Observer is a cyberpunk psychological horror game. Set in 2084, a dystopian future that has been ravaged after a world war and a technovirus called the Nanophage has wreaked havoc, sinister shadowy corporations are left in control such as Chiron.
You play as detective Dan Lazarski and you are searching for your estranged son after he contacts you with a cryptic message which you track back to a dingy apartment block. Dan, however, is an observer and using his skills you can hack into the fractured damaged minds of criminals and lunatics, to leach information and hunt for clues.
The Bloober team are known for their horror game Layers of Fear, a surreal decent into madness and memory. With Observer, they haven’t strayed too far from this theme but instead of a supernatural story this cyberpunk tale is an uneasy merging of man and machine, within the world and the bodies of its characters.
Observer is a game that’s wears its influences with pride from Blade Runner and The Matrix to Deus Ex, Ghost in the Shell and Phillip K Dick. Fans of cyber punk will feel right at home within its dirty, dark, damp walls.
The design of the world running on the Unreal engine is atmospheric and claustrophobic. Graphically it’s a hell of a feat to bring the gritty, dark realistic look to the Nintendo Switch. However it can fall short sometimes with slow downs and frame dropping. The details looked a lot softer in docked mode, but on 720 in handheld everything looks suitably grimy and dark.
The graphics have obviously taken a hit to run on the Switch, but oddly enough this blends in with the glitch effects on Dan’s vision – especially when he hasn’t taken his pills and his own implants begin malfunctioning.
This leads to some cool glitches and errors showing his degradation. However, sometimes it’s not easy to see what’s going on with how dark the game and how soft details can be on the screen.
The sound design is great, creating a world with ambient sounds that will make you jump and feel tense while exploring the apartment block.
The whine of fans on computers, the heavy footsteps of something approaching, the flutter of filthy winged pigeons, the crumble of decaying brick work all add to the atmosphere.
The voice acting from Rutger Hauer (yes, THAT Rutger Hauer from Blade Runner) is superb with the player feeling his worn beaten down delivery and tiredness of being a corporate tool of oppression. Other characters you interact with are mostly audio and are really well done, distinct characters, that each gives you the feeling that something is very wrong with them.
The game is first person, but don’t go thinking Observer is an empowering first person shooter. This game de-powers you and wants to immerse you in its world using only Dan’s implants and dream eater tool.
Even doors have to be manually opened with you pulling the handle, which is another great immersion tactic and builds more suspense.
However, some may be surprised to discover the game doesn’t use motion controls but HD rumble in some key points, just in case you’re tempted to throw the switch across the room in panic.
You explore the apartment looking for clues, reading emails and scanning various biological and technological matter with your own two forensic implants that are reminiscent for Terminator vision or Robocop vision and, while helpful, they can obscure the world if used carelessly.
Slow walk speed takes getting used to but this gives you a chance to think and take in your environment. Also, it helps adds to the realism and is a reminder that this is not a run and gun shooter.
The game doesn’t hold your hand, you need to look at your environment and do the detective work yourself and put the clues together, while at times is perplexing, the sense of elation you get from working a puzzle out more than makes up for it.
One of the most interesting features of Observer is hacking into the brains of people. Using this tool is where the abstract nature and horror aspect really kick up to 11.
These scenes take us out of the apartment and puts the player in eerie recollected locations of his suspects, with weird dreamlike logic.
All the audio tricks, camera angles, warping and world bending skills really come out of the bag to deliver some truly unnerving and terrifying sequences.
This is definitely one of the more adult games on the Nintendo Switch, and not recommended if you’re not keen on scary games.
At times Observer was very reminiscent of the games Outlast and SOMA, with you being hunted in a grim and grimy world. The game doesn’t exactly lend itself to the pick up and play nature of the Switch, with it being easy to lose track of where you are and what you are supposed to be doing, and therefore works much better in longer stints.
Observer is a love letter to cyberpunk and Blade Runner in particular, but if you look past that it’s also a really great game in its own right. We are taken on a graphic and dark journey, in a bleak but believable world, meeting all manner of interesting and isolated characters as Dan searches for his son.
Dripping with atmosphere, blood and chrome, this game is a slow, dark deliberate journey through the dark heart of a hellish future and the nightmares within.
Observer is available from the Nintendo e-shop for £26.99