Observer Switch Review by SwitchWatch

Developer: Bloober Team

Publisher: Bloober Team

Release Date: 7th February

Price as of Article: $29.99, £26.99

Game code provided by Bloober Team

Story

The year is 2084. The world is in tatters after governments have fallen and it’s now businesses that rule the roost in this dystopian world. Our story is set in Krakow, Poland as you take the role of Daniel and you are what’s known as an Observer. Abiding the mega-corporation’s will, these Observers are tasked with hacking people’s mind in order to force out the truth. It’s not long until our story gets right to its nitty gritty though, as Daniel is embroiled in a blast from his past. His estranged son calls him out of nowhere and, as Dan triangulates his whereabouts to an apartment complex in the absolute gutter of the city, he gets a shock of seeing a headless corpse. Confident this isn’t his son, Daniel does what he does best and sets out to find the truth. It’s a story of conspiracy, things not as they seem and it unravels very nicely over the course of the game. The story is one of the strongest aspects of Observer, no doubt, and it had me hooked from beginning to end. It uses fantastic sci-fi concepts and I think fans of sci-fi media will love what they incorporate into the story here.

Gameplay

In the laziest of descriptions Observer is a walking simulator, just as Layers of Fear before it from the same team. Gameplay is minimal but that’s me doing it a bit of an injustice. Walking simulator is almost a derogatory term these days, and is burdened with a bit of a stigma. And, I’ll be honest, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m one of those sneerers myself. But there’s nothing pretentious about Observer, so I’m all for it.

The majority of the gameplay takes place in the run down apartment building that your son was last heard from. If you’ve played Layers of Fear before, the whole feel of this will be very familiar to you. Walking is slow and environments are cramped. Not only do you intend to find your son, but also a way out of the apartment block which has been quarantined for fear of an outbreak of the plague which cost so many lives many years ago.

You’ll speak with the manager as well as a variety of tenants, although the latter are kept to conversations separated by apartment doors. Some are useful for finding clues, others are mere curiosities. You’ll see lots of gruesome stuff as you follow the leads and you’ll often have to use Dan’s futuristic detective methods to find out exactly what’s gone on and where to head next. He has two functions, one which can detect and analyse biological stuff, while the other does the same for technology. I’m not sure why they have been separated since it does result in a bit of juggling between the two visions, but it’s a nice way to feel like a proper detective.

An Observer’s main skill is their interrogation capabilities. Using a snake-like probe, Dan can connect to people’s minds and see their memories. At various points in the game you’ll come across corpses, but that’s not a problem as Dan can use his ability to witness their last moments, and even way before that.

This is where the psychological mind blast takes a front seat. The majority of the time spent in people’s heads will basically be you pressing forward. You’ll have some small throwaway tasks to do, but in essence you just sit back and enjoy the show as you’re whisked from location to location with your senses engorged from the craziness that Bloober Team try to throw at you. The best way to describe these sections are a schizophrenic acid tip nightmare. 

It’s not really scary at any point, at least not for me. And that’s not me willy waving because, if you’ve followed my reviews a while, you’ll know that I’m always a wuss when it comes to horror. Even the original Resident Evil scares me to this day when I play it. Observer is more weird. It’s an acid trip in an dystopian future. Bloober Team try their whole hearted best to create the most bizarre visual presentations possible as you glitch from scene to scene with ever increasing weirdness. At its most successful it’s highly unnerving, but never really scary.

Aside from the corridor walking, hacking and crime scene investigation, you’ll be tasked with some slightly more game-y type stuff in the form of stealth sections which didn’t turn out so well. I know I was hoping for more gameplay, but not really in this form as it took the wind out of the sails a bit. Being hunted in the office building was fine enough, but walking through a cornfield, avoiding security helicopters was just a chore.

The game is best when it lets you take your hands off the controller, which is weird because that’s exactly the opposite of what I wanted. But the developers know what they’re best at doing and they excel at showing you messed up stuff.   

