift doing menial tasks for low pay for the corporation? No worries. You get to become a daring spaceship captain, or a Casanova with endless lovers, or whatever else you can think up when you get home, courtesy of your free lifelike VR machine.
Which brings us to Lazarski. He is described as someone who can enter a person’s dreams. However, his real power is physically connecting into people in the same way that they connect into their VR machines. With almost everyone wired up for access, Lazarski can plug into them and explore their brains, as well as their embedded hard drives, and drift through their thoughts and memories. The cops have him use this power to solve crimes, while the corporation (it’s implied) use their influence to have him and other Observers ferret out secrets.
As such, the game is played in two different environments. There is the real world, which mostly consists of a multi-story apartment building that goes on lockdown as soon as the story begins, trapping you inside, and the virtual worlds of people’s memories that you force your way into.
This sets up a dichotomy, not unlike in games like Silent Hill, where reality is bleak and depressing, yet relatively safe, while the dream worlds are fantastic and bizarre, and possibility very dangerous. The really brilliant thing about Observer is that those two worlds begin to subtly mesh overtime. You see, we learn that Observers tend to go crazy and wash out of the service. They are kept sane by injecting a blue drug into their systems from time to time, which levels out their vital signs and grounds them back in reality. If you go too long between injections, you start to see artifacts on your screen, like the snow of an old television set. And then, when you start to experience truly bizarre things in the real world, you are always going to wonder if you are somehow really stuck in a dream world, something I was convinced was happening though most of the second half of the game.
Read the entire review over at TWB sister organization, Game Industry News!