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10 Nov 2021

REVIEW: Observer: System Redux on PC (Steam)

Review by Jon Donnis
As part of their the Bloober Team's 13 Years of Development celebrations, I got my hands on Observer: System Redux, a first person, investigative horror game.

Let's start off with a look at the story.

"The year is 2084. The future has turned out much darker than anyone could imagine. First, there was the Nanophage. A digital plague that killed thousands upon thousands of those who chose to augment their minds and bodies.

Then came the War, leaving both the West and the East decimated and shattered. With no one left to seize power, corporations took over and forged their own crooked empires.

You are a tool of corporate oppression. Feared and despised, you hack into the darkest corners of your suspects' minds. You creep into their dreams, expose their fears, and extract whatever your investigation may require."

Your name is Daniel Lazarski, voiced by the late great legend that is Rutger Hauer. You are what is known as a "Neural Detective". You find yourself investigating crimes in a decrepit apartment building in Poland as well as looking for your lost son. Since this is a cyberpunk world, everything is technical, including how you investigate crimes. You can literally hack into someone's mind. This brings you to the scarier elements of the game, since physics go out the window if you are walking through someone's subconscious. But it does allow you to investigate a person's memories, look at things they interacted with, see what they saw.

Since we are looking for a killer, reliving someone's last moments can be a challenge, and often you will find yourself in maze like situations, whereby you can feel very stuck in someone's memory. The first example of this is where you hack into the mind of a dying man who has been brutally attacked, after exploring for a while, you will find yourself in something of a walking loop. Any door you go through you end up back at the start. The only clue as to what you are supposed to do are the TVs that have switched themselves on. Now this took me a while to figure out. I had just been walking around and around for a while, before I even noticed the TVs and when I did, I still didn't realise that the clue to escaping the loop was what was being shown on the TVs in the first place. The game does not hold your hand and you will find yourself in seemingly inescapable situations. But a mixture of trial and error, as well as a crafty look at a walkthrough guide and you will soon find yourself back on track.

Although hacking people's minds is a big part of the game, most of the time you will find yourself exploring the apartment building, you have two extra abilities that will help your investigations, "EM Vision" which allows you to analyse electronic equipment, and "Bio Vision" which allows you to identify biological materials, think blood and bodily fluids. This comes into use when investigating a crime scene, and trying to log everything, which in turn updates your systems which then gives guidance on what to do next.

As you play, your character's stress levels grow, and you will have to take a pill to help lower the stress, we are never really told why you need to do this, but since we are in the future, and people have chips implanted into their brains, it is hardly surprising it might have some mental health side effects.

There are no real combat situations, so no running away or hiding for most of the game, although towards the end there are some stealth elements needed to avoid a creature, sadly it feels like these segments of the game were thrown in, and kind of take away from what you have been doing for most of the game.

Also, a quick mention to a mini game you will play on the various computers you access in the game, it is a simple game, and you will unlock a few levels on each computer you find and access. It is called Fire and Sword, and you have to move around a 2D map trying to avoid spiders, collecting gold. It is a simple but addictive game.

The Good
The game looks and sounds incredible, the slow build of tension and fear is perfectly done, and if you play with headphones, it makes the experience even better. The story is good, the "dream" sequences when hacking someone's mind really are interesting and add a true horror element to the game.

The Bad
The stealth segments towards the end feel out of place and become annoying instead of challenging. There is also an issue where you can find yourself in an impossible situation, for example I dropped a power cable that I then figured out I needed to plug into a computer, the cable went through a grate in the ground and then became impossible to reach. Luckily the auto save system meant I could just restart the area again, but it was frustrating.

Also, EM Mode and Bio mode meant very different visual appearances on screen, and constantly switching between them as well as normal view, might cause eye strains to some people.

Although quite a linear game, I found myself getting very much into it, even after I had played for a while, I wanted to keep going. That is one of the most important things about a game, addictive to a point that is not destructive.

I score Observer: System Redux on PC a strong 8/10

Out now on PC

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