Observation (PC) Review

By Ofisil 30.05.2019

Review for Observation on PC

A space station with a small crew, a benevolent AI that runs things, and after this starts behaving a bit weird, a feeling of dread and impending doom. From the realistic approach to the design of the in-game world, to its theme, Observation clearly takes its cue from 2001: A Space Odyssey - the developers proudly admits that, in fact. This time around, however, it will all be viewed from the perspective of the computer, not the humans. Moreover, Like Kubrick's masterpiece, this isn't exactly for everyone. Not because it's a thinking gamer's title, but because the actual gameplay is of a certain flavour that will split people in lovers and haters. Take a look at the review of NoCode's deeply atmospheric, and almost Lovecraftian, sci-fi thriller, and decide for yourself if this is for you.

Dr. Fisher is in deep trouble. While doing her daily chores on board the low-orbit space station 'Observation,' something went terribly wrong. Power is off, the crew doesn't respond to her calls, and the station seems to be out of its course - who knows how far away from Earth. Then the good doctor gets the terrifying answer to that question she was looking for: it was the ship's AI, SAM, who started this mess, and for no apparent reason. After a soft reboot of sorts, which leaves SAM slightly less omniscient and omnipotent, Fisher will have to make this broken mess of a computer help her. The really tricky part? This broken mess is actually you.

Screenshot for Observation on PC

In practise, the fact that you are inside the mind of the videogame equivalent of - faulty - HAL 9000, means that you can't simply use your hands to push a button to open a hatch. Instead, you'll have to search for the appropriate control with the station's cameras, and establish a link with the device before doing so, with the vast majority of the actions that need to be done here following a similar logic. This might seem like a chore that could be avoided by simply having the main heroine do that herself, yet this actually provides one of the core ingredients that make this so enjoyable and unique. This isn't just a gimmick, but something that really works to the benefit of this experience.

Yes, all you do in the game is pressing buttons. Fisher wants to know what's wrong with something? You aim at it and push the 'Respond' button. You need to download the "rights" to open a door? You look at the appropriate document, and push the 'Scan' button. Take a look at the puzzles on offer, which can't even be called that: firing up an experimental fusion reaction might seem like a tough job, but in here it's like trying to use a gadget you've just bought, but don't have the manual with you. Even navigation is just a matter of opening up a menu and clicking on the section you want to go to... and yet, it all feels awesome.

Screenshot for Observation on PC

This is because, for all intends and purposes, this is mainly a story-driven thriller that's meant to wholly immerse you in its world, rather than a simple adventure game where you happen to babysit a lowly houman, and, as a result, the simplistic gameplay mostly serves the atmosphere. Have you played Alien: Isolation? Remember it's unrelenting pace, and how you had to do almost everything yourself, with most pieces of hardware taking their sweet time to do their thing? This is exactly like that, and it's deliberate, as its purpose is to absorb you in what's going on.

Boredom and attention to realism often go hand-to-hand in videogames. That doesn't happen in Observation. It's surprising devotion to looking, and mostly feeling, as real as possible, helps in engrossing you into a game world that actually doesn't feel like one. It also helps that, from the interior of the station, and the vast, frightening emptiness of space, the developer has done an excellent job when it comes to the visuals. The facial design is somewhat lacking compared to everything else, but the emotional voice-acting fixes that - finally, extra kudos for the awesome ambient music, which is used sparingly, and in the right time.

Screenshot for Observation on PC

In conclusion: this is a masterfully crafted microcosm that's deeply immersive. Is the story any good though? Well, this is the part that the hardest to talk about in fear of spoiling it. Without giving much away, it revolves around the reason why SAM is behaving the way it is, and what exactly drives it to get Dr. Fisher away from home, and close to... err, [SPOILER]. The real question, however, isn't whether it's good (it is), but who will like it. As mentioned before, this is a slow-paced kind of deal, but it's also very cryptic. Not only it doesn't give any answers, but each hour spend will fill your weak brain with even more questions.

In other words, this heavily leans towards the cosmic, almost Lovecraftian side of terror, where the fact that you can't even marginally grasp what's happening and why, is pretty much its own reward - oh, and if you expect to discover Observation's secret by reaching the end... good luck! This obviously means that this isn't for everyone. Many will love it's slow pace, others will hate it; some won't mind not having their questions answered, some will; and, most importantly, some will find that the "puzzles" do manage to get them extremely engaged, whereas some will feel as if they are forced to get a washing machine to work... without any help of good 'ol mommy.

Screenshot for Observation on PC

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Observation is far from an easy recommendation. If you can't stand slow-paced games, with an unrelentingly cryptic plot, an extreme emphasis in realism and immersion, and puzzles of the "how the heck does this work" variety, avoid it at all costs. The rest can safely give it a go. It's probably the best hard sci-fi thriller of the year, and a must have for those who are in love with space and cosmic horror.

Developer

No Code

Publisher

Devolver Digital

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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