Review – Observer
Let’s be blunt: Observer is a walking simulator, but a good one. It mixes a bit of Ghost in the Shell, a good chunk of Silent Hill‘s horror style and a metric ton of Blade Runner to deliver a great cyberpunk setting, and a very interesting story. Without entering spoiler territory, you control a Polish detective trying to look for his son in a derelict building in the slums of 2084 Krakow, Poland. Your character has futuristic implants which allow him to hack into people’s minds, and that plays a huge part in the game’s lore and gameplay. Are you impressed with my first sentence? With me saying “a walking simulator, but a good one?” Well, my friend, I’m as impressed as you are.
Giving credit where credit’s due, Observer is great when it comes to its artistic department. Its graphics are great, featuring a nice usage of lighting (or lack thereof, it’s a horror game after all) and a fantastic cyberpunk setting, full of dirty and gritty machinery coupled with lots and lots of neon signs and LED screens. The sound department is also flawless. The sound effects are as eerie as they should, the occasional tune being played in the background is creepy enough, and the voice acting is sublime. Rutger Hauer (a.k.a. Blade Runner‘s Roy Batty) voices your main character, and I can’t help but admit he did a phenomenal job by doing so. The vast majority of the characters in the game are voiced pretty well.
Thankfully, unlike most walking simulators, Observer does feature actual gameplay. Shocking isn’t it? The game has some very interesting dialogue options (you’re a detective, duh), nice bits of puzzle-solving, especially during the mind hacking segments, and even a neat little game hidden within the game, accessible via any computer you can find: a small retro-inspired dungeon crawler of sorts. Observer also does something that nearly made me cry with joy over: a run button. It’s not like the game’s map is vast or anything like that, but the fact there is a possibility to actually run at a decent speed was a godsend, especially after playing countless walking simulators which don’t feature said option. The only issue I had with its controls was with a few confusing commands, especially when it came to opening doors, as you had to use the right stick to open them. That was probably something brought over from the usage of the mouse on the PC version, which didn’t translate as well as it should in the console version. Then again, you can get used to it.
What really bothered me while playing Observer was its main flaw: the framerate. It’s been a while since I last saw a game with such a nonsensical and unstable framerate as this game. Given the immense amount of detail and particles put into the scenery, and most likely a lack of ideal optimization, Observer‘s framerate can vary from decent 60 frames per second to occasional single digits, depending on the amount of stuff happening onscreen. I have to say that there were moments in which the framerate was so insane that I simply closed the game, went out or played something else for an hour, and then went back to it, hoping for the game to calm down a bit with its frame tantrums. The other main issue I had was with the occasional appearance of a game-crashing glitch, especially during the mind-melting mind hacking sections. During my entire playthrough, the game crashed four times, mostly during the first few hours of gameplay. Thankfully, the game does autosave a lot, so I’d never lose a lot of progress. Still, I would have been happier without those issues.
If you can get past the disappointing technical issues and inconsistent frame rate, then Observer is a good pick for horror and investigative game fans. The great story, eerie setting, and fantastic voice acting are more than enough to keep you playing and make you want to explore every single item, clue, and dialogue possibility throughout the whole game.
Well, color me impressed, I have finally found another walking simulator I could actually consider good after all…
Reviewed on PS4.
Also available on: PC, Xbox One.
Copy of Observer provided by publisher.