The Observer is an interesting title; on the one hand, it is absolutely dripping in atmosphere with this Redux version layering on some stunning visual effects that really increase the immersion. On the other, I came away from it bewildered about what was going on, amid some odd technical issues.
I’ve not played the original release, so came in here fresh having only really seen a short trailer or two. Bloober Team are well known for their horror titles in recent years (Layers of Fear, Blair Witch) but Observer tends to skew more towards thriller than those titles. There’s plenty of cyberpunk-y visuals and themes, with body augmentation – and the effects it can have on people – a big part of the package. The fairly condensed area in which the game is set still manages to squeeze in plenty of neon, holograms, and automated droids in among some truly grotesque imagery, while later areas go full force on the tech side of things, almost reminding me of the underground labs of Resident Evil. This remade version does look stunning, with plenty of nicely detailed rooms and areas to see, and some excellently lit scenes that heighten the tension. I’m not sure how much it’s making use of truly next gen features, but what is here works excellently.
We play as Daniel Lazarski, an Observer detective – part of a force set up after a virus called the Nanophage caused war and rampant drug abuse – who is able to hack into people’s minds in aid of doing his job. This detective work forms the bulk of Observer’s gameplay. He is able to scan environments and people using either Electromagnetic or Bio Vision; one to search for tech clues, the other organic clues. When searching a scene it is vital to swap between them to find everything and also pay close attention to every little detail as some of the clues can be almost microscopic and are easily missed. While a lot of the scanning is simply to fill out the world and story, upon finding a dead (or almost dead) person, he is able to hack into their mind and try to figure out what happened to them.
These sequences are both the best and most confusing things in Observer. Each of the few we do are different and bring to the party tricks and effects seen across Bloober Team’s other titles, such as when we enter a room to find there is no exit, so we’ll need to spin around before the room changes entirely and we’re suddenly running down a corridor a la Layers of Fear. There’s a lot of creepy imagery and audio going on, and even eventually some uniquely presented stealth sections too. As I say, it’s definitely more thriller-esque than horror, but that’s not to say that there aren’t a good few jump scares. I’ll admit the first time the omni-present monster that chases us in these sequences appeared directly in front of me for a moment that it gave me a good jump!
Aside from this monster and the two or three times it appears there’s very little in the way of peril. Observer wants us to get sucked into its atmosphere and lore, and revel in the exploration and detective work. It can do a great job of this, but I also found that a good amount of the time I ended up getting stuck searching for the aforementioned tiny clues for too long. There was also a puzzle early on involving a door code that I ended up needing to Google such was its obscurity (even then, I don’t think I’d have thought to do what was needed on my own).
There’s also the odd occurrence of the cursor being off centre which makes interacting with items that bit trickier and a handful of crashes that happened during my run. These could also be a side effect of the new console of course, but I thought it worth noting.
Depsite these niggles I enjoyed my time with The Observer; it looks great, has atmosphere for days and if you cankeep track of what is going on then there is a lot of additional lore to find and piece together. The mind hack sections were the most engaging parts, with some genuinely clever presentation and execution among some truly bizarre imagery and themes. It might not be Bloobers best work, but it’s worth a look if you’re a fan of the team’s games.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
I also had a bizarre bug whereby using a pair of wireless headphones while playing caused the audio to cut in and out, almost as if there was some sort of interference. I tried all sorts of solutions, from disabling Dolby Atmos, to turning off other consoles around the Series X, stopping all downloads and more, but it happened across my four nights of playing, and only when playing Observer. I have reached out to see if this is a reported issue, but it’s specificity leads me to think it must be something on my end that is wrong that I’m missing. I also switched between several games over the course of an evening and the only time I had this issue was when I went back to Observer. It’s thoroughly odd, and as such I ended up using wired headphones which worked a treat. I’m not factoring this into the review as I don’t feel that would be fair, but I also wanted to bring it up just in case.