Game Review | Observer: System Redux Updates an Underrated Sci-Fi Horror
Poland’s Bloober Team are making quite a name for themselves among horror gaming obsessives as of late. After garnering strong positive reception from fans and critics, 2016’s Layers Of Fear confidently placed Bloober Team among the shortlist of upcoming indie developers to keep a close, creepy eye on. This was no simple feat for an indie developer that, before Layers Of Fear, mainly dedicated their focus to action, strategy and puzzle games. Layers Of Fear was an impressive shift into the world of horror gaming but it was undoubtedly 2017’s Observer that laid the foundation for Bloober Team’s unusual psychological horror focus.
At initial release, Observer was considered Bloober’s Team’s strongest outing, but it wasn’t without its fair share of issues and criticisms with the majority of these being aimed at Observer’s stealth segments and focus on style over substance. Four years on and Bloober Team have capitalized on the release of next generation consoles in an attempt to rework Observer and right the (minor) wrongs of its previous edition.
Just like the 2017 rendition of Bloober Team’s psychological horror, Observer: System Redux has you assume the role of private detective, Daniel Lazarski (played by the late Rutger Hauer), working for a special police unit in Krakow as he attempts to uncover the murder of his son, Adam, and several other residents of a connected lower-class tenement building. Equipped with a device named The Dream Eater, Daniel has the ability to hack into civilian minds in an effort to piece this mystery together providing some deliciously surreal hallucinatory encounters as Daniel begins to lose his grip on reality.
Much like my initial experience with Observer, this updated version starts out impressively strong and once again focuses on atmosphere and visual dread to quickly consolidate what sort of experience System Redux is going to be. Vibrant city backdrops impress at every opportunity and the grimy distorted visuals perfectly encapsulate that cyberpunk vibe Bloober Team were striving for. Couple these positives with Rutger Hauer’s gruff performance and a number of fascinating interactions with building residents and you have an intended procedural horror experience that genuinely feels like a procedural horror experience.
Investigation in Observer: System Redux is never dull and this time around Bloober Team have added several new optional side missions for good measure. The new side missions never outstay their welcome and one particular side mission was extremely impressive visually, evoking vibrant cinematic masterpieces like Suspiria. Truthfully, investigation was Observer’s greatest strength and here it has only been amplified with some great new content too.
Trippy visuals and psychological puzzles have become a signature of Bloober Team in recent years and Observer: System Redux showcases why. With every use of The Dream Eater, we are thrust headfirst into nightmarish scenarios that exist solely to disorientate and disturb. As a horror gamer, who wouldn’t want to experience that? Bloober Team realizes this and relishes every moment of it. Every new scenario is interesting and visually impressive providing some serious eye candy that would even make David Lynch nod with approval.
Gameplay and performance wise, Observer: System Redux is a different kind of beast to its predecessor. Numerous times throughout my original playthrough of Observer, I would become a hopeless victim of convoluted stealth segments and infuriating glitches or crashes. It was a frustration that almost ended the experience entirely. But thankfully, this time around, Bloober Team have addressed these issues with confident conviction.
Stealth segments no longer feel like a chore to get through and gameplay hampering glitches and crashes are almost nonexistent. That’s not to say there aren’t any issues remaining from before but this time around, Bloober Team have fine-tuned what matters most. Controls are far more responsive now too leading to fluid interaction and seemingly key items are purposely more visible when using Daniel’s vision filters which is always a positive. Bloober Team must be commended for their dedication to fix the many gameplay hampering issues that existed with Observer, and Observer: System Redux greatly benefits from this dedication.
The story this time out remains the same and even with another playthrough, Observer: System Redux felt fresh, like I had experienced it all again for the first time. It is very rare for a game to have such strong story related replay ability, but this reincarnation of Observer showcased that brilliantly. I think a huge part of this may be down to the newly added content but never once during Observer: System Redux did I feel like I needed a fast forward option.
When it comes to the scares, this might be where Observer: System Redux struggles a bit. Observer suffered from the simple understanding that gameplay hampering issues prevented many encounters from being scary. Even with Bloober Team fixing these issues, Observer: System Redux isn’t particularly frightening. Creepy atmospheric segments become less frequent once you pass the halfway mark and are replaced by regular stealth segments that have no real consequence of death.
Upon death, Observer: System Redux brings you back to the nearest checkpoint and you simply just do it over and over until you come out the opposite side unscathed. It deflates any atmosphere it previously created because with every new glimpse of your attacker, the fear factor disintegrates quickly. Observer: System Redux is at its creepiest when you are navigating dark dingey basement levels with heavy breathing following your every move. It’s just a pity that that feeling of uneasiness disappears quicker than it should.
Bloober Team’s Observer: System Redux is a great game. It’s short and to the point, it has a solid story and creepy atmosphere but most importantly, it’s a vast technical improvement over its predecessor. Hours of frustration evident in Observer have been eliminated with dedicated conviction and the newly added content is a nice touch providing more exploration for those who want it. One can’t help but get excited at the prospect of Konami and Bloober Team working together because with every new release, Bloober Team are improving greatly. Observer: System Redux is a perfect representation of that.