|release date||May 2019|
Thanks to the aggressive policy of buying up exclusive projects, the definition of “a game from the Epic Games Store” has already become a household name. And although interesting projects are periodically released in this store, the bulk of the exclusives are typical indies with a limited budget and a bunch of problems. As an example, we can recall Close to the Sun, where an intriguing atmospheric story was combined with a boring manner of presentation. The Observation trailers didn’t inspire much hope either, as they looked very budget-friendly. But the game received positive reviews, and we decided to personally get acquainted with it in order to share our opinion about this project.
Emma Fisher, a member of the international crew of a large space station, regains consciousness after a strange occurrence. Attempts to get in touch with other astronauts are futile. Only the onboard artificial intelligence CAM answers. As a result, these two characters become partners who are trying to figure out what is happening.
From the first minutes, the game recreates the feeling of loneliness and misunderstanding of what is happening, making allusions to the mysterious intervention of cosmic forces. Missing crew, damaged CAM memory blocks, and strange “Bring her in” calls. The story twists according to the canons of a space thriller, building a space catastrophe that leads to more global events. The main “chip” of the game is the presentation of history on behalf of computer intelligence. It is CAM that is a controlled character, and his partner only gives instructions and acts as a plot link that leads from one event to another.
We observe everything that happens through the lenses of numerous cameras, switching between different compartments of the ship. We also have at our disposal special modules that can move in the surrounding space and, if necessary, go into outer space. But often we are attached to the cameras, that is, we act as a simple observer. At the request of Emma, we open the doors of the compartments, hack computers, look for information and solve some passing puzzles. That is, the gameplay is devoid of dynamics, and our participation in events is limited to certain limits.
In such a situation, the game initially causes a feeling of detachment from what is happening, especially if the plot sags due to empty actions of the same type. But as the story progresses, electronic indifference is replaced by empathy and emotional involvement. The cooperation between man and the CAM receives an unexpected development. At some points in time, you may feel distrust between them, at another situation a sense of camaraderie appears, and towards the end they become full-fledged partners.
The complex history of the interaction between man and computer intelligence against the backdrop of a mysterious cosmos evokes analogies with Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey. And there are really a lot of similar motives, and the atmosphere of the game is in many ways reminiscent of a movie. This is especially true of the disturbing sensation of contact with something incomprehensible. Emotionally, the final part resembles the climax of the film, but it looks weaker due to the simple visual sequence, and some of it is generally left behind the scenes. Probably affected by the low budget and limited opportunities for developers.
The plot intrigue is the main core on which the game is built. All game actions are perfectly inscribed in the context of what is happening and have a certain logic in terms of the fact that we control AI. But the gameplay itself is not exciting. This is the study of the situation through cameras or a peephole of a mobile module, plus manipulations with electronics. And although we constantly face new tasks, many actions are based on the same type of operations. We are constantly studying the map, looking for the right compartment, switching to cameras and looking for an active item to interact with. The game has a lot of puzzles that are tied to hacking and manipulating equipment.
Often you have to perform operations in the CAM internal interface, which is visually presented in an extremely simple and ascetic way, which is quite logical. If Emma requires information about the crew members, we enter the menu and click on the status buttons in the crew list. Visually, nothing happens, just a dialogue on a boring gray background.
Also in the middle of the game, you may encounter the fact that you have a previously unclaimed section that you now need to interact with. Because of this, I personally got stuck in a task with the transfer of coordinates for a long time. It seems that everything is simple and clear, and here you have the scanner of the astrophysical laboratory, where there is even a button “transmit coordinates”. But no, you need to enter the CAM personal menu and enter the coordinates manually.
There can also be problems with orientation in space under complete weightlessness. If you didn’t notice the right hatch inside the compartment, you can easily go ahead, start hacking some computers, look for the code and pointlessly beat against the walls in search of an active object. And all you need to do is go back and dive down so that the plot goes on. There are few such moments, but they also bring down the overall pace of the story. You lose time on routine and the same type of actions in search of a plot point. And our companion at the same time shows complete indifference, being included in the development of history strictly in those situations where it is prescribed by the script.
The local system of interaction with the game world and puzzles sometimes resemble a mobile game. And if the authors adapt Observation for mobile platforms, it will look quite logical.
All game locations are represented by the internal compartments of the space station, but sometimes we go outside to inspect damage or perform other actions.
The graphics are at the level that the picture looks authentic. This is also helped by the environment, where there are small rooms with a limited set of visual elements. Lighting and glare add realism.
People look good, although the facial animation is very simple. But this is not a problem, since we rarely see Emma’s face in close-up.
Lens distortion and noise on the screen in the context of the game look quite appropriate. But not everyone will like the abundance of such effects.
Observation claims to be one of the best sci-fi games out there, but as a playable interactive adventure, it’s lackluster. The plot and atmosphere of contact with the unknown are the best elements of this project. Manipulations with numerous menus and various puzzles fit well into the context, but do not cause delight. Often they slow down the pace of the story on the threshold of new events. And I personally went through the first half of the game without enthusiasm, lazily making my way through the puzzles that the game threw up. But the second half went in a single fuse, and the closer to the end, the more interest warmed up in anticipation of the denouement. Not everyone will like the game, but connoisseurs of space fantasy should pay attention to Observation.