The 2084 in the Observer it is not a randomly chosen year. Bloober Team sets what, at present, is perhaps his best work exactly a century after George Orwell’s 1984, that masterpiece that set new standards for the concept of dystopia. The cyberpunk world in which detective Daniel Lazarski moves is claustrophobic and gloomy, perennially guarded and crushed by the yoke of a society that sees everything and controls everything. Even the memories and nightmares. Three years after the original release of the game, the development studio – whose new work we can’t wait to test firsthand (here you can retrieve our preview of The Medium) – reports on next gen platforms and on PC another version, revised and evolved, of his horror adventure: Observer System Redux maintains almost the entire starting experience unchanged, but is strengthened by a considerable technical upgrade, so as to appear even more vibrant and suffocating. The qualities and uncertainties of the base title are still unchanged, but it must be admitted that its defects, although present, are partly mitigated by a fairly intelligent use of the new PlayStation 5 controller. Why yes: with DualSense, Observer is even scarier.
A world in an apartment building
We have already told you about it in our review of Observer: the plot set up by Bloober Team is one of those that enter your head, confuse and destabilize you, ensnare you and disturb you.
In the Krakow of 2084, Detective Lazarski (played by the late Rutger Hauer) goes to a dilapidated building after receiving a request for help from the son who he believed has long since disappeared: the protagonist is an investigator enhanced by grafts that allow him to interface with the minds of others through specific chips, so as to analyze even their remember. In a world where the concept of freedom is very different from what we know today, such a procedure, although admitted, is still unorthodox, since every time it investigates the feelings and thoughts of the detective tend to overlap with those of the host. For Lazarski, forced to follow the trail of a dangerous killer, literally begins a journey into the nightmare. Closed within the walls of an isolated building, he will have to communicate with the tenants of the building complex, who will communicate with him mostly through intercoms.
Among corpses, dreamlike visions, illicit trafficking, perverse machinations and rampant madness, Lazarski – and we with him – will be catapulted into a cyberpunk micro world characterized in a workmanlike manner both by art design, dirty and decadent, and by lines of dialogue and the personality of the inhabitants of the building: in their own way, they all represent a fragment of a psychological distress caused by the whip of an annihilating society.
The Redux version of Observer Fortunately, it does not modify the original narrative structure, and therefore maintains unaltered what certainly embodies the distinctive element of the production: the additional secondary missions, for their part, do not in any way upset the main structure, and rather deepen in part the story of a technological progress that has devoured a humanity by now, paradoxically, convoluted.
Fear makes Dualsense
As well as on the narrative level, also on the playful side Observer System Redux preserves its structure: that of a first-person investigative adventure in which, moving along the labyrinthine building, we will have to dialogue with the tenants, collect clues, analyze the game environment, overcome some simple puzzles and then sneak into the minds of the victims .
The investigation phases obey rather simple but also quite functional mechanisms: through two modes of vision, the biological one and the technological one, we will be able from time to time scan different elements present at the crime scene, in a progression that leaves no room for error; the same can be said for the hacking phases, made more streamlined and accessible, which – like the environmental analysis – are only brief but solid interludes aimed at carrying the narrative forward until the next neural interrogation.
These are, as anticipated, oneiric forays into the minds of the victims: poorly interactive, such moments almost entirely leverage the user’s sensory destabilization, resorting to visions, hallucinations, sensory torments and profoundly hallucinatory artistic solutions. The effectiveness of these mnemonic nightmares is alleviated by their excessive duration: some sequences are in fact too long, and risk to burden in an invasive way on the endurance of the user, even ending up by lightening their anxiety charge. During the neural investigations, at times we will also have to escape from the clutches of a techno-organic creature of unknown nature (at least initially), through fairly hasty and roughly implemented stealth junctions, capable even of dampening the lysergic course of neural sessions.
What should have represented the strong point of an adventure that relies heavily on the sense of mental instability ends up appearing too exasperated, although it still maintains a considerable dose of synaesthetic involvement. To considerably dampen this weakness of the original experience we think, at least on PlayStation 5, it exploitation of DualSense.
We are certainly not faced with an intensive use as happens in Astro’s Playroom, or able to significantly change the gameplay as in Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War (if you want to know more, you can read our special PS5: Dualsense and launch games here). Nevertheless, the vibration and pulsation of the Pad in the dream phases enormously intensify, with effective tactile solicitations, the protagonist’s growing fear, the approach of enemies and the visual suggestions that overlap in a highly anxious trip. Although to a less tangible extent, we will also feel the tension of the triggers when opening the doors, thus providing interactions with the setting a touch of additional involvement that, in a purely narrative adventure, contributes to further heighten the immersion. Thanks to DualSense, in essence, Observer System Redux it becomes more intense, stimulating and pervasive.
The lights of a cyberpunk Next Gen
Although the implementation of DualSense represents, in our opinion, the real secret weapon of Observer System Redux, the fact remains that those who decide to live the adventure of Daniel Lazarski on Xbox Series X and on PC will still benefit from a very efficient graphic upgrade. First of all, the (few) polygonal models of the characters have been greatly perfected, and made both more detailed and profoundly more expressive.
The same goes for the texturing process of the environments, which have seen an evident improvement in the rendering of the materials and in the realism of the scene. If the glance becomes more enveloping, the merit also goes to the renewed lighting system (with the always welcome addition of the Ray Tracing), capable of giving shape to the locations and making the scenographic frame much more vivid and detailed than in the past. Reflections, density of details and an accurate finishing work therefore increase the charm of a powerful and communicative art design, able to paint a cyberpunk context among the roughest and most desperate in recent years.