For the video game world, releasing something new is a risky venture, will it succeed or fail, will people like it, or will it be to out there for the mainstream, all thoughts that I am sure went through the head of the developers of Observation, but I can say that if you are willing to put the time in, it is a worthy experience.
Observation has you play as a SAM, a computer system that lives aboard the space station, Observation, a joint operation between China, Russia, Europe and the USA, where people from all nations are doing studies in space. As the game begins, we learn something happened and the station is spinning in space, and Emily is the first person to come to after the incident. She needs assistance, so she reboots you, SAM and then together you begin to work out, not only what went wrong, but where the other people are. The story is mostly told from the viewpoint of SAM, so a lot of fixed cameras and such, but there are times when you are given a more cinematic camera, with Emily talking to herself, amongst other things.
You might be thinking that a game where you are a robot, leaves very little to do, but that is not true, when you are viewing the world through the fixed cameras, you can move them around, zoom in and then interact with almost any electric device that you can find. Using this, you can hack door panels, unlocking them and letting Emily through, or you can remotely access laptops, giving you more information on the missing members of the crew, there are also schematics that you can discover there. But it is not just electronics, post its, pieces of paper stuck to walls and more, they can be read, and their information retained for later use.
Not long after the game starts, Emily transfers SAM into a remotely controlled floating sphere, which gives you much more freedom to move around in, as in you are no longer fixed to a single place. This lets you move around more freely, but it also sends you into the black and expansive void that is outer space, so you can inspect the station from the outside. This of course gives you the freedom to move around much more than inside the confines of the station, but it comes with a little bit of a challenge, there is no down, so getting turned around, is very easy to do. With the two methods of moving around, there are very few places that you can’t go, which helps you to attempt to uncover the mystery of just what happened, whilst you go about repairing the large and very damaged space station.
The sad part is that the game has an identity issue when it comes to controls, playing on PC, you get the support of both mouse and keyboard, as well as controller, the problem is that neither offers the best ways to play the game. Using the mouse with keyboard, you have much more freedom over the scanning and inputs, but you are really hampered when moving around a fixed camera and even more so with the free roaming one. If you use a controller, all camera movements are now easy and slick, letting you zip around like it was second nature to your AI self, the problem is that now menus are clunky and harder to navigate. Each option does work, so don’t think you need to keep swapping between them, but it is just a shame that neither one works flawlessly on their own.
As far as gameplay goes, there is a lot of choice presented, but very little you can impact, much like the limits of a system in the real world, I suppose. The first choice you get to make is whether or not you accept a voice recognition request, simply enough, but as the game progresses, when things are asked for you, if you click the wrong option, you just get left waiting until you select the right one, but pretty soon there is a ‘choice’ provided that you have no actual choice to do, you have to select it, which shatters any illusion that the game lets you decide how things progress. Which is honestly a shame, as there is a lot to decide upon in the game and giving players the freedom to be an AI of their own, would have made things truly exciting, given the nature of how some people behave.
When it comes to presentation, the game exceeds far and above, anything that I could have thought, as not only does everything look the way we have become used to seeing in movies and on tv, but there is a slight touch of futurism here, that still manages to make things believable. The walls of the station are lined with guides and stickers, while all the doorways have handles around them, to assist with moving onwards, the touches extend to terminals in the massive space in the middle, with little lips for Emily to lock her feet down with. Venturing outside rewards players with a real sense of scale, as the station is massive, not only compared to your little ball self, but the planet behind it, I mean it takes up a lot of the background at all times. From an audio point of view, the game has very little in the way of music, but there is enough to be really atmospheric when it needs to be. The voice performances are well done also, and I am glad that the voice of SAM has a tinge of roboticness to it, giving it some ground to work with.
Observation is a story driven game and it does that very well, while disclosing anything about the story will spoil a wonderful adventure, I can say, that make sure you are open to it. While the lack of fluid controls is an issue, it is not game breaking, but the lack of choice freedom is a little sad, especially given how most people will come into the game, but with strong character performances and a story you have to experience, I highly suggest you add this one to your list of games to play.
Review copy provided by Devolver Digital