When FinalBoss was offered the opportunity to review Bloober Team’s Nintendo Switch port of Observer, we eagerly delved into its dystopian world of mystery, confusion and fear. Despite the somewhat jarring controls and short 4 hour play time, Observer’s excellent voice acting, soundtrack, setting and storyline make it a must play for fans of psychological horror. Let’s take a closer look.
Story & Setting
Starring Rutger Hauer, of Blade Runner fame, Observer is a Cyberpunk horror game (or detective thriller according to Nintendo) that grips you, shakes you and stops you from sleeping until you’ve solved its mysteries.
This is a dystopian future of greys, greens and blues, where apartment buildings have their own command centres, littered with floppy discs and cassette tapes. It’s a future where a digital plague, Nanophase, has wiped out much of the population, and those that still live in the shell of the city are on high alert, looking for itching and red patches at the site of their implants.
Everyone you meet views you with suspicion, Chiron corp included. But as long as you’re happily jacked up on Synchrozine you’ll probably hack into the right memory before long. If you can trust anything that Daniel is seeing, and assuming that he’s not infected with Nanophase himself.
Observer’s branching endings are compelling enough for us to recommend making a second save file and experiencing them both. The optional side stories explore different elements of psychological, emotional and physical exploitation. If you decide to play through these you’ll end up making some tough choices, none of them morally black or white.
Whether you label this game a detective thriller or dystopian horror, there is something masterful in the way it disturbs the player. When you’re squeezing through a narrow corridor in the inky darkness, that glass bottle skittering ahead of you really gets your heart racing.
The scenes where Dan hacks into a dead or dying victim’s brain for one last trip down memory/mental breakdown lane are some of the most breathtaking moments of psychological horror we’ve experienced. Everything is distorted, misty, deadly and dark, which is to be expected when you’re trapped inside the brain of a victim with only one possible outcome.
This abandoned corridor with the growling noise is probably fine, right?
Observer looks mighty fine on a Nintendo Switch’s full HD display. It scales up beautifully and those neon reflections glistening in murky puddles feel real enough to touch. In one particularly memorable scene, you walk through what feels like a lake of fire, surrounded by hundreds of burning trees. The mist in corridors is so convincing you can almost feel it on your face. This is a 1980’s-esque dystopia though, so expect plenty of green and black polygons, crackling interfaces and static.
Controls & Gameplay
With the Switch port, everything happens sl-ow-ly. From moving around to inspecting elements and selecting dialogue choices. The controls feel laboured and at points frustrating, we kept getting stuck trying to move through corridors and doors sometimes opened into us, rather than for us. Not a deal breaker, but the PC controls certainly feel smoother, slicker and better optimised.
Don’t expect to collect weapons, level up skills and do devastating combo damage in this game. Observer is a psychological horror game with virtually no combat. You defend yourself by hiding and it’s simply game over if you’re seen. No possibility of busting out a special move. There’s something about this detachment from the action on screen that makes it all the more unsettling. Being an observer means being passive, unable to control what unfolds before you, willingly offering yourself up as a victim to past crimes. It’s a compelling premis for a psychological horror game that feels fresh and unique.
Soundtrack & Voice Acting
“Hey baby, I’m home” – said no one ever again after playing this game.
The Observer’s soundtrack is restrained when appropriate and haunting during poignant moments. When there’s nothing to be heard but the scurrying of cockroaches and the cooing of pigeons, or the splatter of rain against a blasted tin roof, those sudden footsteps up ahead are really startling. Cheery jazz music plays as you discover a fresh corpse, then quickly gives way to whispers, growls and sobs. An unseen enemy hisses from behind a locked door it is repeatedly banging on. Everything is stripped back, thoughtful and well-timed.
Yay, Nightmare Birds.
Most of the dialogue is provided by Blade Runner’s Rutger Hauer. He growls, purrs and muses his way through the script as if he is slowly sipping a glass of fine malt whiskey. The supporting cast all seem to be playing the same panicked, hysterical, paranoid character, with one notable exception – Janus the creepy janitor, who provides the perfect blend of sinister and mysterious.
The Observer is a welcome break from team brawls, pocket monsters and family sports games. If you like suspense, jump scares and decent voice acting, we recommend it wholeheartedly. Just be prepared to spend a lot of time circling back around apartment buildings, looking for monsters that may or may not be of your own making.