Observer: System Redux review: Dreams of a dark future

by Lars
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Observer: System Redux is an update for PC and next-gen consoles, available now.
Observer was originally released in 2017 on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.

Poland’s Bloober Team have made huge strides in the horror genre, releasing the dynamic, visionary Layers of Fear in 2016. When they turned that keen eye onto the cyberpunk theme – an area rich with unexplored horror potential – the results were outstanding. Ever since the release of Blade Runner back in the eighties (which might as well have been a different planet at this point) neon-splashed grimy alleyways contrasted with sharp future-tech have become a pop culture mainstay. Cyberpunk as a theme has certainly exploded into the public eye anew recently, but Observer is… different.

We’re exploring Krakow’s especially dystopian future in 2084 as Daniel Lazarski, a detective equipped with augmentations allowing him to hack the minds of interrogation subjects. Lazarski is perfectly voiced by the late Rutger Hauer, who famously played Blade Runner‘s iconic Roy Batty. His voice drips atmosphere, soaked in cigarettes and booze, a sardonic, self-loathing man who has seen too much and done too little about it. Lazarski isn’t overly chatty, which suits the game fine – every element of the sound design is carefully paced and layered, transforming Observer’s grim apartment block into a breathing, pulsing being.

Observer: System Redux

The story unravels within a single apartment complex, run-down and full of societal rejects – drug addicts and lower-case citizens, the majority of which will not interact with you in person. Most of the apartment inhabitants are products of a shitty world, and though there are glimmers of hope amongst the filth, a truly horrendous picture of the future is painted through incidental dialogue. Almost every part of the fairly limited space is used to maximum effect, with plenty of attention to little details and incredible graphics telling little stories of their own as you explore.

You can pursue the main story, switching between different vision types to highlight and analyse different clues, pulling together the loose threads until they make sense. Sidequests will emerge as you explore, too – and while these aren’t essential they’re solid stories in their own right that build Observer: System Redux’s incredible world up in small but significant ways. It’s dark and miserable, yet lavish with effective storytelling that pushes you through the gloom and dread to discover more.

The cramped apartment complex transforms into a walking nightmare thanks to Daniel’s Dream Eater implant – technology that allows him to hack into the minds of other people. This is where Bloober Team’s masterful audio-visual abilities build to a crescendo, as Daniel traverses collapsing, drug-addled brains, explores the decaying memories of the freshly deceased, the line between reality and hallucination twisted beyond recognition. The technological aspect of Observer: System Redux is reflected beautifully in the Dream Eater sequences, surreal glitches and distorted audio disorienting the player whilst subtly guiding them through the short puzzles with visual cues.

Observer looks nothing short of incredible now. There was a moment early on where I stepped out onto a walkway between two different parts of the block to be met with neon glaring against the night sky, just as a thunderstorm rolled in. Birds wheeled and crowed above, casting forboding, fleeting shapes against the churning weather. It was really something, awesome in the original definition of the word. This wasn’t part of a big, showy sequence – it felt natural and ambient, and it was all the more stunning because of that.

The Observer: System Redux update has added ray tracing on compatible consoles/graphics cards, new 4K textures, and three new sidequests seamlessly integrated with the existing story content. It’s also (thankfully) tweaked the stealth sections, which were an oddly punishing and immersion-damaging element of the original game. It’s hard to get fully absorbed in a futuristic hallucinatory nightmare world when you’re just getting pissed off at a mechanic, and it really hindered my fun with the game the first time around. They’re much less of a pain in the heavily augmented bum now, and all but removes the game’s weakest aspect.

Observer: System Redux overall thoughts

There’s so many well-produced moving parts of System Redux, but these fresh new visuals are undoubtedly the star of the show. We’re past the point of massive graphical jumps like we saw before, from PS1 to PS2 – but the extra power of newer graphics cards and the new consoles can be put to fantastic use on older games, too. There’s no question in my mind that System Redux will easily stand by side with anything available on the new consoles over the next year, not as a remake, a port, or a remaster, but as a fully fledged next-gen game in its own right.

This is truly the definitive version of Observer’s dark future, a bleak, densely woven tale that unfolds across a crooked spiderweb of violence and horror. It plunges the cyberpunk theme down into the very depths of misery and madness – it’s hard to imagine Cyberpunk 2077 descending to the fetid gutters of dystopia in quite the same way – and stands apart as the best experience Bloober Team have developed so far.

Observer: System Redux was developed by Bloober Team. Check it out on Steam here, and don’t forget to check out more of our reviews here!

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