Observer Switch Review
Before a few years ago, cyberpunk has often been a genre relegated to a somewhat small but devoted group of fans. Whether in movies, television, or video games it never quite reached a mass audience and took hold. That seems to be changing though, as movies like Blade Runner 2049, and upcoming games like Cyberpunk 2077 aim to usher in a new era of cyberpunk glory. Observer, a first-person “walking simulator” horror experience, is one such game in pursuit of expanding the cyberpunk genre. Originally released in 2017, Observer has now made its way to the Nintendo Switch, and still boasts the same compelling story and imagery but fails to eliminate its nagging issues.
In Observer, you play as Daniel Lazarski, a detective for the megacorporation Chiron, which has taken control of the known world (think Amazon 20 years from now). Daniel’s job as an observer is to hack into people’s minds to uncover information about crimes or people Chiron wants to investigate. This is accomplished through extensive body augmentation technology, of which most of the world’s population has received. Like any good work in the cyberpunk genre, Observer touches on a number of topics such as the influence of technology on society and our bodies, and the use of drugs as a tool to control the populace.
The plot of Observer starts simple enough, with Daniel on a mission to find his son Adam but soon develops into a murder mystery, corporate conspiracy, and a creature feature all happening at the same time. Needless to say, things get a bit wild, but there was always a thread tugging me forward, enticing me to keep going to learn what exactly was going on. The voice acting in Observer is excellent, but not because the performances are objectively strong. In fact, the acting usually comes off as strange and aloof, but once you realize that’s how people in this society operate due to their body modifications and drugged-up demeanors, it makes a lot more sense.
Observe and Report
Like most “walking simulators”, the events of Observer take place in a small, confined location. This limited scope had me worried the world building would suffer as a result, but Observer manages to create a fully-realized picture of this society without allowing you to explore more than a single apartment complex. The visual storytelling on display helps with this immensely. Every piece of the environment you see in Observer feels carefully designed and implemented. The end result is a dark cyberpunk world that feels lived-in and believable. The graphics also bump up the cyberpunk aesthetic, with an art style that’s both dingy and fascinating to look at. There are some textural downgrades with the move to the Switch, but overall nothing that detracts from the experience as a whole. Additionally, its sound design deserves special recognition. Every sound is detailed and unique, gradually building up feelings of tension and existential dread throughout.
The story feels like one that could only have been told through the medium of video games, yet as a game itself, Observer falls short on a few different levels. Firstly, it does a terrible job of using visual indicators or cues to help show you where you need to go. For example, you need to be extremely close to an interactable object in order to confirm that you can, in fact, interact with it. This led to a lot of walking around trying to figure out what to do next.
My next issue stems from the pacing of the game. Some sections drag on much longer than necessary to the point where you can feel the momentum coming to a halt. The worst offender of this is undoubtedly the mind-hacking segments. Though these sections deliver the most visually stirring and thought-provoking imagery in the entire game, they kept going and going until my fascination turned into fatigue. If these parts were condensed and more tightly structured, it would have helped the overall pacing and flow considerably.
A common problem with “walking simulators” is their tendency to encourage repetitive gameplay. If the story is strong enough, sometimes gameplay is insignificant in comparison, but often times these types of games will throw other gameplay elements in to keep things fresh and interesting. These additions can be brilliant or completely fail, and unfortunately, Observer’s choice to include stealth portions comes off as unpolished and tacked on. The enemy AI is rudimentary at best, and the only way past them is by slowly walking around entire rooms while crouching. I understand the reasoning behind these parts, especially considering how much horror influence is present in Observer, but in the end, they simply aren’t fun or exciting to play, and that should be the top priority.
Observer on the Switch brings back all the good aspects of the game and gives you more flexibility on how to play it with new touch inputs and, of course, the option to play it on the go. Observer also looks better in handheld mode, which provides even more reason to make full use of the console’s capabilities. However, it is still the same flawed game it was almost two years ago when it first released. Observer is a visual and auditory tour de force and excels wonderfully as a narrative entry into the cyberpunk genre, I just wish more attention went into creating a compelling gameplay experience to accompany it.
*** A Switch code was provided by the publisher ***
- Visual and sound design is excellent
- Story is engaging
- Plays well on the Switch
- Stealth segments are a chore
- Pacing is slow
- Bad visual cues