Review – Observer: System Redux
Somehow, I’d never played Observer until now. I honestly have no idea why, especially considering how many thrillers, horror games, and walking sims I’ve played. It’s not like I hadn’t heard about it either. Several of my colleagues have been raving about it for years, with our own Leo Faria reviewing it twice! So when Observer: System Redux was announced as part of the next-gen console launch, I knew I had to finally see what all the fuss was about. I cannot stress enough how delighted I am that I did.
Observer is a dystopian, cyberpunk, psychological thriller. Set in Poland in the year 2084, mankind has suffered from a deadly plague called the Nanophage, as well as a fierce war that decimated the remaining population. Those who survived live in squalor and go to great lengths to distract themselves from their harsh existence. Drugs, body augmentations, and VR programs are abundant in this dark, depressing world.
You play as Daniel Lazarski, an elite neural detective known as an Observer. They are a specialized, corporate-funded police unit who are able to hack into the minds of suspects in order to obtain any information they need. When Daniel receives a distress call from his estranged son, Adam, he traces the call to a tenement building and goes there in the hopes of finding him. What awaits him there is a horror that will test his very sanity.
Observer is a tough game to classify into a specific genre. Much of it could be considered a walking sim, but there are lots of puzzles and investigative elements to it as well. Not to mention that the events take place all in one building, which allows for a lot of free exploration. Honestly, that’s one of my favorites aspects to this game. While it is largely a walking sim, it doesn’t make the mistakes of most others. You know what I’m talking about. The tired tropes of linear progression with the whole “walk into a room, leave, then walk back in only now it’s different” gimmick. While there are those moments in here, they take place only when Daniel is inside someone’s mind and therefore feel a bit more earned.
However, there a few instances in which there were some cheap jumpscares, which I found to be a little disappointing. Mainly because the rest of the game delivers a constant feeling of unease and some effective tension-filled sections. Some of them worked and made sense, but having a pigeon fly at your face for no reason at random times was unnecessary. Luckily, there are only a few times these jumpscares pop up, but I think the game would’ve stronger without them.
That being said, I was amazed at how engaging the story was. Not just the main story either. Some of the other tenants Daniel encounters also have problems they need help with. Observer: System Redux has added three new cases to be solved that weren’t present in the original version. This adds even more depth to the world building and makes you understand the plight of these people better. They’re not all saints, but you at least get a better glimpse into what it would be like to live in this dystopian world.
Daniel will have to solve various puzzles in order to gain access to certain areas of the building or obtain information. While none of these puzzles are particularly hard, they at least feel organic to the story. Most of them involve finding a four digit code to unlock a door, but you never have to search to hard for the answer. In fact, one lady screams the answer out at you after you’ve finished interrogating her. Still, it gives you more to do than the typical walking simulator staple of following a rigidly linear path while opening up every door, cabinet, and piece of furniture you find.
Even when you are walking around, you’ll be using a unique gameplay mechanic to investigate things. Being an Observer, Daniel is equipped with augmented vision. He has Electromagnetic Vision, which scans for electronic devices, and Bio Vision, which scans for biological remnants. He also has Night Vision for when he’s exploring the darker areas like the basements and sewers. I loved the vision mechanics as they give you even more things to do than just plodding around and poking at things.
There’s even more gameplay elements to enjoy, as there are sections that involve stealth. From what I understand, these sections were the biggest complaint with the original version. There’s nothing worse than having unreliable, shoddy stealth sections shoved into an exploration game. I recently encountered that very issue with Someday You’ll Return. If done poorly, it can not only aggravate you, but also pull you out of the experience. Thankfully, this has been completely revamped and fixed in Observer: System Redux, along with massive hitching issues that plagued the 2017 version. Now that everything runs smoothly, the stealth sections were some of the best and most suspenseful parts of the game.
The graphics have also been completely redone for Observer: System Redux and the framerate has been upgraded to a steady 60fps. This game was already praised for its visuals before, but now they’re simply stunning. I was really impressed with how great the people and biological matter look too, especially since that’s usually the worst aspect in most indie games. All of the textures and details are gorgeous, which is an odd thing to say about such a visceral and disturbing game. It’s by far one of the most beautiful nightmarish hellscapes you’ll ever see.
The sound design is outstanding. The sound effects are so convincing that they’ll make you uneasy at times. It’s a tremendous help when you’re in the stealth sections and have to try to listen to where the enemies are without being seen. The voice acting is also strong from pretty much everyone. The late iconic Rutger Hauer delivers a solid performance as Daniel Lazarski. However, being so elderly at the time of recording, there are times when he mumbles his lines a bit and it’s hard to understand what he’s saying. Thankfully, it’s not too frequent, but it still puts a slight damper on his otherwise stellar performance.
In summation, I can’t recommend Observer: System Redux enough. Every aspect of it is phenomenal. The story is thrilling, the side missions are interesting, the characters are complex and fleshed out well, the various gameplay aspects are fun, the visuals are realistic and grimy, and the sound design and voice acting is top notch. With the updated graphics, reworked gameplay mechanics, and new content, Observer: System Redux is a treat for those already familiar with it and newcomers alike. If you haven’t already checked it out, then now would be a good time to do so.
The graphics have had a complete overhaul from the original version and the results are stunning.
While mostly a walking sim, there some puzzles, investigative elements, and stealth sections throughout the game. The issues found in the original version have all been fixed for Observer: System Redux.
The sound design is utterly fantastic. Rutger Hauer gives a solid performance, but he sometimes mumbles, making it hard to tell what he’s saying.
The story is fantastic and will keep you engaged the entire time. The eerie, grimy atmosphere seeps into every corner of the game and provides some truly tense moments. The stealth sections and hitching issues from the original have been fixed and there are three new cases to solve.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Observer: System Redux is available now on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series S/X.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X.
A copy of Observer: System Redux was provided by the publisher.