Observer, the newest release from Bloober Team is a strange (but cool) mishmash of dystopian/cyberpunk/survival horror with a homicide detective simulator underneath. Imagine Blade Runner fooling around with David Fincher’s Seven in the backseat of a DeLorean. Nine months later, you’d probably have something that looked an awful lot like Observer.
The story takes place in 2084, or exactly 100 years after Orson Well’s 1984, after a great war that left current power nations in rubble, and sees Poland a World power by default. If you lived through the war—and the great plague called the Nanophage—then the world of Observer is what you get: a police state where the citizens turn to drugs or VR to escape their bleak reality, much like the US after each election cycle.
You play as Daniel Lazarski, who is voiced by the Blade Runner’s own Rutger Hauer, which I’ll get back to later. Lazarski is the surly old police detective you’ve come to know and love, or as they call them in this world, an Observer. These Observers have been mechanically and scientifically enhanced, including Terminator like visual scanners used to survey the crime scenes. One downside to these improvements (?) is that you’ll often need to inject medicine into your arm to keep yourself stable. This medicine will be scattered at random throughout the game, most commonly in bathrooms.
The game begins with our protagonist receiving a phone call from his estranged son. It seems that Lazarksi’s son Leon has gotten into some trouble as son’s are want to do, and he needs his pop’s help. So our hero traces the call back to an apartment complex in a shady part of town. And I do mean Shady. This town in Poland is called Krakow—pronounced crack house, minus the se. Of course I’m teasing the good folks of Krakow as I’m sure it is a lovely place to live or visit. This version, however, is not so nice, including this dilapidated apartment building, where the vast majority of the game takes place. It is strange indeed.
Once you get to this building, you’ll find your son’s apartment, but *Spoiler Alert* not your son, unless he has completely lost his head. This is the driving force of the game: What happened, and where the hell is your boy. You’ll spend the next few hours using your scientifically enhanced detective skills to glean clues from anything and everything, including blood splatters on the wall, to random books on a shelf. Using the R1 and L1 buttons, you can toggle between thermal and electronic views, with each of them highlighting different clues.
Aside from the building’s janitor, you’ll never really interact with another living soul in the flesh. Instead, you’ll spend a lot of time going door-to-door, asking a few questions via an intercom to the tenants who bother answering your knock. The cast of characters you’ll speak with are quite interesting, and it definitely sets the tone of what’s to come. And what’s to come, is weird.
Each person in this new world has a chip in the brain, unless they’ve been removed, that the Observer can access. These chips carry memories that, when accessed, fill the screen with a collage of nightmare images that might make you question the expiration date on those mushrooms you put on your pizza last night. These sections remind you, along with some well-timed jump scares, that this sci-fi cyberpunk story is also a survival horror story, and you’d be wise not to get too comfortable.
As I mentioned earlier, the main character’s likeness and voice are courtesy of cyberpunk icon Rutger Hauer. The moment you pull up your identity card and see Rutger on-screen, it just feels right. The voice acting on the other hand, is a different story. It confused me at first, as Rutger seemed to mispronounce certain words and read some lines with strange inflections and void of any emotion. Was Rutger playing it that way? Did the director just suck at his job? Or maybe Rutger simply mailed it in for the paycheck. I don’t know, but it didn’t work for me. A shame really.
The action gameplay is…nonexistent, with Lazarski literally saying they are not allowed to carry guns anymore during a piece of dialogue. The Observer is all about the story. The good news is the story is really good, with deep layers that keep you playing and wondering what the hell is going to happen next. If the lack of gameplay is a deal breaker for you, you can check out now. But if you like a good (albeit bonkers) story, with deep world building that borrows lovingly from the cyberpunk classics that have come before it, then there is plenty to like about the Observer.
Observer PS4 Review
Observer is light on action/gameplay but offers an extremely deep story with interesting cyberpunk world-building and some bizarrely creepy dream images to keep you up at night. The voice acting is shaky more often than not, but the story is worth the price of admission.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using base PS4.