*DISCLOSURE: This game was provided to us by Bloober Team for the purpose of review*
Observer System Redux is a remaster of Bloober Team‘s 2017 game Observer. It features enhanced visuals and some extra side quests for fans of the first game to get that extra fix from. You might think it’s rather bold of a developer to remaster a game that came out 3 years ago and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree if it wasn’t for the fact that System Redux looks so much better. It’s honestly rather stunning looking at the two side by side and seeing a lot of love and care went into this games remaster that resulted in a genuinely superior product.
I personally had never played the original but had seen the first hour or so in a ‘Let’s Play.’ So I when the code landed on our internet doorstep I thought “now’s a good opportunity to finish the story I started viewing 3 years ago.” I’m not going to go so far and say I’m disappointed because overall I did enjoy my time with System Redux. However, there were just a few problems which I will explain more about later.
You play as Dan Lazarski and ‘Observer’ which is a type of police officer who has a cybernetic enhancement that allows them to sift through the memories of people. This is mostly used for interrogation purposes in order to more expediently solve crimes; rather than wait for a killer to confess why not just look through his mind and watch him murder the victim? Right? Totally not a terrifying invasion of privacy and human rights that I could never see any of our governments doing. Right?
At the start of the story, Dan gets a call from his estranged son and goes to investigate. There he finds a corpse in his son’s apartment without a head, thus preventing him from confirming the identity. Shortly after the tenement building he’s in gets locked down and Dan has to follow a trail of clues to find his son. Any more than that is spoiler territory.
I’ve already said that I think System Redux is a graphically superior game to its predecessor but is it a graphically impressive game in its own right? Absolutely. This game is lovingly crafted to make a very real, very subtle and scary world. Even without the added immersion of a VR headset (which this game does not support, for reference). This game’s design and graphics drew me in like very few games have done in the past. I was okay with the character’s relatively slow walk speed because every inch of this game is something to look at. It perfectly captures the overwhelming vibe of a cyberpunk dystopia. Everywhere is covered in augmented reality advertising or green panels that exist for no reason other than to look cyberpunk. The real-world elements are grimy and decrepit because fewer and fewer people are caring about the ‘real world’ as it were. This might be one of the best looking games I’ve played in the last few years.
Bloober Team has a bit of a reputation for making “walking-simulator” games which is a rather dismissive title for games that can, potentially, provide a very enthralling narrative experience. We don’t call movies “Sitting down simulators.” The feeling of having a controller in your hand makes you feel connected to the spooky atmosphere more so than most B-tier horror flicks will. Bloober Team also made Layers of Fear 1 & 2 which were a little more lacking in the gameplay. However, with Observer, they did manage to squeeze in a genuine investigative element to the game. Dan has two extra ways to view the world, Bio vision and Tech vision. This allows him to scan things to gain extra information like scanning a man’s cybernetic leg to find out the model is out of date or scanning blood to find a possible match in the police database. Using this you solve puzzles and progress the story.
Throughout his time in the slum, Dan encounters all kinds of colourful characters…’ doorbells. Most of the characters he interacts with are done from their front door intercoms. This actually kind of works to Bloober Team’s advantage. Not only does it save on development costs but they use it to give you a tiny screen that only show’s a part of a person’s face. Be that a close up of their eye or just their mouth. Coupled with some amazing voice work, this works to create a constant sense of unease and distrust between all the information you get. These are the society’s lower class and they do not trust the police.
However, there is one character you do interact with. Janus Jurkowski who, without spoilers, is an amazingly sympathetic character. His cybernetic enhancements are failing and he is losing what little sense of self he has. He’s initially distrustful of you but eventually, you gain his respect and he helps you a little with your investigation. Everything you learn about Janus is irrelevant to the plot of the game but, I just found him so interesting and so well written. Even in his state of literal and metaphorical decay. Even in his lowest of lows. He still takes a moment to crack a joke with you. It’s just *mwah* chief’s kiss tier writing.
I mentioned the atmosphere of this game and I will say that some parts of this experience were so incredibly uncomfortable, unsettling and scary. The noises you hear behind closed doors, hiding under desks from a monster in someone’s mind as it thumps by a desk that is just translucent enough for you to see their hulking form inch closer and closer to your hiding spot, this game nailed its atmosphere and feeling of dread.
And now, unfortunately, for the bad news. While I will say the first three hours or so of this game are some of the most uneasy and scary moments I’ve experienced in gaming, the latter half really drops the ball. I’ve mentioned subtlety once or twice and halfway through the game it drops all the subtlety. I was honestly relieved in one way. Suddenly I didn’t have to be afraid because everything was obvious from that point. The jump scares made me jump but they didn’t stick with me for more than that single moment. They didn’t trigger the darker corners of my mind like the earlier segments. It tries to claw the subtlety back from that point but it just felt like it lost its wind and just kept doing things to drag me out of the experience.
The first one is forgivable in some ways. Unfortunately, Dan Lazarski’s voice actor Rutger Hauer passed away last year and one of the ways Bloober Team wanted to honour him was by paying tribute to his most famous, and probably one of cinema’s most famous, scenes in Blade Runner. However, the way they did this is where I take issue. In a very tense moment where you think you’re being chased by a possible killer, you run into a cage with a white dove. If you interact with the dove it plays a short cinematic similar to the ‘Tears in Rain‘ scene from Blade Runner. It’s a lovely tribute but in the moment where I’m thinking “I am probably gonna die here, run, run, run.” All of a sudden the game goes “HEY REMEMBER THIS MOVIE?!” And I was suddenly not scared because my immersion had been shattered. A beautiful tribute, poorly executed. Don’t sacrifice your story, for the sake of another’s.
The second is a random 69 joke. Yep. I won’t specify when or where but out of nowhere the game kind of just goes 69! And there doesn’t seem to be a story significance to it and while it makes ‘sense’ in context it still just comes across as childish and ham-fisted.
For the full price of £23.79, it’s hard to say if this game is worth it or not. It took me just over 6 hours to complete and, I’d say, 75% percent of the game is genuinely scary and entertaining. It just comes down to how much you like narrative experiences and if you’re willing to push through a middle section that is just not quite on par with the rest of the game.
Overall I’ll say that I think Bloober Team have an amazing talent for horror and suspense and can even make really interesting game mechanics when they want to. They just need to focus on sustaining that atmosphere and tension without jumping into Resident Evil levels of gore and silliness.