Observer is a cyberpunk thriller set in an Orwellian dystopian future that takes place exactly 100 years after 1984. The game really wants to be Blade Runner, so much so that Rutger Hauer (Roy Batty) provides his excellent voice work playing Daniel Lazarski, an Observer (think future detective). The story centers around Daniel, who is on a mission to locate his missing son while trying to solve a grizzly murder discovered in the “stacks,” a giant apartment complex filled with defeated souls waiting to be interrogated.
The world heavily takes cues from the cult 1982 film Blade Runner among others, such as The Ghost in the Shell manga and anime series. Perhaps because it strives to be so incredibly similar to those medias it crumbles under the weight of its own ambitions. As much as it looks like the world of Blade Runner, it’s just not. That’s not to say the game is incapable of offering up its own unique vision, but one cannot help but compare it to other, better realized universes.
Gameplay wise you go on a point and click adventure as you are quarantined to the stacks full of tenants where you must gather information about the previously mentioned murder. This can range from thrilling to painstakingly dull and tedious. I often found myself interviewing countless NPCs, many of which offered little to no clues on what to do next. With so many fantastic alternatives in this genre already available on the Switch, plodding through and watching a long drawn out detective movie with filler dialog wasn’t my idea of fun and engaging gameplay.
Daniel has two different “detective modes” (for lack of a better phrase) at his disposal to help him solve his cases. One can sense forms of life and the other allows him to see electromagnetic objects. Neither gameplay mechanic is especially great and just like interviewing the apartment tenant I found myself bored very quickly.
When you’re not wandering around in search of clues to whodunit, you are jacking into the minds of the nearly departed. This is similar to the mind hacking in The Ghost in the Shell. Needless to say diving into the brains of the dying presents its own set of horrors, and this is where Observer excels. The fragmented memories of the people you dive into are wrought with enough scares for the weak of heart. Some of these experiences genuinely gave me a jump or two, but they were few and far between. I often just walked around the random hallway, clicking on objects or people to interact with until I got somewhere.
The graphics take a significant dip on the Switch when compared to its PC counterpart. There were a few times when I noticed the framerate drop a bit. This wasn’t a game-breaking phenomenon but I couldn’t help but feel this port might not be the optimum version of the game. In handheld mode the graphics look fine enough, but oddly enough in docked you’ll notice a lower resolution. Other times your Switch is displaying a wide array of flashing colors that will make you turn away so you don’t suffer a headache.
When looking at the world Observer presents, one could only hope for some rocking ‘80s synth tunes to accompany its dystopian 1984-like world, but I was a little disappointed that there was never much to account for in that regard. I really feel like this little aspect could have tied the world together a bit better. Although Hauer’s voice lends to the world building, I can’t say the same for the other characters. I felt like a lot of times I just wanted the NPCs to spit out what they had to say instead of wasting my time. Having great voice acting for your main character doesn’t make the rest of the game sound better.
The world of Observer was one that I really wanted to like because of my love for cyberpunk movies like Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell, but it failed to live up to those high expectations. The gameplay can be painfully slow and tedious, but the neural diving provides the player with great moments of genuine horror. The game suffers from a few framerate drops, but chugs along better in handheld mode. I sure wish there were some cool synth tracks to bop to while interviewing the people living in the stacks.
- Graphics - 6/106/10
- Sound - 6/106/10
- Gameplay - 7/107/10
- Lasting Appeal - 7/107/10
Final Thoughts: WORTH CONSIDERING
There are a few times where Observer shines when you relinquish your mind to its sensory overload. The gameplay can be painfully slow and the story really takes its time to get going. If you’re into Blade Runner it will whet your appetite for a cyberpunk world, but it won’t spark any deep conversations or existential crises you’ve come to associate with the genre.