Hauer Puts Up The Metal, One Last Time

HIGH The first time connecting to a victim.

LOW The ‘dedicated to Rutger Hauer’ message on boot-up.

WTF Those Fire Sword minigames could be their own release.

I missed out on the full >Observer_ experience the first time around — I played it on Game Pass but found that the dingy, slow pace put me off. Fortunately, after going through Layers of Fear and The Blair Witch recently, I was motivated to revisit Bloober Team’s least horror-based title to date and revise my opinions on it.

The player takes the role of Dan Lazarski, an “Observer” in the city of Krakow voiced by Rutger Hauer. Observers are detectives augmented by cybernetics, able to jack into the chips inside (almost) every citizen and relive their memories to solve crimes.

Lazarski gets a call from his lost son, and the opening starts by pulling up outside the his last known residence while a weathered Hauer growls and sighs through his opening lines and sets the scene. Of course, things don’t stay straightforward and soon Lazarski is embroiled in a murder investigation and the possible outbreak of a deadly virus while still trying to find his elusive son.

>Observer_ is essentially a walking simulator with elements of procedural detective work. While searching the building, the player is required to switch between normal, Electromagnetic and Bio visual filters to discern clues in electronic devices, or to scan items such as blood.

What immediately hit me about >Observer_ is the incredibly strong environmental storytelling, and by this I don’t mean anything as simple as some writing on the wall in blood. The apartment building Lazarski navigates has holographic displays flickering in and out, barely covering over festering wooden frames, and decaying concrete. Water appears to drip everywhere under the grim neon lights.

There is a feeling of age and neglect to the edifice, and of constructs being papered on top of themselves — some comm systems on the doors look up to date, while others are barely functional. The hallways and stairwells are asymmetrical, walls have been knocked down to make new pathways, aging gates have rusted shut to block others. This is a developer that understands the power of the environment they have constructed and it reminds me of my own experiences in the rundown areas of Poland I am familiar with like the ghettos of Wroclaw, or the dead factory in Ursus.

The direct storytelling is a little shakier than the environmental due to the fact that there is plenty that >Observer_ wants to explore. Many conversations with the building’s tenants feel a little too much like talking heads for specific political outlooks, or they offer philosophical perspectives on a society whose members willingly have their body mechanically modified. However, this is a minor gripe since the events >Observer_ wants to explore are fascinating and elevated by excellent writing — the further I went into the story, the more I was compelled to continue.

It may not be different enough to justify a replay for those who’ve already experienced the original version, but for those wanting something crisp and clean on new consoles, or for those intrigued by Bloober Team’s work but put off by tense horror, >Observer_ is a great choice.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Bloober Team/Anshar Studios and published by Bloober Team S.A. It is currently available on XBO, XBX/S, PS5, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via  publisher and reviewed on the XBX. Approximately 7 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, and Use of Drugs. The official description reads as follows: This is a first-person adventure game in which players assume the role of Daniel Lazarski, a detective who can enter the minds of victims and suspects. As players explore a futuristic Polish nation-state, they experience the nightmares, murders, and assaults of characters in vivid detail. Some sequences depict dramatic instances of violence: a monstrous figure slamming an impaled woman against a window; a man being beaten by the player’s character; a man getting shot in the stomach. Blood-splatter effects and screams of pain accompany several scenes of violence. A handful of scenes depict headless corpses, flayed human skin, and wounded figures with exposed entrails. The game contains some sexual material and nudity: a holographic dancer (resembling a mannequin) gyrating in a strip club—her chest and groin are covered by neon lights; robots behind a glass partition, with undulating body parts and flesh; a “sexbot” that players can speak with through an intercom (the robot is not shown); poster drawings of topless women. During a prison sequence, player’s character mentions needing “a fix” before ingesting a substance that causes the screen to distort; during the course of the game, there are also references to “stoners,” “crackheads,” and “junkies” in the dialogue. The words “f**k” and “sh*t” appear in the game.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. There are no relevant audio cues needed to play, so the game should be fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Certain functions are remappable. The X and Y axis can be inverted.

AJ Small
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