Game Reviews The 1 to 5 on Games

The 1 to 5 on games: Observation

This format is a shorter, more to the point, off-shot of the normal review/op-eds I normally do. A ranking will be given at the end from a scale that starts at (from the lowest to the highest): Bad – meh – fine – good – great. Anything not appropriate for these “scores” will likely warrant a more in-depth discussion, which is what I normally do, so this range does not cover all games, just the ones that I think are suited to this format.

Observation is a game that I bought on launch day last year, but only finished a couple of days ago. I start with that because, it should tell you that I tried really hard to look past any flaws and get to the end because I hoped that would be enough to make it worthwhile (and the fact it is heavily inspired by one of my favorite movies ever, helped tremendously). Long story short, it was worth it for me; I think Observation is a good game that is deeply flawed in many aspects. It was a game that I was very much looking forward to and because of how influenced it was by 2001: A Space Odyssey, I couldn’t wait to get started on it; the fact that I finally managed to finish it a year later, speaks to how well they executed some things and how poorly some decisions went, because I never quite got invested on it, but I genuinely felt bad leaving it unfinished. That fact alone makes Observation, an inherently disappointing overall experience; I rarely buy games on launch dates, but the ones that I do really speak to me.

But before I get into what I liked and disliked, I want to make one thing clear: I was not influenced by the similarities it has, nor do I compare the game to 2001: A Space Odyssey. I was interested in the game because of those similarities, but I treat every IP in its own merit, rather than as a comparison to what inspired an aspect of it (unless I feel that IP is asking for that comparison).

Observation is a narrative-driven game with some light puzzle elements and a heavy focus on exploration; like many games that fit into this genre, if you are not into that, then this is not the game to convince you otherwise. The interesting hook here is that you play as SAM, the on-board AI controlling the ship and tasked with assisting the scientists in their tasks. You are booted up by Dr. Emma Fischer with every other member missing and while orbiting Saturn, which you were not supposed to do, and even more alarmingly SAM brought them here for unknown reasons. From here on, I will not speak about plot points as the best parts of the game are related to that. Playing as SAM is in both respects frustrating and intelligently adequate; unfortunately, mostly frustrating. You use cameras and drones to explore Observation and assist Emma with her attempts to find out what happened and this smartly disguises the fact that you are still exploring a space to get a story, while solving light puzzles; that was enough to get me exploring most spaces and trying to figure out how to get all collectibles and receive as much context and information as possible. However, that is extremely frustrating due to the slow movement of the cameras and the clunky controls of the drone, as well as having lots of moments where a previously explored room has a document you did not get, because you were not zoomed in enough or looking at it from the “correct” angle. Biggest frustration though, has to be the spacewalking sections; not only is space difficult to get a grip on (in terms of navigation), it is also frustratingly unguided; I get that most players would be frustrated by a big waypoint or Emma constantly feeding you information on how to go where you need to be (especially if you’re exploring), but I feel a compromise was possible and sorely needed. Furthermore, those sections highlight a big issue with the UI; in their efforts to make the game feel like sci-fi from the 60s, with CRT screens and that specific ‘futuristic’ aesthetic, some interactable objects and elements in the UI faded in the style and became frustrating to use. I can also see some people frustrated with the over-reliance on QTEs, however they are disguised as necessary steps in the applications used, so they didn’t bother me.

Beyond these very impactful issues, Observation is a good game when it comes to all other aspects. It looks brilliant, regardless of its functionality as a game and the size of the studio; voice acting is great and sound design was surprisingly well done; the core loop of exploring and discovering the station alongside the story and the characters is very engaging; the writing is overall great, as most of what happens and the major characters of the game are well written and well thought out, however some side stuff is not as good and can make some exploring feel unrewarded as a result. I especially like the twists and turns it has as a story; they suffer a bit from feeling like they are there just to catch you off guard, but they do serve in keeping you interested and if you engage with the themes and subtext of the game, it does leave you with a lot to think about, without feeling like it cops out as soon as it gets interesting.

So, overall, I did enjoy this game and do think it is GOOD; I didn’t really enjoy playing it, and I took so long to finish it because of that. But, eventually, I did finish it because it managed to keep me engaged and interested in what it was doing; so much so, that I restarted the game after a few months went by and had forgotten what had happened. This isn’t a game that I would argue over or try to convince people to give it a shot; it definitely has issues and those issues can sour some people. But I can’t say I regret finishing it; in fact, what it does well does overshadow what it fails at.

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