Observer ...................................................................

TECH NOIR DYSTOPIAN BLADE RUN­NER ES­QUE CYBERPUNK MYS­TERY

PC & Tech Authority - - CONTENTS - Michael Jenkin

Be­ing an Observer kind of sucks. It’s low-paid work for a dom­i­neer­ing cor­po­ra­tion that in­volves en­dur­ing in­va­sive biotech­no­log­i­cal aug­men­ta­tions, an im­muno­sup­pres­sive drug de­pen­dency and a man­date to pry on the sub con­scious­ness’s of the de­praved cit­i­zens of tech-noir Krakow, 2084.

For player-char­ac­ter Daniel Lasarski, the night that Observer takes place is par­tic­u­larly un­pleas­ant. Af­ter re­ceiv­ing a dis­tress­ing call from your es­tranged son and trac­ing the sig­nal to a low­er­class apart­ment com­plex, you hap­pen upon a se­ries of grisly mur­ders. May the in­ves­ti­ga­tions, hacks, scans and psy­chotic episodes be­gin.

This metic­u­lously crafted first-per­son cyberpunk thriller ad­mirably takes queues from Deus Ex, Sys­tem Shock, The Cell and Blade Run­ner (Rut­ger Hauer even plays the pro­tag­o­nist), as crude elec­tron­ics, body aug­men­ta­tions, neon lights, heavy rain, smokey ex­haust ports and di­lap­i­dated build­ings set the stage for a dark trip.

In true cyberpunk de­tec­tive style you’ll sift through seedy apart­ments hack­ing ter­mi­nals, read­ing emails, study­ing foren­sics and jack­ing into the minds of oth­ers (more on this be­low). Your high­tech rum­mag­ing is as­sisted through the use of two scan­ning aug­men­ta­tions: one for bi­o­log­i­cal data – iden­ti­fy­ing blood stains, sus­pi­cious mark­ings and in­juries – and an­other for elec­tronic sig­nals – re­veal­ing which equip­ment can be in­ter­acted or in­ter­faced with.

Scan­ning for th­ese points of in­ter­est is a solid me­chanic and helps sell the de­tec­tive as­pect of the ex­pe­ri­ence, though one sin­gle scan­ning mode for both clue types prob­a­bly would have su—ced; switch­ing back and forth be­tween “bio” and “tech” scan­ning vi­sions as you probe a mur­der scene tends to add more nui­sance than nu­ance to the game­play.

Polish de­vel­oper Bloober clearly have a pen­chant for hor­ror. Their first ma­jor re­lease, Lay­ers of Fear, en­joyed crit­i­cal praise in 2016 for be­ing par­tic­u­larly ter­ri­fy­ing. In Observer, it’s through one of the player’s core de­tec­tive abil­i­ties that th­ese pro­cliv­i­ties get the most ex­po­sure. As an Observer, Lasarski’s most pow­er­ful tool is the abil­ity to jack into the minds of other aug­mented char­ac­ters, tak­ing the player through night­mar­ish sec­tions of the game to ex­plore the warped sub­con­scious of trau­ma­tised sub­jects in search of an­swers.

While some im­pres­sive shader eŸects and tripped out vi­su­als make th­ese

psy­cho­nau­tic in­va­sions quite in­ter­est­ing to look at, their emo­tional im­pact is heav­ily re­liant on the stan­dard hor­ror con­ven­tions we’re all fa­mil­iar with: a screech here, an au­dio-dis­tort­ing crackle there, vi­o­lent shakes, ob­jects shift­ing by them­selves and the odd jump-scare.

Hon­estly, it’s piled on a lit­tle thick. Mov­ing through maze-like hall­ways that shift and play tricks on you can be more te­dious than tense, and there’s only so many creepy au­dio cues one can hear be­fore they wear out their wel­come. I tended to rush th­ese por­tions of the game, hop­ing around each cor­ner for the end to the seg­ment, which of­ten took a lit­tle too long to ar­rive.

Things get more sever the deeper you travel into the night. Lasarski be­comes in­creas­ingly un­hinged as his mind wres­tles with the sit­u­a­tion. Granted th­ese mo­ments do make for a suit­ably dra­matic arc for the char­ac­ter, but I don’t think Observer gives play­ers enough time to en­joy its more sub­tle game­play be­fore go­ing full Event Hori­zon on them.

I say this be­cause the reg­u­lar set­ting of the game is very suc­cess­ful at be­ing omi­nous and eerie with­out re­sort­ing to the tacky tropes of the hor­ror genre. Lasarski’s jour­ney through­out the evening is grim and lonely, and walk­ing through de­crepit hall­ways of ex­posed brick and dig­i­tal pan­els while the rain beats down evokes a cold and pen­sive at­mos­phere. Even though Lasarski does have en­coun­ters with oth­ers, gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion from the var­i­ous ten­ants of the apart­ment block, th­ese au­dio-based in­ter­ac­tions take place through crude elec­tronic door-mounted in­ter­com pan­els, and your iso­la­tion is com­pounded by the bizarre, para­noid and reclu­sive char­ac­ters you in­ter­act with through closed doors.

Not­with­stand­ing my per­sonal reser­va­tions when it comes to the hor­ror genre, Observer cap­tures an au­then­tic cyberpunk world that many will agree is worth the price of ad­mis­sion to ex­plore. The pre­sen­ta­tion of this game is stun­ning and Bloober have crafted a cap­ti­vat­ing dystopian Krakow, through which a pow­er­ful noir at­mos­phere comes to life be­fore mak­ing way for a less com­pelling de­scent into madness.

ex­plore the warped sub­con­scious of trau­ma­tised sub­jects”

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