‘Observer’ lacks plot, good gameplay


Photo by Jay Walker-Schultz

The title screen of “Observer” (also known as >observer_) establishes the mood for the rest of the game.

Jay Walker-Schulte, Reporter

Independent games aren’t exactly my forté, but as you become more mature of a gamer, you’re much more open to new ideas. There are only so many iterations of “Call of Duty” you can play before you’re exhausted. It doesn’t help that “popular” games are prone to burning $60 holes in your pocket.

“Observer” is $29.99. And, it’s a good cyberpunk-horror independent game. So, that’s admirable, I guess.

I like “Observer” because it tries to breathe life into something that’s already been done. Key word here is try.

“Observer” (also stylized as >observer_, by the way) is essentially a combination of the movie “Blade Runner” and pretty much any political-dystopian book you’re forced to read in high school English, stuffed into an indie game. “1984” by George Orwell and “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury are a few examples. In fact, one of them makes a special appearance in the game, which made me giggle. The game even has an actor from “Blade Runner,” Rutger Hauer, play the main protagonist. It’s the only video game he’s ever been involved in during his career.

The game follows Daniel Lazarski, a cyborg detective who slips through the ruined streets of Kraków, Poland, and solves mysteries in the name of the oppressive megacorporation Chiron–which basically plays the city like a puppet. When you, who is playing Lazarski, receive a call from your estranged son, you travel to the Krakównian slums to investigate. Yet, it seems like there’s more happening than what meets the eye.

Unfortunately, this story proves to be a little convoluted and conceited. It’s where the whole “they tried” thing comes in.

As stated before, “Observer” draws its moral messages from quite a few successful dystopian novels. Although I don’t necessarily mind this in theory, its conception is incredibly unflattering. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table that hasn’t been done before.

If you’ve read any of the books I mentioned before, (and you understand them) you’ve heard the morals that the game is trying to teach. That wouldn’t be a problem if the story held its weight without seeming clichéd, however, that isn’t the case. The plot is clunky and strange. Towards the end of the game, I found myself confused and bored. Originally this confusion was fine, seeing as it’s a horror game and everything is meant to be symbolic. But to a point, it felt like I was on a vainglorious roller coaster constructed by “Observer’s” producers.

The game pats itself on the back for an idea that isn’t its own. It’s disappointing to say the least. But, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Although it’s classified as a cyberpunk-horror, the first half is a puzzle/detective game. This is an interesting concept, and the game is limited to an apartment. This proves to be enough space and I see it as a hot-take on current game atmospheres that tend to be expansive. “Grand Theft Auto” and “Far Cry 5” are popular examples.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t gore. You are going to crime scenes, after all. I love the dark gritty-techy aesthetic as I explore, and the increasing creepiness. There was even a point in the game that I was jump-scared, which genuinely spooked me and wasn’t a cheap screamer. It was a nice surprise for a game I didn’t go into thinking would be unnerving.

The models of the game’s characters are also incredibly attractive and eye-catching in such a dark environment. This stylisation is delicious and fits the game’s tone.

“Observer” drives a hard bargain. On one hand, it’s laughably narcissistic and fails to realise that it isn’t as original as it intends to be. On another, appearance-wise it’s artistically mesmeric, has contemporary game mechanics, and is fresh on the spectrum of games.

If you’re not too into dystopia but want to be, and you want something other than the fighting game drama, play “Observer.” If you make cheap brags about the political novels you’ve read, quote George Orwell, and you like punching people in the mouth in the games you play, don’t play “Observer.” Depending on who you are, the pros can outweigh the cons, and it’s an interesting predicament.