Best described as a Cyberpunk Noir Thriller, Bloober Team‘s >observer_ (i.e. Observer) comes to the Nintendo Switch console a year and a half after making its debut on Steam PC, Xbox One and PS4. At face value, the game has a certain appeal as it appears to pay homage to a futuristic Blade Runner dystopian universe even down to the detail of having voiceovers by Rutger Hauer. This is our review of Observer on the Nintendo Switch!
The game’s a first person, detective thriller set in the year 2084 in Krakow, Poland. The country is run by a power hungry “megacorporation” named Chiron after suffering from a terrible “plague”. In 2084 it’s not uncommon for people’s bodies to be artificially augmented by metallic and electronic parts. It’s actually the “norm”. Peace is maintained by a new breed of “neural policeman” called “Observers”.
You’ll be playing in first-person as the experienced, and elder, field officer Daniel Lazarski, voiced by Hauer. Plainly put you are an Observer working for the KPD. Your right arm is equipped with a “Dreameater” which serves as an interrogation tool as well as a case log and a “health” monitor device. You’re also equipped with two different eye scanners, one that can scan for biological clues, think blood, while the other scans for electromagnetic clues think usable computers, key cards, etc.. After losing everything dear to you, you’re presented with an opportunity to solve the mystery of your estranged son’s disappearance. While investigating the initial call from your son his building “complex” is thrown into a lockdown which defines boundaries for your investigation.
This detective game plays pretty much like an adventure game so don’t expect a lot of “fighting” or platforming but do expect plenty of object searching and story text/dialogue. Thankfully, dialogues are displayed through on-screen text with voiceovers. A lot of your conversations will be with people through closed doors and their “doorbell” video feeds. It’s a nice Blade Runner nod to have Hauer involved, but at times, given his accent, there were some dialogue lines that seemed off and were hard to understand. Having the same text on screen this was never a detriment. You’ll also engage with other characters where your conversation is text menu driven with multiple choices. Choices did not appear to change the outcome but they provided more story fodder if you’re game.
A lot of time will also be spent using your “L” and “R” buttons to enable your biological and electromagnetic scans looking for your next clue to advance the story. Speaking of controls, it might take a small amount of time to get the hang of opening and closing doors. The game uses “ZR” to engage a door/cabinet handle and the right stick to swing the door open or closed. It’s a little different than the normal “B” button to interact with a door that just opens.
You also need to monitor your avatar’s “health”, so to speak. Occasionally, you need to administer “synchronize” (i.e. “take pill” button on the Dreameater hub) when on screen details seem to be glitching out like a bad cable connection. You’ll often see strange and weird anomalies on-screen, i.e. through your “vision”, and even hallucinations from time to time. Administering too much, for example randomly “topping off”, will cause your video to get misty or fuzzy like an overdose effect. If you get too low you are issued an onscreen/audible warning from remote central to “take a pill”. There is a tube/level monitor for this on your Dreameater screen that fills with green fluid to represent your level.
The game really shines when you “interrogate” someone and you essentially plug into them and become that person and relive their memories. Holy cow, talk about taking a psychedelic turn! The use of video animations, effects and camera motion during these scenes is oddly satisfying while being unique. The game does do a good job at keeping you on a straight and narrow path, e.g. by locking previous doors passed through to keep “wandering” to a minimum.
Unfortunately, this is one of those games that playing in handheld mode does not do it justice. Dreameater case log text is difficult to read and the cursor is essentially a pixel. With the dark environments, it sometimes turned into a strained pixel hunt. Also, in handheld mode scenes are just less “scary” then on a big monitor and darkened room. Since the game is part thriller, docked mode is the best way to play.