Observer System Redux is the much-awaited remaster for the 1017 Observer title by Bloober Team. You might already remember Bloober by their masterpieces in the exploration horror genre: Layers of Fear, Layers of Fear 2, and Blair Witch. Their upcoming title The Medium will also fall into that category and Observer doesn’t fall far behind too.
I have previously played Observer but never got the chance to actually finish it. This makes my time with System Redux even more valuable since not only does it include a huge graphical and audio improvement but also new content that expands its “world” even more.
Twisted and dark, Observer is set in a dystopian world similar to that of Blade Runner and I can easily put it in my top 5 list of exploration horror games. This is our Observer System Redux review.
Story – Premises
Observer System Redux is set in the year 2084, in a dystopian world where body augmentations and corporate giants run the system. The protagonist is Dan Lazarski, an observer who can create links using augmentations between him and another human being with a chip to step into their memories and thoughts. Lazarski is played by Rutger Hauer, known for his role as Roy in Blade Runner and Hobo in Hobo with a shotgun. Observer is, in fact, dedicated to his memory as he passed away last year. The game is a horror game at heart but it incorporates an investigation system that as linear as it might seem, makes gameplay that much more fun.
Lazarski finds himself in a low tier apartment building while searching for his long lost son, Adam. While he investigates there the apartment goes into lockdown as a rampaging augmentation virus creates panic in its world. The detective needs to move through the quarantined complex, talk to neighbors, and ultimately find Adam.
However, this sounds way too linear to characterize Observer. If you thought that by playing it, you’re stepping into an investigative adventure, you’re mistaken. Why? Because of mind hacking.
Have you ever thought about what would you see if you could step into someone’s mind? Observer tackles that scenario while taking the journey into someone’s mind to the extreme by making it super dark and metaphoric. This is the heart of Observer and I enjoyed every single second of it.
One thing I would want to criticize about Observer’s story is its ending and how abruptly it ended despite giving me a couple of choices to make along the way. It kinda felt like my choices didn’t really matter and ultimately had me staring at the screen waiting for more. Despite that, I love its short and sweet vibe and how it manages to resonate with players that love the dark and twisted theme that Bloober is so famous for.
Apart from the main story, you can tackle 3 new story cases while you roam through the apartment building. However, I focused on the main story and found out that I couldn’t continue my playthrough after the ending scene despite having cases open. I didn’t mind that too much since I knew the ending ends things in general. However, I would have liked the developers to give me a hint after the credits on what chapter to load in my save files to go back to investigating so that I don’t have to find guides on which one to load.
In all honesty, the gameplay doesn’t play a huge role in games like Observer. It didn’t really matter in Layers of Fear and Blair Witch too. That’s mainly because you mostly explore and interact with the use of a single button. However, there are a couple of things that should be talked about.
For starters, Dan Lazarski is a detective with body augmentations. This means that, in order to investigate a crime scene, he uses eye enhancements that help him scan the surrounding area. There are 3 scanners in total: a classic night vision (which proves extremely useful in places where the game gets entirely dark), a technological scanner which can trace devices like chips, computers, etc, and an organic scanner which helps identify blood and bodies. Other than the scanners, the controls in Observer are straightforward and take only a few minutes to get the hang of it. It’s important to note that Observer will find certain enhancements to its Playstation 5 edition as it makes use of the Dualsense’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers.
In terms of getting through the game, you can easily dismantle Observer in three main themes: a survival horror where you must stealthily go through mutants and avoid detection, the investigative theme where you try to find out what happened in a room in a linear kind of way and the classic psychological horror that Layers of Fear 1 and 2 are using where you just go forward and “things happen”. I loved how I didn’t know which one I would face when I enter a room although the psychological horror of it all is 100% its pinnacle.
Overall, Observer is approximately 7-9 hours long, depending on how you tackle side missions and collectibles you find along the way. It might be a little short in terms of current trends but it’s honestly as short as I’d like it to be before it starts getting boring between scenes. This short story is accompanied by fast-paced gameplay that sometimes results in catchy jumpscares or twisted scenes.
In between investigating, you’ll find Lazarski hacking into people’s minds. This procedure is by far the most chilling in the game and makes you wonder if seeing into someone’s thoughts in real life feels like this. The procedure comes with all types of chilling scenes depending on the character you examine, weird glitches, and jump scares that will definitely take you off guard. Even though I loved the mind hacking feature, I felt nauseated at times and had to take a long break after returning back to the investigation. Those scenes are intense, powerful, and worthy of any horror fan’s attention.
This is where Observer System Redux shines. The remaster releases with a huge upgrade in its visuals since this version is destined for the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X. However, I was in awe of how it all popped onto the screen in comparison to the original game. Every scene is now darker since illumination is now smarter and the graphics overall are worthy of a newly released title.
The fact the Observer run in 4K resolution AND 60fps on both PC and next-gen consoles will make things even more immersive. This is a game that deserves to be that realistic. I loved how even the glitchy parts of the game blended perfectly with the scenery and how performance didn’t drop significantly despite my mid-range setup.
Let’s not forget that next-gen consoles are the reason this remaster is possible. Volumetric lighting, HDR, and Ray-Tracing are only names until you step into the apartment building of Observer and see it all in action. Flying particles and splashes of water on the ground look super realistic and dark places get even more claustrophobic than before.
I admire how the developers incorporate a variety of accessibility options to help players experience the game easier and strain their eyes less. I also admire how the scenery doesn’t get stale since you switch from a classic view of the world to a hallucination where everything is covered by organic matter to shiny neon glitchy places to dark areas with minimal lighting. This makes me appreciate the work that has was put into this game even more.
If you were to be playing Observer without any sound, you’d be playing a completely different game than me. Let’s start by saying that the voice acting in the game is perfect. A big publisher triple A title would 100% be envious of the voices behind the doors in Observer. Of course, as a horror game that values itself, this one too includes immersive environmental sounds with doors knocking, distant cries and yelling as well as terrifying sounds that can give you goosebumps. The last time I had a claustrophobic feeling before Observer was in Metro 2033 and that says a lot.
Overall, the game has minimum use of soundtrack and instead focuses on making the experience as realistic as possible. In that aspect, it succeeds. I have nothing to criticize in its audio department since I didn’t find the lack of music to be diminishing the experience.
As you might have figured by now, I find Observer to be one of the best titles in its genre. I wouldn’t come to a state where I would compare it to horror games like Resident Evil or Outlast. However, I had Layers of Fear and Blair Witch at the top of my horror list and now Observer sits up there with them too. Thanks to the younger me for not completing the original game so that I had the change to play it now without knowing where the story will lead.
If you are a psychological horror lover then this game will suit your appetite perfectly. The fact that the story branches and you find your investigation leading you from one clue to another is a big thrill. Also, take into account that you switch from calm investigation to tense mind hacking and stealth gameplay so fast that you cannot stop and think about any potential flaws in its creation.
If I could give it some minus points it would be to its abrupt ending which made me question the time I spent to make a decision and the glitchy parts of the mind hacking procedures which strained my eyes and gave me nausea at times.
Overall, Observer is a journey worth taking. Remember that if you have the original game already, you can upgrade it to the System Redux version for less than $10. Epic Games has given the game for free last year so you might want to visit it sometime before 2020 ends. If you own a next-gen console, even better. You’ll be able to experience high levels of twisted horror in all its glory.