Observer was a polarizing title for us when it originally launched on the PlayStation 4. It was an experience that was maybe a little too bloated and more importantly it was absolutely littered with technical problems that made playing it a chore. This time around, we have some bad news for you and some good news. The bad news is the very same writer that many of you have taken umbrage with over Observer’s PS4 review is back. The good news is that many of the issues the game had previously have actually been stamped out, making for a vastly improved experience.
As a quick refresher for those that haven’t thought about the title in a while, you assume the role of Krakow Police Detective Daniel Lazarski, voiced by the now sadly passed away Rutger Hauer, as he tries to locate his estranged son in a dystopian cyberpunk suburb in Poland. Lazarski’s role was that of a titular Observer, a detective, with a Dream Eater neural interface that allows him to investigate people’s minds. Hauer was one of the best things about the PS4 version of the game, and that remains true here. He gives it his all, giving the weathered, exhausted detective an impressive degree of nuance. The core narrative kind of lets his character down, but more on that later.
One of the biggest problems with the title on its initial release was its performance. The game failed to hit 30 frames-per-second for almost the entire experience, and we ran into at least half a dozen game-breaking bugs. This time, however, Observer: System Redux provides the complete opposite experience to that. Performance is one of the standouts this time. The game runs at a pretty stable 60 frames-per-second now, and many of the assets have been completely overhauled. Where the game was once nice looking at the cost of performance, Observer: System Redux is able to have its cake and eat it, too. The release’s use of color and digital displays get nice boosts from the PS5’s improved resolution and HDR, allowing the greens and blues that dominate the world to really pop.
The game takes place predominantly in a rather poor apartment block during a quarantine. The lockdown system was implemented to combat the Nanophage, a pandemic that affected those with tech implants, and accidentally triggers early in the game. While that was a novel, interesting backdrop for the game last time, it has since taken on a rather more ominous meaning given the current state of the world. During this lockout, it’s up to you to navigate the labyrinthine passages that connect all these disparate lives and find your son along the way.
The walking simulator and detective work inside this apartment remain the bright spot just as last time. The environment is compelling, some of the puzzles are pretty clever, and a lot of the ideas explored are interesting. Perhaps none better than the black market doctor who grows organ replacements for people in need. Technically it’s illegal, but he has helped a lot of people. Should you still shut him down? The side-quests deal heavily with this moral grey area, including the handful of new quests unique to the new version of the title. Three additional side-quests round out the experience, all of them slotting into the experience organically, especially given the extra hoops that must have been required to work around Rutger Hauer sadly not being able to reprise the role.
We’ve highlighted a number of improvements for the game already, but nowhere is the leap forward felt as much as it is in the audio department. The 3D audio advancements afforded by the PS5 have allowed the experience to at long last have some degree of subtlety. The original experience, while occasionally unsettling, absolutely failed at being scary. The game was basically a six-hour jump scare, but now there’s some depth to the audio production. Environments are cavernous, with unpredictable, unsettling reverb, and enemies in pursuit of you offer some degree of menace that they were unable to previously. This is most felt during the stealth segments in the game, though as the only segments with fail states, they still feel like remnants from an entirely different game.
Honestly, the biggest hurdle remains the game’s story, more specifically its pacing. While all the new quests crank the runtime up to somewhere near eight hours, the experience would be far better if it fell short of that. The Dream Eater, the device you use to enter people’s minds, is a cool idea, and aspects of those scenarios are interesting. But they just go on forever. Each and every one of these segments, aside from maybe the first one, run at least three times longer than they should.
Observer: System Redux is a legitimately impressive overhaul. At long last, the PS5 has allowed Bloober Team’s ambitions with this title to be properly realized. New quests slot into the experience wonderfully, Rutger Hauer’s performance remains impeccable, and the game just generally has a lot more to offer this time out. While an overreliance on jump scares and a plot desperately in need of some trimming hold the experience back from true greatness, Observer’s fancy new PS5 incarnation at long last feels like the title it was originally intended to be.