My first moments in Observer had me walking into what seemed like some sort of apartment complex. The room was murky, a thick green mist made it hard to see my surroundings: a feeling of vulnerability already took over. I look down at my hand, my objective pops out of it through a sort of augmented reality implant. I couldn’t help but compare this world to something out of a Ridley Scott film like Alien or Blade Runner.
The world of Observer is filled to the brim with atmospheric scenery and it’s just begging to tell you its story: it’ll be one I’m very interested in diving into when the game finally releases.
Observer takes place in the year 2084. The world has been changed by the “Nanophage,” which is described as a “digital plague that swept across the land, killing thousands upon thousands of augmented souls.” I have no idea what exactly an augmented soul is, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t curious to find out.
The world of Observer comes across as one with a seriously large gap between the poor and the rich. The result of a war, known in the game’s world as “The Great Decimation,” destroyed the east and west. There weren’t any winners, except for a corporation known as “Chiron.” The corporation seized power and forged “The Fifth Polish Republic.” Not much else is explained in the opening of the game, but what you are told is that you’re an “observer”: you are what they fear.
I was surprised how well Observer managed to freak me out. I was skeptical going into it because horror games have become relatively generic in the gaming market with a few standouts every now and again. I blame a lot of my gripes on Outlast. I’m not one who likes to repeat the same scenarios over and over again, this was my biggest problem with the original Outlast and other horror games that followed (though not so much in Outlast II). I’m happy Observer seems less like that and more like a visual story that sinks its hooks into players.
It’s unclear whether observers are exclusively given special powers: you’re able to use things like ultraviolet vision and electromagnetic vision to analyze your surrounds and detect things that the human eye cannot pick up. These parts actually reminded me of my time with the detective mechanics in the Batman: Arkham games. I’ll be curious to see if Observer’s story continues to blend more noir elements mixed with horror throughout its entirety.
As I walked through the tiny apartment complex, my character kept having fast hallucinations of random scenery that didn’t mean much to me at first: it did manage to get me to jump a few times though, admittedly. These moments are comparable to another game by Bloober Team, Layers of Fear. I eventually found a man laying next to a bathtub, he was covered in blood. I could not make out what he was saying so the observer decides to go inside of his mind to figure out what exactly happened to the man and who did it.
Once I was inside, everything changed. I was no longer at the leisure of my own control: the game took over. I felt as though I was trekking, trying to figure something out by exploring various visions and locations. There was one particular moment when I was able to see something walking in the distance from my location: something big, loud and that I really couldn’t make out well… but it scared the crap out of me. The preview ended with a puzzle that didn’t take me long to figure out, but it sure as hell left me excited to find out more.
The preview I got to experience sets up a lot of cool, mysterious ideas in the world of Observer. It’s unclear who the observer works for: the way he speaks, along with the powers he has, imply that he’s working for someone or something. Does the title of the game only imply there is just one observer?
The most exciting thing about Observer to me is its lack of control. My favorite types of horror games give players the illusion that they have control over certain events; that’s one of the reasons I love the original Resident Evil. You never really feel like you have the power: you’re at the leisure of the game and its world.
My hope is that Observer focuses on its most interesting mechanics while threading together a great world and story. Developer Bloober Team seemingly has all the components of a good horror game, and in a setting that’s not always primed for this type of horror, making for a unique experience. The game’s focus on taking away control and entering the minds of other humans is a great way to continue building Observer’s narrative.
Oberver is expected to release on PS4, Xbox One, and PC sometime this year. Below, you can checkout a trailer and some more screenshots from my time with the demo.