Developer: No Code
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Genre: Sci-fi Horror Thriller
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Version Tested: PC
Official Site: www.devolverdigital.com/games/observation
Release Date: May 21st, 2019 (PS4, Epic Games Store), May 21st, 2020 (Steam), June 25th, 2020 (Xbox One, Game Pass)
I don’t get the chance to play story-heavy games too often but when I do, I tend to get invested into them. I can excuse mediocre gameplay for a great story a lot of the time. It’s why Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and Life is Strange are among some of my favorite games of all time. They may not have innovative or exciting gameplay, but they’re stories that make you feel for the characters. Walking into Observation, I was expecting more of a horror game with a focus on jumpscares and while the story isn’t on par with those two legends, it goes beyond what it set out to do.
Observation’s story puts you in the role of S.A.M., an artificial intelligence in charge of space station Observation. Your mission is to orbit around Earth and observe, but things go wrong and you’re left in some much more dire circumstances. With the help of Dr. Emma Fisher, you must discover what happened to the station and what brought you here now. It’s a simple premise for a horror game of this style but it’s executed very well in practice. During the several hour runtime of Observation, you’re constantly left with questions about what’s next. With how quickly things happen, those questions are answered and created quickly, making for an emotional thrill ride filled with much theory crafting.
The same goes for how the characters are written. Most of the characters truly seem like they’re stuck in dire situations, and the voice acting only further enhances it. Whoever was hired to do some of the voice work here clearly shows their passion for the project and is talented. There was one exception with one of the characters later (who I won’t spoil) but all of the others seem well thought out. My main issue with the characters came in their facial animations. Some of them would do some strange animations that would rival that of Mass Effect: Andromeda’s facial animations at launch. It needed some work there, as it was highly noticeable.
Art and Gameplay
I’m happy to report that the rest of the game’s art didn’t share that same level of quality. It’s not going to wow you with crazy graphics and incredible fidelity, but it still is very good. Each of the intricacies from S.A.M.’s interface to the individual details on the ship all are designed with plenty of care in mind. It’s especially noticeable in some of the higher settings, with very small details being well designed. Excluding facial animations, there’s no place in this game where you should be disappointed with its visual fidelity.
As you may have already guessed from what I said earlier, the gameplay isn’t Observation’s strongest quality. There are some areas where it does it well though. The biggest aspect of that is the feeling of uniqueness with S.A.M.’s interface. I can’t recall a well-known game that makes the player the environment, and the game does that well here. Everything feels like a modern-day AI might look like from its perspective, and the gameplay only enhances that. Some of the puzzles though can hinder the experience a bit. There are even some instances where difficult puzzles are timed early on, which can frustrate out of the gate. I wish there was more of a ramp-up in the difficulty of the puzzles than there was here, as it was more all over the place.
It doesn’t do much better in Observation’s controls either. The controls can feel clunky on mouse and keyboard, really making for a worse experience if you don’t have a controller. Thankfully I did, but that’s not what your average user has access to. That’s only further worsened by the control of a sphere later on, which feels about as good as flying planes on PC games with mouse and keyboard. The peripherals were never designed for that sort of thing, and it makes things difficult. If you’re a console user or have a controller on hand, you should be just fine though.
Bugs and Options in Observation
That isn’t the end of mouse and keyboard user’s woes either. The game’s polish doesn’t do it any favors. There are already some visual glitches here and there, but freezes and crashes are much more rampant. One section of the game for me froze up every time I got to it. After numerous tries over several hours, I was ready to give up when using a controller somehow stopped the freezing. I’ve never seen that kind of issue happen before and it feels so bizarre. A while longer in the oven to fix bugs could have done Observation a lot of favors.
As for options and accessibility, Observation does somewhat okay in both areas. There’s a fair amount of options to where you likely don’t have to worry about something missing. I wasn’t a huge fan of graphical options being set to one option though. There are ambient occlusion and a few other things, but graphics are set to a few choices from Fastest to Ultra. Being able to tweak things individually is a nice commodity, and missing those options is upsetting. As far as accessibility in Observation goes, it has your run of the mill choices. Outside of very basic things like language, there isn’t much else. The options menu will work for most people, but those wanting more will be disappointed.
Verdict: Observation is a game that I wasn’t expecting to be as good as it was. It seems like your standard horror game on the surface but has some uniqueness and charm to it. There are some beautiful visuals and unique gameplay ideas, all wrapped together in a well thought out story. Unfortunately, clunky PC controls, bad facial animations, and a lack of polish may hinder some players from wanting to reach the end. Despite that, for those who enjoy a great story, Observation is a thrill ride that leaves you thinking about it even after you’re finished observing.
- Well thought out story
- Interesting and unique gameplay ideas
- Beautiful visuals
- Decent options and accessibility
- Poor facial animations
- Clunky controls
- Lack of polish