I’m not ashamed to admit that I enjoy so called ‘walking simulators’. While this opinion may be unpopular to some, I become engaged by the interactive narratives the genre tries to tell. So heading in to the release of Observation, I was looking forward to it. The premise seemed sound, the story hook alluring, and the prospect of playing as an AI character during a space station mishap sounded unique. Yet disappointingly, the final product is one of the most mundanely dull games I’ve ever played. It’s so boring, the redundant use of words in the previous sentence isn’t a mistake. It just takes two of the practically same descriptors to hammer home just how tedious the experience became.
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: No Code
Platforms: Windows PC (EGS), PS4 (Reviewed)
Release Date: May 21st, 2019
This video is an example of gameplay. I should just end this review here; what more needs to be said? 5/10.
I actually enjoy walking sims, or whatever you want to call them. Some of them have great narratives, and as they're often short experiences, I dont mind spending a few hours with a good one. But this is painfully dull. Observation has an engaging story, but gameplay wise? YAWN! pic.twitter.com/ZplmYBa9Hx
— Sophia Narwitz (@SophNar0747) May 23, 2019
Oh, my boss is telling me I gotta keep going. The review can’t be that short, so I guess I better listen.
The story of Observation kept me curious at the start. The game begins on a space station orbiting 410km above Earth when a largely unseen presence causes it to move away from our planet, and end up in the vicinity of Saturn. At this point there’s only S.A.M and Emma Fisher left to piece together what’s happening, all while discovering if any of the other crew has survived the event.
S.A.M is the AI that controls many aspects of the ship, and Emma is an astronaut onboard the vessel. The interactions between the two is good at the outset, and for the most part I had no qualms with Emma as a character. She’s well voice acted and more importantly, believable.
One thing I didn’t enjoy about her however, is that her facial animations are not very good. Her eyes look unnatural and are bad at conveying emotion, and in multiple scenes where she’s expressing fear or surprise, it honestly looked like she was orgasming instead. And hell, maybe she was; I’m not one to kink shame, but given the context of the story, I’ll assume that wasn’t the case.
I can’t say much more about the plot as anymore would spoil the ordeal, but just know it loses its momentum part way through and becomes an absolute slog. I’m sure some people will enjoy it, but I was incredibly bored. Not helping matters is that the gameplay just straight up sucks.
For the duration of the game you play as S.A.M, the aforementioned AI companion, and gameplay revolves around completing ‘puzzles’ (if you want to call them that), opening doors, hitting switches to power on computers, floating in space to complete mundane objectives, and switching between cameras to search for things or to witness pivotal moments in the story. Not a single interaction within the entire experience maintained any semblance of enjoyability.
The tasks you accomplish are some of the dullest objectives I’ve been forced to complete in I don’t even remember how long. Aggravatingly so, as everything feels like a massive waste of time. Here’s another video; I hope you have more fun watching it than I did playing it.
This was a "puzzle"
Have I mentioned I'm bored? Cuz this game is boring me. And here I was actually looking forward to it. pic.twitter.com/WUiJs5LZS9
— Sophia Narwitz (@SophNar0747) May 23, 2019
Graphically the game looks nice and there weren’t any visual hiccups minus the static and flickers that the developers intended. As already alluded to above, the character designs are the weakest element but you spend more time staring at metal in space, computer screens, and stuff of that nature, so the design aesthetic works for what the creators were going for. I have very few complaints in that regard.
On a purely technical level the game is well made. I can honestly say I didn’t witness a single glitch, crash, or even a stutter in my frame rate. A commendable feat as its incredibly rare for me to encounter a game this well polished.
The music is satisfying too. Its production values are fantastic and it creates an eerie atmosphere when used to the proper effect. The strongest example of this is the title screen which plays fairly early into the game. It’s chilling, cool, and I liked it. In fact, the sequence is by far the best part of the entire thing.
Going along with the music is strong sound design. The character’s voices are mostly well done, and the sound effects within the space station are equally as good. Even in the videos linked above, I will admit that it sounds great. I just wish that same feeling carried over to gameplay.
I can’t stress enough that the puzzles are bad, and the gameplay objectives horrible. Not once did I get stuck on a single puzzle, and they more often than not felt tedious. They’re slow, simple, and dull. A feeling that extends throughout the entire adventure like the cliché black tendrils the game relies on later. It grabs hold of every aspect of the experience and makes you feel yucky.
No one likes a time vampire, and this game sucks it all out of you. What began as a narrative experience with an interesting hook ended with me angry at the pure waste of life the whole thing became. If it wasn’t for my obligation to finish this review, I’d have turned the game off by the two hour mark and never returned. There’s a lot more I could say about Observation, but frankly I just don’t care to say it. This game has already taken enough out of me, and I don’t want to give it any more.
Observation isn’t so bad it’s fun to hate, its just mundane enough to make me want to forget it ever even happened. At least games as bad as The Quiet Man give me something to joke about, this title only took hours off my lifespan.
Observation was reviewed on Playstation 4 using a review copy provided by Devolver Digital. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.