Ever since he appeared in Blade Runner Rutger Hauer has been a safe and steady character actor who despite being instantly recognisable, can portray a number of inwardly different characters from a familiar outer shell. A few seconds into Observer and you know you are in for the same experience in a game. He’s familiar but you don’t know what’s lurking under the surface.
Observer is in a similar vein to Blade Runner, Deus Ex, Altered Carbon and other stories where the future is anything but bright. Set in central Europe after wars and a disease that spreads through people with mechanical implants called the nanophage. It is a detective style, psychological thriller that is never comfortable to play.
You take charge of Rutger’s character, a detective of sorts who can investigate two aspects of crime scenes, biological and mechanical. For example, you examine a dead body for biological signs of trauma and other clues then switch to the mechanical side to check out their implants and anything they are holding. This continues throughout the game and is applied to many things, not just crime scenes. As you do this the story develops and more puzzles are solved. It is another in the extremely successful walking simulator genre of games that include Firewatch, Gone Home and What Remains Of Edith Finch. The difference here is the horrible oppressive nature of even being in the world.
Flick into either of the investigation modes and the sound and graphics change to make it really feel like a hostile implement is interfering with your body. The noise is loud and the picture is almost all one tone. It makes you long for the silence or normality. You also can take pills to stabilize this minority and counter the supposed effects of the nanophage. Without going into spoiler territory. The hostility of the display in the investigation modes adds to the story.
Clocking in at around 8 hours, it is short enough to play a few times but few will want to. It should be played blind and like an interactive film the first time unless you are trophy hunting. It is a more enjoyable experience despite a few niggles.
The game is a bit dull if you are looking for action. Most surprises in the game are of things behind doors or pieces of furniture you move out of the way. While this leads to a few jump scares and unnerving moments there is little for you to do in the way of reactions to dodge them. It isn’t that kind of game. My real bug with the game is finding your way around. Even from the first location, it is a real hassle to navigate your way around. You feel like you should be using your detective modes all the time and there is really no break from that. A few sections where it is clear you aren’t meant to be looking for clues would go a long way to making the sections where you are that bit more special.
Despite this, the game is a bit of a hidden gem if you like Rutger Hauer and future noir thrillers in general.