Be­come the ghost in the ma­chine with Ob­ser­va­tion


Games TM - - CONTENTS -



It’s good to see that the lit­tle flurry of space sta­tion and aban­doned astronaut games from a year or so ago hasn’t damp­ened the at­trac­tion of the set­ting for oth­ers, be­cause Ob­ser­va­tion is look­ing like a fas­ci­nat­ing new twist on the clas­sic thriller for­mat. Where Adr1ft and Ta­coma placed you in the shoes of an astronaut try­ing to ei­ther un­cover a mys­tery or sur­vive a re­cent dis­as­ter, Ob­ser­va­tion might be best de­scribed as the game where you play as the space sta­tion it­self.

It’s a fun con­cept, and that’s not ter­ri­bly sur­pris­ing com­ing from No Code, the de­vel­oper who pre­vi­ously de­liv­ered Sto­ries Un­told. Where that hor­ror game looked to sub­vert clas­sic text ad­ven­ture games and give them a mod­ern spin (to great ef­fect), Ob­ser­va­tion seems to be do­ing some­thing sim­i­lar with the point and click genre, al­beit in such a unique way that the ori­gins of the ex­pe­ri­ence are rather nicely dis­guised.

You’ll play as S.A.M. (Sys­tems Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Main­te­nance), the AI op­er­at­ing sys­tem of the space sta­tion Ob­ser­va­tion af­ter some sort of event has left one of your crew, Dr Emma Fisher, stuck in an air­lock and the rest apparently miss­ing. As you re­boot your­self, you grad­u­ally need to use the cam­eras around the sta­tion to re­gain ac­cess to dif­fer­ent con­trols and help Dr Fisher to not only get sys­tems back on­line across the ves­sel, but also work out what hap­pened, where the rest of the crew is and ul­ti­mately where ex­actly the sta­tion is.

Much like Sto­ries Un­told, the use of set­ting and the view­point of the pro­tag­o­nist gives you a com­pletely new and more im­mer­sive per­spec­tive on events, even though it might ap­pear that you’re at an even greater re­move. While in the hor­ror game you played text ad­ven­tures within a vir­tual space that saw that en­vi­ron­ment re­act to your in-game de­ci­sions (which was pretty spooky), as the AI of the ship you are not the one in peril, but you are re­spon­si­ble for this astronaut’s well-be­ing, and since you’re a per­son, not a com­puter, how you re­act and the speed at which you work will be no­ticed by Dr Fisher in the game.

We love this idea of plac­ing us as play­ers into these odd roles that make the char­ac­ters dis­trust our mo­ti­va­tions. While our mis­sion may be to save Dr Fisher, we can choose to ex­plore the out­side of the ship to look for clues about the events that lead up to our in­volve­ment, and we can oc­cupy a float­ing drone in­side the ship to move more freely and catch blind spots in the cam­era cov­er­age. In the mean­time, ev­ery sys­tem we need to con­trol means solv­ing a lit­tle puzzle, as if we’re hav­ing to remember how to be a com­puter again and in­ter­face with all of the sys­tems. This will in­volve look­ing over wire-frame ren­der­ings of the sta­tion for dam­age re­ports, de­frag­ment­ing me­mory to try to find lost data and lots of other in­ter­ac­tions with rather retro-look­ing com­puter in­ter­faces. All the while, we’ll also be get­ting strange in­ter­fer­ence and mes­sages on our HUD telling us to ‘Bring Her’. What could it all mean?

Given the team’s back­ground in hor­ror, we wouldn’t be sur­prised if all of this takes a pretty dark turn as the plot un­folds, per­haps even re­veal­ing some cul­pa­bil­ity on the part of S.A.M. or Dr Fisher, but for the mo­ment this is look­ing like an in­cred­i­bly tense, smart and re­ally gor­geously ren­dered space sta­tion thriller, eas­ily the equal of the also pretty good-look­ing Adr1ft from a cou­ple of years back. It has some of the lin­ger­ing dread of Ta­coma and some equally ex­cel­lent voice act­ing from what we’ve seen so far, which is also a good place to start. This type of lo­ca­tion is al­ways an in­trigu­ing one, the 'lost in space' con­cept well-trod­den, but ripe for twist­ing, and the per­spec­tive that’s been cho­sen seems like a great way of ex­plor­ing some clas­sic genre con­ven­tions from a new an­gle.

We’ll ad­mit that when Sto­ries Un­told was about to come out we nearly wrote it off as a Stranger Things coat-tail jumper, but hav­ing been thor­oughly schooled by the fi­nal re­lease, we will not be mak­ing that same mis­take again. No Code is a de­vel­oper to watch in terms of cre­at­ing gen­uinely new and ex­cit­ing gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, and you should be pre­pared to jump on board next spring.

Above: There are tons of cam­eras all around the space sta­tion Ob­ser­va­tion, which you can switch be­tween at will. Many are on the in­side of the sta­tion so that you can ac­cess sys­tems and check in on rooms, while oth­ers are on the ex­te­rior. right: Ob­ser­va­tion is clearly a creepy game, but that seems in­her­ent to the sce­nario with only one hu­man char­ac­ter seem­ingly in the world and all sorts of strange noises and hap­pen­ings on the sta­tion.

right: As the AI, you ex­pe­ri­ence what it’s like to man­u­ally in­ter­act with all of the dig­i­tal sys­tems that the crew sim­ply re­quest and see the re­sults of. It’s an in­ter­est­ing twist on point and click puz­zle­solv­ing me­chan­ics.

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