Observer: System Redux PC Review

A graphical feast that seamlessly blends a multilayered, psychological horror narrative with heartpounding and intimate gameplay; Observer: Sytem Redux is an exquisite piece of cyberpunk fiction.

By LG18, Posted 15 Nov 2020

Observer: System Redux is a remaster of the original Observer released by Blooper Team in 2017. Set in 2084 in a cyberpunk reimagining of the Polish City Krakow, the game follows Daniel Lazinski, a KPD police officer specialized as an Observer. The Observers are technologically augmented detectives, possessing the ability to jack into other people’s minds - dead or alive - in order to scan their memories in hopes of illuminating clues relating to the case they’ve been assigned.
The story begins with Dan receiving a distressing call from his estranged son, and after triangulating the position and tracing the call to a nearby apartment district, the story begins and never lets go. The game is based around this aforementioned apartment building as Dan becomes embroiled in an ever escalating and horrifying mystery, stalking the halls one tentative door handle turn to the next.

Observer is a psychological horror in every sense of the word. The district C apartment block from which the game takes place is a frightening depiction of what life might be like for the poor and disenfranchised, in a technologically advanced but emphatically bleak world. Following a devastating war and a deadly digital virus that targets Poland’s heavily augmented population, the country was taken over by the megacorporation Chiron - which is as depressing as it sounds.
District C is a miserable reality for the residents that live there. A crumbling wreckage of 20th century hallways juxtapose the neon blue of the makeshift computerized infrastructure that envelopes the building, with the game doing an overall amazing job of mixing new and old together. Outside, there’s a small courtyard. The rain pelts down beneath a dark sky, with the small, square outdoor space sunken beneath the sprawling metropolis of a cyberpunk skyline. The studio has absolutely nailed the aesthetic and overarching metaphor it conjures, and the environment oozes atmosphere in literally every corner. The game's ambience is spot-on, and with the inclusion of ray tracing in this remaster, it’s not an understatement to say this is one of the best-looking games on the market right now; the lighting, shadows and particle effects breath-taking, and the colour pallet perfect.

     dark hospital
 

Adding energy to the game world is its cast of characters. The voice acting is stellar across the board whether that be Dan’s deep yet delicate, philosophical but understated speech (voiced by the late Rutger Hauer), or the variety of splendidly written, diverse mixture of tenants you’ll meet throughout the journey. Every person is completely different, each offering an intriguing glimpse into their lives that you gain inadvertently while pressing them for clues and information.
Dan won’t meet many of them face-to-face, however. The majority of the conversations between you and the residents of district C are undertaken through an intercom system attached to the front doors of their dwellings, due to the entire building being in lockdown for an unknown reason. This doesn’t matter, though, with the game actually feeling better for it, inspiring your imagination to envisage what these people might look like and what’s really going down on the other side of the door. This disconnected way of conversing with the games characters also adds to the feeling of isolation the place facilitates so well. Despite knowing the building is full of people it doesn’t seem that way, instead feeling as though people had left long ago.
Observer inoculates the feeling of restless solitude in other ways, too, with the game mirroring this lonely reality in Dan’s mind. Due to undisclosed aspects of his own genetic augmentations, or perhaps because of the tole meddling with the minds of others takes on him, Dan must take synchronization pills to maintain his grip on reality. The game plays with this idea of what’s real and what isn’t a lot, making for a deep, multi-layered and nightmarish narrative.

Dan’s ability as an Observer enables him to link his own mind with that of other people's, a practice enabled through the dystopian new laws ratified by Chiron - the ultimate gatekeepers of Krakow’s society. The player is required to link into the minds of both the dead and the living throughout the course of the story, delving into their deepest memories, repressed fears and fractured identities. What results are beautifully yet horrifyingly depicted renditions of the human psyche, and the creative direction during these sections are undoubtedly some of the best examples of how games can render art in a way completely unique to interactive entertainment. They also open the game world up massively. Despite Dan physically remaining in the apartment district for the tenure of the game, the expansive variety of environments you’ll traverse mentally make for a story that despite being short, never misses a beat, and never gets boring. There are even moments in these more cerebral parts of the game that utilize stealth, which are particularly heart pounding.

