Few indie developers over the past decade have become as synonymous with the horror genre as Bloober Team. Ever since Layers of Fear in 2015, the studio has been consistent in producing some of the most chilling releases within the gaming calendar. With the new generation now here, the prolific developer hasn't stopped delivering, as it has rolled a new visually enhanced version of its best-received title to date, Observer. This Cyberpunk-inspired psychological horror was a hit with fans and critics when it first launched but does it warrant taking a second look on newer hardware?
Observer takes place in the year 2084 and sees you step into the shoes of Daniel Lazarski, a raspy-sounding detective voiced by Blade Runner actor Rutger Hauer. Sitting in your squad car, you receive an ominous phone call from your estranged son Adam and rush over to his shady apartment complex to try and locate him. Upon reaching his room, you are stunned to find a decapitated body and begin to search for clues to lead you closer to the killer. Whilst this is all happening, the building is also thrust into lockdown, which traps both you and the murderer within the same confined space.
The phrase "walking simulator" was often thrown around when talking about Bloober's previous effort Layers of Fear, but fortunately, The Observer demands a lot more from the player. Here you'll need to examine crime scenes, and there's a handful of puzzles to solve, and stealth sequences too. This helped the gameplay feel much more varied this time around, but not everything was implemented smoothly. The stealth, for example, feels downright broken. Every time I found myself having to hide from a harrowing creature, it was possible to get away by bolting in the opposite direction when it had its back turned to me. This, needless to say, sucked a lot of tension out of these moments, as I knew I could exploit this same strategy, again and again, to get away unscathed.
The detective work that you undertake also sets The Observer apart from other horrors. After stumbling upon a grizzly scene you then need to use your different modes of vision to identify clues scattered around the environment. Daniel can also hack into the minds of suspects and it's here where the most chilling moments begin to unravel, as you begin to dig through some of their darkest memories. When delving into these character's minds you'll find yourself caught in many uncomfortable situations - corridors will appear endless, monsters will chase you through the dark, and the sound of a baby's cries will fill the air. The developers have done a great job here in making the player always feel on edge, and I was always guessing as to what might be around the corner.
Players will need to interrogate other residents from the apartment to generate clues and progress the investigation. It may not have the depth of something like LA Noire, for example, but speaking to these characters I found them to be entertaining, as they are voiced spectacularly well, and it was great hearing their personal insight into this gloomy alternate future. I do wish this element of the detective work was expanded upon though with more optional dialogue responses. The game gives the illusion of choice with a few options on screen at a time, but you end up having to go through all the options listed anyway.
So, you might be wondering at this point, what is exactly new within the System Redux version? Well, when it comes to gameplay, it adds new secrets to find, additional neural interrogations, and a revamped stealth system. The visuals are where this deluxe edition has been given the most attention though, as it now runs in 4K and has been enhanced with HDR lighting and ray tracing. These may just sound like fancy buzzwords, but when seeing the game in action, this extra layer of polish is especially evident. Sure, it may not look as though the game was built from the ground up for the platform, but the lighting, in particular, has been improved significantly, which makes the neon cityscape look as vibrant as ever.
This all leads to my biggest problem with System Redux, as I feel it represents little value for those who already purchased the game three years ago. Sure, it's still the same solid game at heart, but I wouldn't say it warrants a repurchase for those who already own previous generation versions, as these are backwards compatible on PS5 and Xbox Series. The visuals sure are prettier and there are a handful of new gameplay tweaks, but I would argue there's nothing significant enough to encourage a second visit. To the developers credit, they have offered Xbox One owners of Observer an 80% discount for pre-ordering System Redux, but this, however, is obviously just a temporary promotion for one singular platform.
The Observer still feels as intriguing and as novel as ever, and it looks great running in 4K on newer consoles. For me, it gets a firm recommendation for horror fans who have yet to experience it, but the same can't be said for those who played on last-generation consoles. The visuals do look crisper and there have been a few minor gameplay tweaks, but this alone doesn't warrant a repurchase, as the previous version is playable via backward compatibility.
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