It is the year vaguely post apocalyptic future o clock. You’ll have to forgive me, but as my history teacher once told me, I am completely hopeless with dates. Police detective Daniel Lazarski’s son has been up to no good and has to call daddy dearest to bail him out of a tiny mess involving some fight against the power and the making of bootleg AIs. Possibly for a very advanced sex bot.
You are Roy Batty as a police detective. You get a call from your son, shoot a speedball into your ear canal and go to town. Did we mention it’s depressing post-apocalyptia? I think that description will nicely set the scene if we hadn’t. Cybernetic implants and augments are common. Sadly, they might give you a bad bout of the cyber-clap. Symptoms include but are not limited to: being highly contagious, getting eaten from the inside out by nanites, and death. Either from the cyber-clap itself or because some dudes called “Cleaners” solved all your problems permanently via a bullet to the head.
Our main character Dan is an Observer, a high tech cop borrowing a bit of backstory from everyone in the business. He got his augments after an accident like Robocop, might be losing his mind like Rick Deckard, and vaguely passes for a German man like Terminator. However, I will just compare him to Chip Hazzard instead.
Played by Rutger Hauer, of Blade Runner fame, which invites Blade Runner comparisons. I would have to slightly disagree with every other game journo everywhere. Blade Runner had some run down buildings, but it didn’t happen entirely within one. That’s a pretty big difference to what, to me at least, was a decaying yet beautiful, rainy city, covered in neon lights.
Observer has a little bit of each, and even mixes them in the same shot. Furthermore, the main character wears a trenchcoat! However, I’d say PSX classic Fear Effect captured Blade Runner’s aesthetic feel better. The overall feel, however understated, is there. If I had to describe the game in one word, I’d pick “savvy”. The whole thing has very polished environments, but every human you meet is already corpsified or looks like ass on purpose.
It has that smaller/indie dev with chops atmosphere of “Let’s do more with less” seeping into everything. There’s a convenient lockdown, to simultaneously get across the oppressive dystopia point and avoiding having to work on more than twenty models for each tenant. You’ll interrogate them all through the intercom, if you want.
Or you can ignore everything and simply sort out the one case your son is involved in. The one your character cares about. It really is up to you. They opt for infodumps by voice or text most of the time, and you can tell it’s out of necessity. The project might have been more ambitious than what we ended up getting.
The second effect of having Rutger Hauer around is that every actor involved went into overdrive. They’re not even hammy, they’re just trying to make the most of their lines. It creates an interesting juxtaposition with Rutger’s “Kind German granddad” delivery. Even though I’m completely unqualified to give feedback on an actor’s craft, the dude reads every line like he’s a real person in that situation. Compared to the rest who are acting their hearts out, he almost seems to be taking a day off, possibly handing ungodly awful German sweets to everyone that they still appreciate because he’s just so lovely.
The run down, yet high tech environment is lacking more than a little bit in colour and most of the time spent in game will be trying to find your way around the slum. The environment perfectly gets across the impersonal dystopia point, and is almost completely void of life and personality. It looks bad, on purpose, but that’s not to say graphical quality is bad.
However, diving into minds, one of the game’s main selling points, transports you to glitchtown. I know as kids we thought Pokemon glitches were just the scariest thing, but you grow out of that feeling. It looks outlandish enough, but I wouldn’t say it’s a very scary game. Damn, the charming instakill one armed bandit roaming around several heads screws up the pacing more than anything. For some reason, maps featuring any danger tend to be incredibly vast.
The game builds paranoia up rather effectively, to the point that you won’t know when you should run from a loud noise or investigate instead. Dan mentions being scared of going crazy a couple times, and by the end, the game has fully passed this feeling on to the player. I missed a whole sidequest because I chose NOT to investigate what sounded very much like a monster in a basement. Well, I’m sorry about that, but basements with loud noises are just pretty high on my “To avoid” list.
While you’re memory diving, you also lose access to your power up implants, making you feel extra vulnerable. This is a bit of sacrificing fun for tighter control on story and gameplay, but it’s a mostly justified decision.
Combined with the loud sound stingers, you can definitely qualify the scarier sections of the game as maybe not terrifying, but absolutely unsettling. You might want to crank down the volume a little bit, specially if you’re playing with headphones.
Puzzles really sell themselves short. You start on everyone’s favourite, an infinite room loop! A little later, you’ll be LA Noire-ing your way through several crimescenes and doing physics puzzles that screw over the whole room in sometimes scary, sometimes amusing ways. My favourite involves navigating what looks like a forest, but really is a high tech room, using only your implants to find your way around.
I’ve been highlighting the negatives all review long, I’m aware, but that’s just because I can’t talk about the good parts. You see, I would freely spoil the plot if I thought the game wasn’t worth recommending, but Greater Than Observer really is a fairly good experience that will keep you engaged for at least a few hours.
A well made game through and through. It features all the classic elements of a horror game: some jumpscares, enemies who look like they do their hair with a cheese grater, a mystery concerning the main character, and the odd puzzle here and there.
Although replayability is low, you might want to give it a shot.