Developed By: Bloober Team
Published By: Bloober Team S.A.
Category: Adventure, Other
Release Date: 07.02.2019
Take a bow Bloober Team. Take a bow!
As the credits rolled on my first playthrough of Observer, it truly hit me as to the sheer beauty of the gaming industry. Watching the list of contributors scroll across the page, the depth in design of this exemplary work of art was awe-inspiring. From the moment the game began, Observer gripped me and did not let go through the ten or so hours it took to complete. What made this experience so special? Find out here at The Switch Effect with our review of Observer.
From the creators of Layers of Fear, Observer is a cyberpunk, detective thriller set in 2084 Krakow. Without giving too much away, the eShop listing shares the following plot:
The world lies in ruins with corporations seizing power after the fall of governments. You do their bidding. No lie will remain hidden from you, as you hack into the minds of those you interrogate. When your past catches-up, you must act on your own and unravel the mystery of your son’s disappearance. Your name is Daniel Lazarski, you’re an Observer.
Stellar, polished performance…
The game begins with an introduction to the lead character, Daniel Lazarksi, who is voiced by none other than Rutger Hauer. Predominantly known for his efforts in Blade Runner and Sin City, Hauer delivers a stellar, polished performance, much like that of Observer itself. Upon receiving a call from his son, Lazarski travels to a block of high-rise flats where the majority of the game will play out. Being some 60+ years in the future, the flats have one or two quirks. The one which you will have the most interaction with is the peep holes, which are actually now screens televising the faces of the occupants inside.
Controlling the protagonist is a relatively simple affair, with the right stick being used to look around and the left stick to move him backwards, forwards etc. As well as this, you can interact with objects using ZR. For the most part, this is used to open doors and analyse objects found in the environment. The list of available interactions expand when you come across a crime scene: you have the EM and Bio Vision options. The former allows you to identify and subsequently scan all electrical devices within the vicinity, the latter is used to scan blood samples and human tissue for detailed analysis.
For the most part, the controls felt responsive and accessible. There were occasions where I found it to be a little cumbersome, especially when trying to scan or interact with a small object, or when attempting to hurry away from a situation. It didn’t ruin the overall experience, and in some ways it actually enhanced it. Suspense and tension are the overarching themes evident throughout this game, and the control scheme only serves to heighten emotions.
Opportunity to marvel
To support Observer in its quest to provide a thrilling experience, there are a number of key game elements which are effectively utilised. First on my list is the visual content that Bloober Team have provided – it looks outstanding! The level of detail here is extraordinary and again raises question marks I have over other game development teams who seemingly fail to place importance on graphical representation. Observer models what can be achieved on the Nintendo Switch, and does so time and time again. From beautifully crafted weather conditions to light reflecting off the ripples in the water, I enjoyed the opportunity to marvel at what had been achieved as I walked through the various environments.
The story-line itself is a defining feature in Observer, and through clever gameplay sequences and an emphasis on presentation, it is shared extremely well. Although told through the eyes of Lazarski, there are occasions where you hack into the mind of another character to reveal and re-live their thoughts. This makes for some excellent storytelling moments, whilst also providing variety and tension to the game.
No successful thriller title would ever be complete without moody and stimulating audio, and Bloober Team truly deliver. The musical components of the soundtrack are timely and atmospheric, and the sounds surround and engulf you wherever you go. I even found at one defining moment in the game, it all got a little too much and I hit the pause button. The menu then continued to provide me with some bone-chilling noises; a permanent reminder that danger was never too far away.
Distortion and obscurity
Through the ten or so hours that it took for me to complete a run through of Observer, I found myself enjoying almost every single part of the experience. I am firmly of the belief that many a gamer should take the opportunity to play this game if time and money allow, as it is a technical spectacle on the Nintendo Switch.
That is not to say that it is without its faults, as Observer does have some. There are none that dampen the experience sufficiently, however the game would have been better without them. For one, the frame-rate suffers occasionally, especially when interacting with objects and doors. Fortunately, the game opts for distortion and obscurity as a method of increasing suspense, and therefore these frame-rate dips could be mistaken for the art-style itself.
The other pertinent issue here, and one that is open for debate, is the age-old question of style over substance. Yes, the game looks beautiful. Yes, it tells a fascinating tale. However, it offers a tried and tested gameplay formula that it rarely deviates from. When it does, I personally found it to be to the games detriment. I would best describe Observer as a puzzle-based walking simulator with stealth elements thrown in for good measure. The stealth sequences became tiresome quickly, and I found myself trying to rush through these to get back to the exploration opportunities.
The aforementioned puzzle-based gameplay moments are worthy of a mention; they once again highlighted the ingenuity of the development team. There were too many occasions to mention where the penny dropped and I often paused the game just to appreciate how well I had been tricked by the level design.
Bloober Team are a group of developers who are fast becoming Very Important People in the video game industry. Observer serves as yet another example of what they have to offer and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. I question the retail price, especially with a want for more variety and substance to the gameplay, however there has been a lot of care and attention poured into this game. It is up there with my favourite gaming experiences on the Nintendo Switch to date, and I cannot wait to see what Bloober Team serve us next…