     intestinal dungeon
 

While much of the game is spent talking to people through doors, or piecing together the overload of information you’re presented with as you pull back out of someone’s mind, the player will also be required to explore the game’s highly detailed areas for physical clues.
Equipped with both a biological and a digital scanner, surveying a crime scene is a must to gain valuable information to solve the mystery. The biological scanner is usually used to examine bodily fluids, where its digital counterpart scans the area for electronic equipment which you can then examine and determine the usefulness of. You’ll have to do some digging to find relevant items, too, with many being located in cupboards, in drawers or even stashed away in a fridge.
The game has a smooth way of handling opening and closing; the right trigger/left mouse click locks onto a handle, and by moving the mouse/right analogue stick you’re able to move Dan’s arm at your own pace, adding a much more tactile, hands on feel to investigation. This is also the way you open doors, and it’s great how something seemingly so small can heighten the tension to such a large degree. As a trail of blood leads under the door, the erratic see-sawing between jump scares and psychologically distressing scenes makes the entering of every unlocked room a tense moment, which is heightened considerably when it’s up to you - rather than an animation - to push the door open. The game is also fleshed out with some hands-on puzzles, each solved using the tactile controls detailed above which helps to break up the gameplay nicely.

Then there’s the soundtrack, which does an excellent job of enhancing the game world. The haunting, minimalist score of district C augments its depressive atmosphere, the clattering soundscapes match perfectly with the feverish, trippy nature of a victim’s mind, and the dead silence as you approach a key moment in the story focuses the approach toward another unpleasant revelation. In the design of Observer, detail is everything. The way you catch a glimpse of yourself in a smeared mirror and think of someone is there with you, hearing a distant blood curdling scream in an otherwise silent area; the game knows when to add and when to be subtractive, and the world chips away at your grip on it in the same way it does Dan’s.

     district c courtyard
 

Aside from the core exploration there’s plenty to flesh out the experience and enrich you in the surroundings further. Computer terminals are found dotted about and unveil details about key characters through emails and other documents, and these pieces of text really drill home how badly Krakow’s poorest citizens are treated. There are also news articles expanding the game world, enlightening the backstory surrounding the virus outbreak, the war, and the various corporations besides Chiron pulling the strings of Krakow’s citizens. The terminals even contain a mini game called ‘With Fire and Sword’ which offers a little relief from the heavy plot.
There game also features several side quests, including three new to System Redux. Each enables further exploration into what life is like for the residents of district C with some particularly shocking stand outs, and this edition of the game also benefits from several quality of life changes to the gameplay which have helped refine it into its best form.

Having said this, there are a couple of elements that stick out a little amongst the otherwise stellar design, but these are few and far between. The cyberpunk aesthetic is wonderful, though the prevalence of CRT style monitors is odd and feels as though the game is clinging a little too closely to the retro-futurism aesthetic of cyberpunk classics like blade runner. Modern technology is seen in equal proportions throughout, but sometimes it feels like 1985 rather than 2085, throwing off the otherwise sublime visual direction slightly. The plot also demands a fair bit from the player, which is welcomed, but some aspects of it are a little confusing. There are some parts which would have benefited from a little more explanation, and it wouldn’t need to be anything that detracted from the intrigue of the story. Things happen pretty quickly and it can be easy to miss things sometimes. There’s no doubt, though, that this is one of the best pieces of cyberpunk fiction to come about for a long time. It’s top-tier story writing, and the way the game ties together Dan’s own mental torment with the overarching plot is exquisitely done. It’s never boring and it’s always tense, with the multi-layered elements of the game coming together to form an terrifying yet poignant psychological horror.

     tatoo parlour
 

Where AAA studios offer us ever grander, more expansive and content packed worlds, independent teams have honed their abilities to offer shorter, impactful narrative experiences, and Observer: System Redux is a radiant example of the latter. What Bloober Team has accomplished on the graphical end alone is outstanding, though that’s only the cherry atop what is one of best mystery games on the market.
The title homes in to what cyberpunk does best - a peek into what the future may, but hopefully will not, hold, prompting us to consider where exponentially increasing technological advancement is taking humanity. As you catch yourself staring at photorealistic light rhythmically chinking through a fan, marvelling at the game’s next generation graphics; you can’t help but wonder, what’s next?

 

Linden Garcia
Editor, NoobFeed

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General Information

Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): Bloober Team SA
Developer(s): Bloober Team, Anshar Studios
Genres: Survival Horror
Themes: Cyberpunk
Release Date: 2020-11-20

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