By DEV CROWLEY
Bloober Team is a beast when it comes to creating eerie and atmospheric games. While they are not all created equally (looking at you Blair Witch) each and every one offers a rich story, scary environments and beautiful, albeit not always realistic, graphics. With the next genenration of consoles out and about, many previous-gen favorites are being improved to keep up with the times. A Bloober Team fan favorite, Observer has gotten the makeover treatment, and the updated version, OBSERVER: SYSTEM REDUX offers the same dystopian story with next-gen features.
For those who have never played Observer, the psychological horror game was developed by Bloober Team and originally published by Aspyr in 2017. It follows Dan Lazarski, an Observer in Krakow, Poland in 2084, played by Rutger Hauer. A major event called the “nanophage” (a digital plague) has killed many thousands of people and left the world a different place beset by widespread drug use and war. After the government has fallen, a company named Chiron rises from the ashes to take advantage of the situation, creating a police force called Observers that are legally able to hack people’s minds to gain information. “Phages” are still a risk and all drug and hologram addicts are segregated to the slums of the city.
At the beginning of the game, Dan intercepts a call from his estranged son, Adam. Adam warns his dad that he isn’t in control. After the call drops, Dan tracks the caller ID to the Class C slums and heads to the apartment building where it originated from. In Adam’s apartment, he finds a decapitated body before the building goes into lockdown. Dan must use his investigative skills to find out whose body is in the apartment, where his son has disappeared to, and what Chiron has to do with it all.
After playing Layers of Fear 1 and 2, Observer is a very different experience, and OBSERVER: SYSTEM REDUX offers some new features including 4K resolution, improved textures, new animations, models, and effects, as well as the ability to toggle ray tracing and HDR. The first impression is that OBSERVER: SYSTEM REDUX looks great. Everything is so crisp and clean and the light and shadows are stunning. There is so much difference in terms of detail and lighting, and it all looks very colorful and vibrant but dark and decrepit at the same time. Everything has a super digital look, like the characters are living inside of a motherboard or hologram. The voice acting of the late, great Rutger Hauer is still one of the biggest highlights of this game and it is dedicated to the dearly departed actor.
The code for OBSERVER: SYSTEM REDUX was gifted to me to play on the PS5, and, as someone who played it on the PS4, I was excited to see what changes this version offered. Unfortunately, this game has some next-gen problems, specifically with its sound. If you pause a cutscene and resume, all sound will be gone. If you do it again, specifically in the intro credits, the entire thing grinds to a halt and freezes completely. If you were to put your PS5 into rest mode and resume your playing, the sound disappears then as well. Thankfully, the checkpoint system is up to par, because reloading is necessary if you want to hear anything for the rest of the game.
The NPC animations are a lot more smooth than before and the puzzles remain the same. One of my favorite parts is just walking through the building, talking to the tenants. As an Observer, you have the ability to switch your vision to locate and investigate both tech and biological items, and you can switch back and forth between them as you make your way through the game. There are so many little nuances throughout like posters or book covers that change appearance as you make your way through.
I certainly hope that the bugs get fixed quickly because it makes it difficult to step away from the game if needed. Other than that unfortunate issue, OBSERVER: SYSTEM REDUX is a perfect tribute to Rutger Hauer and a visual improvement from its first time around the block.
OBSERVER SYSTEM REDUX is available now to play on Xbox Series X/S and Playstation 5