Cyberpunk-Flavoured Walking Sim
On the eve of Cyberpunk 2077’s release, Observer: System Redux feels like a palatable starter to whet the appetite before CD Projekt Red’s behemoth drops on console and PC in December.
Unlike that game however, this Playstation 5 release of Observer isn’t actually an original title. Instead, Redux is a remaster from the 2017 PC title of the same name, redesigned for consoles with a couple of rejigged sections and a lot of graphical enhancements.
If you like police procedurals or walking sims, Observer: System Redux is essentially a collaborative wired hybrid of the two. Tying both these genres together, Redux’s augmented bulk is held in place by a murder mystery that consumes the bulk of this 6-8 hour game.
The year is 2084 and the future is a dark, bleak dystopian ripped right from George Orwell’s 1984 – a fact this game even hints at early on during the earliest crime scene segment. But let’s backtrack before getting into the gritty details of this one.
A digital plague known as the Nanophage has wiped out thousands who have chosen to augment their minds and bodies. On the back of this, war broke out consuming both the West and East leaving both sides shattered and struggling to pick up the remnants of society as we know it.
With the balance of power there for the taking, greedy corporations take over and plunge the world into an ever-darker nightmare. In the midst of all this lies Daniel Lazarski – a solitary beacon of hope amongst the caving darkness. You set out on your journey, determined to search for your missing son.
This search brings up a much wider conspiracy at play, blending elements of horror and thriller together into one cyberpunk-charged adventure. There’s a lot going on here – at least narratively speaking – and the game essentially plays out with two distinct halves of gameplay that soon become apparent the longer you dive into this one.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this is quite the heady trip given the premise. In truth, Observer’s story is pretty subdued and even adds a fake-out forked ending that sees two different conclusions…that both pretty much end up in the same place.
The pacing is a constant problem here too and more often than not, you’ll find yourself backtracking and wandering down the same familiar corridors multiple times.
It also doesn’t help that the majority of this game takes place within that apartment building. Lockdown keeps you confined to the tightly constricted corridors as you soon come to realize there’s a killer on the loose. As you go in search of your adversary, playing a game of cat and mouse, you uncover numerous different crime scenes and clues that hint at what’s going on.
During these segments, you’re given two different scanners – Electromagnetic Vision and Bio Vision. The former tracks down any electronic devices and with a press of L2, allows you to zoom in for a closer look. By comparison, Bio Vision looks at organic matter like tissue, hair and blood.
The investigative pieces on offer are nothing new in this realm and mostly see you wandering around a compact area scanning and examining different objects. There’s usually a computer too, along with a couple of other interactive elements dotted around the room.
The most noticeable mechanic here comes from hacking into your victim’s mind, which sees you whisked across to a hallucinatory trip into a dark and distorted headspace.
Combining elements of Amnesia, Bioshock and The Matrix films, these sections are the most aesthetically imaginative but ironically also the most bland and basic when it comes to level design. Most of the time spent here will see you walking down long corridors marveling at the incredible graphics or evading enemies while pushing forward on the left analog stick.
Sometimes the walls around you will distort and change, other times you’ll just watch monotonously as the object in front of you very slowly comes into focus. These sections should be the most enjoyable of the game but to be honest, I constantly found myself feeling like my time was being wasted while sitting through another long and tedious corridor.
Much like the crowbarred stealth sections in Those Who Remain earlier this year, the evasion segments here also feel completely out of place with the rest of the game. These predominantly revolve around relatively short sections that see a strange mutant arriving and stomping distractingly around in a very basic and linear fashion. All you really need to do is dodge them and stay out their line of sight to proceed.
Later on, these moments add extra steps including downloading files from computers or using vents to maneuver around obstacles. It’s all very cumbersome work and the puzzles really don’t fare much better either.
Some of the physic-based puzzles here are incredibly easy to figure out while others are poorly constructed with little guidance or clues to go on. Late on, a puzzle involving electrical switches had me stuck for a solid 30 minutes… and that was thanks to trying in vain to find a fuse box I was supposed to use.
Other times though, the long pauses I took were completely of my own making. Observer: System Redux is an incredibly pretty game and graphically, you’ll be hard pressed to find another futuristic title with such gorgeous lighting and rendering. This is likely to be a title that’ll split gamers and reviewers alike as there’s no denying that graphically this game is fantastic.
Ceiling lights reflect realistically off the marble floor. Industrial fans bounce shadows off low-hanging wires and birds circle ominously in the sky outside casting sporadic shadows on the ground. There’s so many picturesque moments here that it’s hard not to marvel at the graphical fidelity of this title.
That’s probably just as well because aside from the visuals, Observer: System Redux doesn’t really have a whole lot else going on. The investigative elements are serviceable at best, the puzzles are okay and the dream sequences are certainly imaginative but lack the flair to make them more memorable parts of the game.
All of this is topped off by a real lack of dread and horror throughout – which is a real shame. Beyond a couple of unnerving segments involving some TV-headed goons but beyond, this is a title with a lot of atmosphere (thanks in part to the excellent sound design) but not much else to show for it.
If walking sims are your jam and you’re looking to dive into a slow police procedural in gaming format, Observer: System Redux is definitely worth a play. For everyone else on the fence about this one though, Redux is probably a better option to rent than outright buy.
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Verdict - 6/10