Observer – Cyberpunk Horror Starring Blade Runner’s Rutger Hauer

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Observer is a dark cyberpunk horror video game developed by the Bloober Team and published by Aspyr, who teamed up previously to bring forth Layers of Fear, another horror title. In a world that is beset with horrific ideas like nanotech plagues, corporate controlled governments, and thought police, the only thing that could give Observer more cyberpunk cred is the addition of Rutger Hauer, best known for his role as Roy Batty in Blade Runner, as the protagonist and narrator of the story, Detective Dan Lazarski.

Set in 2084, conveniently 100 years post-1984, Lazarski is an Observer. Observers are thought police (1984 anyone?) who jack into the brains of persons of interest through neural implants to extract information that may not be parted with willingly. While out on patrol one night, Lazarski gets a phone call from his estranged son that prompts him to investigate a Class C tenement. Lazarski himself is a B Class citizen meaning that he has greater freedom of mobility that the majority of the population, namely 91.6% being made up of Class C citizens. Class A citizens, of course, are the elite ruling class and truly only caged by prisons of their own making. This relationship comes into play with most of the tenement’s residents being very suspicious of an agent of Chiron, the world’s largest corporation and ruling body of The Fifth Polish Republic, especially after the building is locked down due to the possible outbreak of the nanophage, a devastating plague that affects people with cybernetic implants, which is most people in 2084. Lazarski’s journey brings him face to face with the horrors of the destitute citizenry, unbridled biopunk experiments, and himself.

From a gameplay perspective, Observer is your typical first-person affair – minus the combat. This might be a huge detriment to other games, but Observer derives its forward momentum from the story, world-building, and suspense.  Most of the game’s playtime is made up of exploring the C-Class tenement, occasionally hacking into the minds of the unfortunate, and interrogating tenants through their doors.  This last part is particularly interesting from a development standpoint. Choosing to only display the vast majority of characters that Lazarski encounters through small monitors affixed to their doors, must have saved a fortune in development funds and man-hours. The result feels a little strange at first, but as you become immersed in the world of 2084 Poland, it almost feels natural and plays up the kind of alienation that these people must feel. When you dive deeper into the minds of a select few of these tenants, this theme really boils to the top as we are bombarded with surreal images that reinforce this idea. There are a few minor glitches that I experienced throughout the game, but they were universally solved with a reload from the last save, which was never too long ago thanks to the autosave.

Suspense is the major driver of the story. What happened to Lazarski’s son? How do these other tenants play into all this? The atmosphere itself is foreboding, and despite the fact you aren’t likely to die, it feels wrong to stay in any one place too long. The music and other atmospheric sound effects are a huge part of this. You won’t be listening to Observer’s soundtrack on repeat, but if you want to introduce some tension into your life, this music wouldn’t be a bad choice. The autosave function in the game is quite good and doesn’t force you out the narrative, which is very good since this is the driving force of the game. There are a few action scenes in Observer, but they are comprised of you running away from biopunk monstrosities, capturing our discomfort surrounding severe augmentation of the human form.

The visual design of Observer is obviously inspired by Blade Runner and other cyberpunk works but manages to feel original. One of the most interesting ideas is the holographic projection systems that are spidered throughout the tenement. The logic presented for the prominence of this technology is that it allows tenants to make their individual apartments feel like someplace else and that it hides the decay of the tenement itself, at least until the system largely fails and the truth beneath is revealed. A very Baudrillardian idea. Other design is fantastic as well, the robots feel worn, the cybernetics we see don’t feel like some kind of stylish replacement, but are instead very practical. The Dreameater, or the implant that Lazarski uses to invade the minds of his victims, is designed to feel invasive and off-putting. The tenement itself is almost a character in the story, as we explore its depths and are exposed to its reality through observation and narrative. Propaganda and advertising posters, a staple of the genre, are littered across the game and give a glimpse into the media-saturated world that Observer exists in. Another layer of the complex illusion that acts as a veil for the dark underbelly of 2084 Poland.

The thing that truly makes Observer, though, is the story. The story of Lazarski is told in parallel to the stories of the tenement and its residents. As we explore the minds of the players in the story, we are also exposed to snapshots of the mind of Lazarski, himself, and his relationship with his son that comes to a head at the games conclusion that quickly shifts from a typical cyberpunk ending full of tropes into a more original take on familiar ideas that culminate in ‘what-the-fuck’ moments. We learn a lot about Lazarski from non-traditional means too, such as learning about his viewpoints from conversations with the tenants in Rutger Hauer’s rich hard-boiled voice, or through experiencing his breaks with reality that are kept in check with a drug that he has to take when he is synchronizing with the objective reality space.

All taken into account, Observer is the best cyberpunk game that I have played this year. It has some minor limitations that are derived from its indie status and it doesn’t have a lot of replay value, but the story is so good that I am sure to want to play through it again to re-experience it. If you like cyberpunk, philosophy, and Rutger Hauer, then you shouldn’t miss this dark tale of our horrific future.

Observer – 9/10

You can get a copy of Observer on Steam, dowload it from your favorite current gen console, or purchase a game-code here(this supports Neon Dystopia).

Some of the links included in this article are Amazon affiliate links. If you would like to purchase these items, consider using the links provided and help support Neon Dystopia.

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About the author...
Veritas is a cyberpunk and writer who enjoys all aspects of the cyberpunk genre and subculture. He also journeys deeply into the recesses of the dissonance exploring his nihilistic existence.

3 Responses to “Observer – Cyberpunk Horror Starring Blade Runner’s Rutger Hauer”

  1. Fantastic review! I’m happy that the cyberpunk renaissance appears to be in full swing, with Rutgeer Hauer and Harrison Ford coming back to star in cyberpunk works. Also looking forward to Keanu Reeves in that Johnny-Mnemonic-esque flick!

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