Jacking minds and fragile psyches in Observer

Head games

Recommended Videos

There is a man in front of me, and he is in rough shape. He’s bleeding all over the place, slumped up against a wall. His apartment is kind of a dump but not “dying guy on the floor fits right in” levels of bad. Rather than call for help, I essentially sign his death certificate by jacking into his brain. “All I need is consent,” I say; he gurgles something that doesn’t sound like “yes” and I enter his mind.

This is Observer, the follow-up effort from the Layers of Fear developers. It’s about a dystopian cyberpunk Poland in 2084. You play as a detective in a police unit called the Observers. These people are able to physically plug into peoples’ brains (everyone has a port on the back of their head) and explore their minds. Observers can relive those people’s memories.

It’s easy to immediately see how this may be problematic. Sure, it may help solve some crimes, but rummaging around someone’s thoughts may be a step too far. The commentary isn’t subtle.

Actually, not much about Observer is subtle. The first-person horror game aggressively switches between perspectives, especially when the host brain isn’t stable. It’s a roller coaster of quickly changing scenarios, often less realistic than the one before. I guess the guy was bleeding out; who knows what’s rattling around in your mind when that happens.

This game isn’t entirely rooted in invasive voyeurism, though. There’s a hefty real-world component that segues between the mind jacking. Observers have the ability to both scan the environment for biological and technological data. It helps in granting access to wherever the next victim citizen in distress is.

Where Observer falls for mechanics-focused people is tough to nail down. There isn’t any sort of combat. The amount of poking around to advance seems fairly minimal, but it’s also not a “walking simulator.” Our 10-minute demo had a puzzle that was referred to as a “Lost Woods” type thing — a constantly looping series of doorways that require going through in the correct order.

Gameplay almost certainly won’t be overbearing, but Observer makes up for that in atmosphere. It feels dystopian as hell, like it’s a place where bad things are always happening. It’s also often disorienting, something that I’m not sure is always intentional. There are plenty of transitions in mind stuff that should be jarring. Maybe other discomforts can be chalked up to being sat very close to a giant television screen. We were told that a VR version is being considered, and disorientation and virtual reality rarely go well together.

Even though there are hangups, Observer is something I want to see more of. There’s an interesting premise that could lead to limitless scenarios. Also, Layers of Fear proved that developer Bloober Team knows how to make a survival horror game. Let’s find out what other people think.

About The Author
Brett Makedonski
While you laughing, we're passing, passing away. So y'all go rest y'all souls, 'Cause I know I'ma meet you up at the crossroads. Y'all know y'all forever got love from them Bone Thugs baby...
More Stories by Brett Makedonski