Friday, February 8

Review: Observer [Nintendo Switch eShop]


It’s always fascinating to see games come to Switch that visually test the limits of what the system is capable of. While a side effect of this is often that at some point the fan on your Switch will sound like it’s trying to take off and some visual muddyness (especially in handheld mode), the ambition is always appreciated. In the case of The Observer, a noir cyberpunk mystery full of bizarre and almost hallucinogenic visions, there’s actually some great cover for the inconsistency though as you’ll question whether it’s the system limitations or the intended visuals. While I wish it was as easy to be as positive about the gameplay experience I’ll credit the game for thoroughly doing its own thing.


You’ll play the game as Dan Lazarski, a sort of cyber-detective operating in a dystopian future world full of augmented humans. Voiced by the spot-on choice for such a role, Rutger Hauer, Lazarski is a bit of a hot mess and once you get further into the game and have seen some of the things he sees you can feel for the guy. Drawn to an apartment building by a call from his estranged son, he finds a dead body (who he desperately is hoping isn’t his son) and embarks on a journey to find out what’s going on before it may be too late.


To help with this effort you’ll learn how to use his various abilities to find clues and get information from people. Various scanners will help him look for both organic and electronic clues, then providing additional information about objects that he focuses on. The more effective tactic, and the one that the game’s hook seems to hinge on, is when you’re able to hack into people’s minds. This certainly leads to the game’s most memorable moments as they’re full of often random and sometimes disturbing visions you see as you navigate their minds.


As interesting as the above can be at times, the game isn’t without its flaws. First, your movement is positively glacial for the most part, though I suppose that helps you take in all of the game’s pretty impressive sights. Second, the controls in general can be a bit on the pokey side and it can be difficult to hone in and identify smaller objects at times as you’re looking for information. My biggest gripe, however, is one to do with game design and it took me back to the 80s. This may be a function of a sort of PTSD but I absolutely hate it when games use mazes. I believe my typical quote when I see one randomly inserted into a game these days is “Are you f*cking kidding me?” Since they happen as you’re in someone’s mind I don’t doubt the argument will be it is a function of exploring their mind but I call it what it is, a cheap method of prolonging the game. Sorry to people who put mazes in their games randomly, but I’ve been burned too many times in my life to have any patience for them.


If you’re willing to overlook some problems there’s no question this is a title that pushes what the Switch is capable of and offers up an experience I’ve not had on the system to date. The setting, the strong voice acting of Hauer, and some of the visions (beware if you’re photo-sensitive, it could potentially be a problem for you) are absolutely things you won’t find anywhere else. Whether or not a somewhat slow-moving cyber-noir mystery with some really trippy and terrifying visuals is what you’re looking for may be another matter.


Score: 6.5

Pros:
  • Visually it’s absolutely impressive on a device you can take with you, just there were compromises nonetheless
  • Rutger Hauer was perfectly cast for voicing this role and elevates the material
  • If you’re into disturbing flashes and sequences that leave you a bit uneasy you’ll more likely enjoy the ride

Cons:
  • Moving through the world is sloooow
  • Getting the controls to cooperate as you search areas can sometimes be a nuisance
  • “Mazes… Why did it have to be mazes?”