I really wish the scope of the game’s environments was more ambitious. While the apartment block isn’t bad per se, there’s a whole world out there I was dying to explore. I’m not asking for an open world, just set locations around the city would have been enough. I would have been happy to see the wonderful future-noir designs that Bloober Team’s art crew could have produced. Instead, it feels too restricted and budgeted.

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Audio

For the audio we have an absolutely excellent soundtrack from Arkadiusz Reikowski. While melodies and rhythms are few and far between, the atmosphere created here is astonishing in my opinion. Just listening to the soundtrack with my eyes closed gave me chills. It has a mechanical nature to it, like technology malfunctioning and ready to kill. This is a game that 100% needs to be played with headphones or a proper sound system. Plug this bad boy into your earholes, turn out the lights and prepare to freak out just from the soundtrack alone.

There’s voice acting here and many 80’s movie fans will be delighted to hear the voice of Rutger Hauer. He voices the main character Dan and if I’m being honest his delivery is a bit… flat. I hate myself for saying that as I do think Rutger Hauer is a badass but here it just hasn’t worked out so great. I’m putting it down to a lack of direction. It kind of feels like he’s been put in front of a microphone without any context of the situation at hand. He feels overly calm when things go down, he speaks more venomously when not really necessary. It’s just kind of all over the place. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it too much had it not been his incredibly distinctive voice.

Visuals & Performance

Visually the game is unique amongst other Switch titles. It’s going for a strong realistic look which is ambitious for such a small development team on limited hardware, at least in comparison to other platforms it was initially designed for. On a big TV, I have to say, it does look a bit rough around the edges in some areas. For a start, it’s very blurry when looking at things anything other than a meter away from your face. It’s a shame, because the environments are dripping with detail, you just can’t see them. The visual effects, mostly seen in the mind hacking sequences also suffer as they do look a little flat. It takes away from the immersion as it pretty much opens the curtain to see the magic behind the development. I do love the art style though. The technology, the neon, the lighting; all of it is great. It’s just a shame it can’t be shown off in its true glory on the Nintendo Switch.

Another blow is in the frame rate which is not perfect at all and often succumbs to stutters. It seems fairly random too considering it can happen in what appears to be less taxing areas, whereas in some places with heavy visuals going on, it was smooth. It’s odd and disappointing.

I even experienced a handful of crashes, showing how poorly optimised this release is. All of them were in the second half of the game and two completely rebooted the game, while another froze my screen completely. I don’t know whether there was a lack of testing in the latter half of the game or what. I really hope there’s a patch to alleviate these problems in time for release. 

I think the game looks a lot better in handheld mode than it does on a big TV. With everything compacted down to the smaller screen, and visual fidelity being pretty much the same, the visual flaws show up far less when the game’s in your hands. I actually found it to be the best way to play, but since I have to capture footage for the review I reluctantly had to play on the TV.

Be warned Nintendo Switch owners, because Observer will take up a whacking 18GB of storage space, making it one of the biggest Switch games out there. Make sure you’ve got the space to spare before purchasing this one.

Value

For value, the asking price of Observer is $29.99 on the US eShop and £26.99 in the UK. The price here is looking a little on the heavy side but despite being out on other platforms for well over a year, it does have parity with those older releases. If you want to buy this on the PS4, for example, you’ll be looking at the same price as the Nintendo Switch version. Is it worth that price? To a point, maybe. I’m always a bit wary when indie games push the $30 mark, especially ones as limited as psychological horror games where replay-ability and scope is just not there. It’s a one time play through only. Still, when you have a story as engrossing as this one, I can’t complain too much. When it comes to scares per dollar you might not get the same bang for your buck as say, Outlast 1 or 2, but it’s not terrible value either. You’ll be getting a solid 8-10 hour experience here. There are collectables in the game that try to incentivise another play, but there’s no need. You’ll definitely only play this one time. 

There’s no physical version as of yet, but if it’s anything like the PS4 release, I would bet my savings on Limited Run Games chipping in with a release later down the line so if you’re a physical collector, but have your eye on this one, you may want to hold off a few months before it will probably be announced. 

Pros

P

Great atmosphere

P

An attack on the senses

P

Great sound design

Cons

P

Poorly optimised