Bloober Team revisited their 2017 horror title Observer this year, opting to give the game a bit of an upgrade. The developers have described Observer: System Redux as not quite a full remake but not a simple remaster either. Observer: System Redux is probably closer to an expanded definitive edition, bringing new side quests, improved graphics, and tweaks to the gameplay.
Observer: System Redux is set in a grim cyberpunk dystopia. The world is fleshed out through documents in computer terminals and in dialogues throughout the game. There is just enough of a connection to the modern world to feel eerily familiar, while different enough to be a disturbing what-if scenario. The world is quite rich and is worth revisiting in the future, as the game itself is too short to do the world justice.
The story is decent. It starts off well but becomes scattered at the mid point. There are a few too many threads that are being spun, so things do not really flow well until the final few sequences at the end of the game. The problems are made worse by the side quests, which further derail the flow. The ending is handled well enough, but there is room for improvement. Loose threads are mostly tied up, but there are a few last minute twists that feel rushed or thrown in as an afterthought.
Observer: System Redux is a bit shallow in the gameplay department. For the most part, it is a walking simulator with some light puzzle, investigation, and stealth elements. There is nothing wrong with walking simulators, but the other elements are less than stellar attempt at mechanical variety.
The puzzles and investigations are straight forward affairs. Finding passcodes and plugging in cables are used way too often, which makes the unique puzzles a treat for all the wrong reasons. The forensic investigations are simple scan and search tasks. It feels like a missed opportunity for players to piece together the events themselves, instead of having the game dialogue do it for them.
The stealth section is equally shallow. Monsters appear at several points in the game, requiring players to avoid their line of sight, represented by a beam of light, by hiding behind cover. For the most part, players are stuck relying on sound and trying to watch for the beam of light. Luckily, the stealth sections are not too difficult as the simple mechanics would otherwise make the game frustrating.
The level design is simple and straight forward for the most part. For the exception of the apartment hallways, most areas are designed with clear point As and Bs with only a few twists and turns. The developers usually do a good job with using light and colour to guide players in the right direction. To my frustration, there are a few spots that don’t meet the standards set out in the rest of the game.
Observer: System Redux added a few extra side missions. There’s about an extra hour worth of content. All the side missions are probably best experienced during a second run or a single break from the main story line near the end game’s point of no return as not to further distract from the main plot. The new mission design is a hit or miss, as one mission’s repeats the same couple of mechanics.
The horror elements are decent. Bloober Team has a good balance of body horror and creepy environments. There are a lot of jump scares. Some are well placed; others seem to be there for the sake of getting a rise out of the player.
The controls are usable but still need improvement. Tutorial dialogues are not updated when key binds are changed. I had problems with the crouch button not working in the dream sequences, requiring me to revert to the default crouch key. I do like the accessibility features in the game, especially the function allowing players to interact with objects by simply clicking a button instead of manipulating objects with the mouse.
Bloober Team did a fantastic job with the visual style. The world’s presentation says almost as much about the lore as the story itself. The game is set in a stunning clash between dilapidated poverty and high-tech projections. It is as if the high-tech world is trying to cover up the desperation and the destitution like a drug.
The audio experience is solid. Rutger Hauer delivers an excellent performance. While the supporting cast do a good job, they just barely keep up with his skill. The soundtrack is enjoyable. It is dark and moody, striking a great balance of horror, electronic, choral, and ambient music. The sound effects are nice. The virtual surround sound has room for improvement. It works well enough to deal with the stealth sections, but better implementation would make for a more immersive experience.
Observer: System Redux is a fantastic art piece, but only a decent video game. The audio/visual presentation is absolutely fantastic. The world is rich, but the story loses focus at times. On the other hand, the game isn’t quite sure if it is a walking simulator or something more. While Observer: System Redux is hard to recommend to everyone, the game is an excellent pick for walking simulator fans looking for a gorgeous world to experience.
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