Observer System Redux Review: Cyberpunk gone Horror
**DISCLAIMER: Review code provided by Bloober Team**
Observer System Redux is the remaster and enhanced version of 2017’s Observer. Developed and expanded by Xbox’s rising Horror genre stare, Bloober team. Observer System Redux was promised to be scarier, longer, and with new features to make horror fans excited. I never had the chance to play the original Observer. Up until this year, I’ve been a big scaredy baby when it comes to horror games. After subjecting myself to certain horror and thriller games in October, my gaming world view was opened. And I’m glad it was because I may have been too scared to play what may be the beginning of a whole generation of scary games that each have their own unique approaches to the genre.
Observer System Redux is about Adam Lazarski looking for clues about why his estranged son, Adam, called him from a Class C tenement building. In the year 2084, during a cyberpunk future, the world was ravaged by a digital plague called the Nanophage. This virus, almost like a normal computer virus today on steroids, ravaged not only through technology but anyone who was connected to the network through their cybernetic enhancements. Poland was decimated, leading to their being controlled by a megacorporation called Chiron. Eventually, people were divided by class. Rampant drug users, hologram addicts, and others were classified as Class C and were relegated to tenement buildings. These are almost like modern-day apartment buildings but are so poorly maintained; they are breaking down at the seams and held together by shoddy patchwork. Additionally, each apartment can be locked down remotely in case there is a Nanophage breakout. Additionally, a new police unit known as the Observers was formed to help with crime in this technology-based future. Observers are the only ones allowed to hack into people to see memories that led to whatever crime they observed. However, drug use and death tend to not be safe for Observers who are then subjected to mind-bending scenarios of that person’s life. This also tends to cause instability between the Observer and their technology.
This is the setting you’re exploring during this psychological horror. A father looking for his lost son in an inhabited near-derelict building where, of course, a killer is on the loose during a lockdown. It is simply terrifying. Apartments you explore look dilapidated and covered in blood. The hallways quickly change and affect your view with the use of holograms. All of this is enhanced by the eerie sounds of the locked-in residents slowly going crazy as their forced stay grows longer and longer. Additionally, the custodian and his robot assistant are slowly malfunctioning and tend to wander around the building. Several apartments are open to be explored that serve as side-cases that are equally, if not more creepy than the main case you slowly solve during the four to 5-hour play-time. These side cases are optional, but I HIGHLY recommend doing them. Not only does it let you explore more of the creepy building but give you an idea of just how messed up this type of dystopian future can be.
Observer System Redux strives for exploration. You may feel on edge, but you learn so much about your victims and this future just by scanning everything around you. There are three scanners at your disposal that not only give you more information about the person who died tragically but also slowly lead you to your next clue. There’s very little puzzle-solving to be done. It’s all about the environmental storytelling that feeds you more and more unsettling information about what transpired and the overall world. I really enjoyed this progression method. It made me scan almost everything around me. Adam’s optics can switch between an electronic scanner that can look through organic objects, a biological scanner that can highlight and provide extra information about any biological specimens found and a digital scanner that allows you to get general information about objects in plain view.
Now, the big feature that really ramps up the horror is brain jacking. Once obtaining permission, Adam can plug into another person’s brain and relive their memories that led to their current fate. This digitized world, especially while the people you’re plugged into are dying, doesn’t always hold up well. Memories are scattered, and their worst fears become manifested. These instances are full of jump scares and illusions that feel surreal. This is particularly when the psychological fear comes into play. Adam is experiencing the worst of these people's lives. I felt genuinely scared during most of these parts. I didn’t expect the jump scares. I didn’t expect some of the chases, and the atmosphere built by Bloober Team made me feel on edge. Up to a point…
At other particular segments, there is a manifestation of a giant monster ready to wreak havoc while it’s looking for something. I couldn’t find any particular reason for their existence. Chasing and stalking around bad guys with no way to fight back is the main scenario that makes me avoid scary games. I cannot handle the chase. It puts me so on edge I can’t help but close the game and calm down. Except here, when there was a chase sequence, I thought it was supposed to be a jump scare that ruined the fear. Then when I actually ran away, it set the expectation that I would make it out OK as long as I ran. There were no corners to turn, no obstacles to jump over. You just had to run straight until it was over. Even more so, as mentioned before, there ARE stealth parts… but my god is the AI bad. As long as you’re crouched, you are perfectly safe. I was almost right behind the big threatening creature crouch walking and was never once killed. If the AI actually responded much better to my presence, this game would be much scarier than it ended up actually being. Once you realize how non-threatening the scares are, the mental glass shatters, and the game immediately becomes much less scary. Thankfully even with that one driving factor taken out of the equation, the overarching story was still compelling enough to keep me engaged.
Additionally, Observer System Redux emphasizes the importance of synchronization between Adam and his equipment/ mental state. Upon exiting Brain Jack sessions, his hardware is screaming “desynchronization imminent, please take synchronization pill,” and he does. You can even find additional pills lying around the tenement building in case Adam needs an additional boost of synchronization while you’re exploring. For a feature that feels like it’s to be similar to Amnesia’s sanity level feature, it’s borderline useless. During my playthrough, the furthest extent I noticed when the synchronization became unstable enough was my screen getting fuzzier. I’m not sure if I was too in control of the synchronization or what, but it never got to the point I was scrambling to find another pill to take, nor did it seem to affect my game any further than just not being able to see things as well. It would have been nice if Bloober Team had a specific instance or two early in the game where you didn’t have access to any synchronization stabilizing pills to show off the worst risk that could happen if you didn’t stabilize fast enough. Would certain tools like the technology scanner sporadically work? Would I hear more things crawling around the building to make me feel more uneasy? I just don’t know, and that’s because this one feature that was presented to be important simply wasn’t.
This world is very well designed. Bloober Team should be proud of the work they did when designing this world confined to just a building. The dreariness, the disgusting murder scenes, the obtuse props lying around in certain rooms made me feel uneasy no matter where I went. This imagined cyberpunk future IS, in fact, terrifying! So why put what can only be described as a haze filter over everything? This well-stylized game honestly hurt my eyes to play long enough because everything felt slightly off no matter where I looked. Changing visual settings didn’t help either. The only relief I found respite with was changing the FOV slider to maximum on my Series X. It made the haziness a little more bearable but still off-putting. If that wasn’t there, the visuals enough would still carry the weight to make me scared of the environments I was investigating. This extra filter that tried to be the cherry on top ended up making the sundae not taste good.
Finally, Bloober Team made a very stable game. As one of the Series X launch titles, the stability is a nice reprieve from some other releases. I did experience a weird glitch or two. In one particular room, the lights went out. Everything looked fine when I was outside the room looking in, but stepping inside made looking around near impossible. You can use your tools in this room to help you see better. After returning later, I noticed that what I thought to be a tasteful effect had just disappeared, making me suspect that this was actually a glitch. The only other issue stability wise came in the form of janky controls when interacting with certain objects during a tense part of the game. I found that I had to be in a very peculiar spot just to interact with a lever. With a little extra QC and refining, this game would’ve run smooth as butter. I want to emphasize that these two complaints are minimal and actually added to my overall experience, issue, or not.
Observer System Redux is a fantastic example of what next-generation horror games can accomplish. Near-instant loading times and more detailed visuals without pop-in add to the tense nature of these games. If the AI acted more aggressively and were programmed to sense the player better, this shorter psychological horror experience would be rated much higher. It’s just that glass-shattering moment of realizing that you are in no real danger that really puts a damper on a scary look at what the future could hold.