As the new console generation launches, Bloober Team has made its first offering to the gods of horror gaming. While The Medium promises a spooky trek into twinned realities, it’s not the company’s first next-gen game. That honour instead goes to one of the developer’s prior releases: Observer.
Observer: System Redux is both a remaster and a bit of an expansion of the original game that came out in 2017, boasting overhauled graphics, improved gameplay sequences, and some brand new content. While Bloober Team has changed some things, the actual experience still packs a punch.
You are Daniel Lazarski, played by the late Rutger Hauer, an Observer for the KPD. Daniel is kitted out with augmentations such as a bio scanner, tech scanner, night vision, and what is called the Dream Eater. This last piece of equipment allows you to hook up to the neural networks of other people and experience their memories, and it comes in particularly useful while scouring an apartment block for clues about Daniel’s missing son. Unfortunately, these apartments hold more than their fair share of disturbing and horrifying situations. These augmentations also don’t always work smoothly requiring you to take pills to reduce strain on them and Daniel’s mental faculties.
Observer: System Redux is part exploration title and part detective story. You gets stuck in the apartment building soon after entering with a lockdown occurring, which happens in this world if there is a threat of the nanophage virus – how topical. So you gets to work searching for Daniel’s son, but never really see anyone else aside from Janus the caretaker. Instead, the way you interacts with the majority of the building’s inhabitants are through their intercoms. By talking to these people, you learns things about the building and the desperate situation of the residents, giving clues as to how this dystopian future of 2084 functions.
Some of the apartments are open though, filled with clues for either the main case or a number of side cases. Observer System Redux has three new side cases, so even those who played the original will find a reason to come back.
While exploring and using the Dream Eater to jack into people’s neural connections, things start to enter the state of psychological horror and thriller. Wandering through these memories is not a nice nostalgia trip, instead letting you relive someone else’s horrifying moments and twisted abstract concepts. Television sets that float like balloons and laugh like children, forests with trees made of cables, offices and corridors patrolled by a cybernetic looking Big Daddy type character that will kill you, and those are some of the tamer memory pieces.
Every one of these sequences has some interactive elements, but the main point is to find your way through the maze of memories using the environmental clues. A lot of the tension arises from never knowing what to expect next. One moment you could be wandering down a corridor and the next you are hearing voices while things shift around you quickly. It gets to a point where it becomes difficult to ascertain what is real and what is not, as the impact of reading other’s memories hits Daniel.
Observer System Redux looks stunning on the Xbox Series X. The rundown cyberpunk environment of the apartment block and the memory sequences all shine in their own way, with the smallest details rendered really nicely. The soundwork transfers over well too with the noise keeping you edge while the voice acting, especially Rutger Hauer’s, is very good. The characters get across the feeling something is not right and that they are tired of how life has turned out.
The game is not without a few issues. In some areas there were moments where interacting with objects was not particularly smooth, with the prompt only appearing at certain angles and in one instance not appearing at all. While work has been done to make some of the dream eater sections more streamlined, there were also moments where what to do next was not clear, leading to a slowdown of progress.