Observer is a narrative-driven first person horror game for the Nintendo Switch. Gameplay revolves around exploration, puzzle solving, and talking with characters through dialogue options. The game succeeds with its terrific atmosphere and storytelling, despite some stumbles with its graphics and some unfair puzzles.
You’re playing as Dan Lasarski, an Observer. Observers can hack into the minds of others and search through their pasts in order to gain evidence. The world the game takes place in is set in the near future. Think Blade Runner, not Star Wars. It’s a dark and depressing environment ravaged by war, and Observer excels at making you feel like a part of it. Through notes, characters’ dialogue, and other methods, it’s clear that you’re living in a place with history. A large part of the game revolves around talking to multiple different NPCs. After all, you are a detective. And they make the world feel even more alive with their well-written lines and variety. One person is a cultist. Another is a drug dealer. While in reality we only get to see a small fraction of the entire city, it hardly felt like I was sold short on exposition.
Despite how much we know about the major events of the world, the main story is refreshingly self-contained. The narrative took multiple turns I didn’t expect and ramped up towards the end with an incredibly surprising and fun sequence. It only falters at the very end with a sudden ending that didn’t cap the plot off as well as it could have.
Rarely is the game boring. You’ll always have a case to investigate or secrets to find. There’s a variety of optional objectives scattered throughout, such as trying to help a mysterious little girl, or investigating the local black market.
Simply put, Observer excels at creating atmosphere. Developer Bloober Team also created Layers of Fear, another first-person horror game that also happens to be on the Switch. Layers of Fear used audio and visual cues to mess with the player’s perception of the world and what was going on around them. Observer does the same. In the dream sequences, strange monsters and surreal visuals add considerable levels of immersion. When the dream sequences work, they’re very creative. Whether you’re evading a UFO or even playing as a werewolf, there’s tons of fun to be had here. However, some moments are more annoying than anything.
For example, I was stuck in a room with seemingly nowhere to go. It turns out I had to stand in front of a certain window, and then I would progress. There was really no indication that I was supposed to go to the window and I was left feeling confused. I’m all for a lack of hand-holding, but it reaches a point sometimes where it feels like they went too far. Also, the developers decided to go for a stylistic choice to add glitchy/static effects during these sequences. And on Switch, especially in docked mode, it looked absolutely awful. Even outside of the dream sequences the world often looks washed out and blurry. Notes were particularly hard to read as well. The gameplay behind it all is good as a whole. But it’s a shame that it’s held back by graphical limitations.
Ultimately, Observer excels at world building and gameplay variety, keeping the player busy with a list of things to do. It’s also supported by a mostly strong story that’s a love letter to cyberpunk and Blade Runner. However, the game’s graphics and obtuse puzzles hold it back from being a truly outstanding game. Graphics aside, Observer is a harrowing and thoughtful experience for its price tag.
PS: Use the code 3690 on Room 202 to discover one of the best Easter eggs in the game.
A review code was provided by the publisher.