By Dean Moses
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Rating: M for Mature
When we think of classic Science Fiction cinema, the Blade Runner series instantly comes to mind. The original motion picture—based on the Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?—lovingly crafted a visually stunning noir experience that inspired generations of filmmakers, artists, and video game developers. It is clear Observer, is not only one of many that has taken inspiration, this new Nintendo Switch release is also a written love letter to fans of Blade Runner and other renowned Sci-Fi films of the same ilk.
Locked Up and Alone
Observer first released back in August 2017 on Windows, Xbox One, and PS4; however, on February 7th the game was impressively ported over to Nintendo’s hybrid console, allowing players to play in both handheld and on their television set. You control protagonist Daniel Lazarski, played by Blade Runner actor Rutger Hauer. Hauer shined decades ago in Blade Runner, and he shines today in his latest Sci-Fi role. This time around he is not on the run from a police officer, he is the police officer. Known as an Observer, these special police units have a license to solve crimes by hacking into the minds of suspects, making interrogations a lot easier.
The game begins on a day that sees Lazarski’s police investigation become personal. While sitting in his cruiser on a particularly slow day, the Observer receives an unexpected call from his estranged son. The young man sounds distressed before hanging up on his father, so Lazarski traces the call to an old tenement building in a rather rundown part of town. Once there, he accidentally triggers a security lockdown, trapping him inside and along with its residents. This is where the mystery truly begins, and the terror starts.
You see this title is not just a Science Fiction escapade, it also contains horror elements, so expect plenty of scares along with the futuristic aesthetics. Observer plays like a classic adventure game updated with a modern first-person perspective. There is no high-octane action to be found here. Instead you will be searching the apartment building, knocking on doors, interviewing tenants, looking th-rough computers, and searching rooms in hopes of finding clues leading to your son’s whereabouts. Through your investigation you must both question potential witnesses—often times through their apartment doors seeing as the building is in lockdown—through the use of a basic dialogue tree. You can choose what to ask and sometimes even how to ask it, although it does not make much of an impact on the narrative. Lazarski can also analyze crime scenes using two Batman Arkham Knight-esque visions, which, when activated, display helpful items in the environment.
As previously mentioned, this is also a horror game, and boy does it bring the scares—but not in a traditional way. When coming across a severely injured or deceased individual, Lazaeski can use his mechanically augmented body to connect to their mind, it is here the fear takes hold. We are not presented with graphic images: buckets of blood, torn limbs, etc. No, instead, we are treated to abstract imaginings and strange sounds coupled with the occasional jump scare, all of which manages to disturb without being gratuitous. And, in the midst of it all, we are tasked with solving puzzles that will require some lateral thinking. These sections are incredibly unique yet overstay their welcome by going on far too long.
The Future in the Palms of Your Hands
Observer is a beautiful game; space-age neon lights bathe the screen in vibrant hues that push the shadows back while the torrential rain creates a gloomy atmosphere. The fact the Switch can run this game is an impressive feat. With that being said, structures and objects in the distance can sometimes appear a little hazy, as do the character models when scrutinizing them closely. Moreover, I experienced some slight slowdown when playing in handheld mode, although once I docked my Switch this cleared up.
Actor Rutger Hauer takes us by the hand and gently whisks us deep into Observer’s world, all the way until the game’s expert storytelling won’t let us leave without resolution, even when the mounting scares may tempt us to. The methodical gameplay and vast array of puzzles won’t be for everyone. Still, for those patient enough, developer Bloober Team provides us with a rewarding and thought-provoking experience, even if it is a visual downgrade from its brethren on other platforms.