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Posted by GG Goblin On May - 30 - 2019

In space, no one can hear you look at stuff.

Being lost in space is a terrifying prospect that has been covered plenty of times in various media. I am not talking about the Robinson family style lost, but more being stranded in the most inhospitable environment with nothing but a tin can and a few systems to keep you alive, and with no hope of rescue. It has been portrayed a lot, but Devolver Digital and No Code’s Observation throws a slight curve ball at this situation. In Observation, the player will take control of a damaged AI on a space station.

obs1 (Copy)

Observation is the name of the game, and this sci-fi thriller adventure game certainly sticks to that one word title. Something has happened on the space station, and the AI S.A.M. has been damaged to the point that it has limited functionality and very few memories, which is a bit of an issue for what is essentially a computer program. The crew are all missing, with the exception of astronaut Emma Fisher and, with her help, the player must guide S.A.M. to repair its own systems along with those of the space station, and work out what happened.

Keeping to that one word title, the player is very limited to what they can actually do as a space station AI. In the early game it will mostly mean just looking around and finding things that it can interact with via a wireless connection. This means viewing the different parts of the ship through the fitted cameras and scanning for connections, such as laptops, in order to gather information. The cameras can also scan documents and the like, to get more of that information, and interact with certain other systems. Areas with more than one camera give the player different viewpoints to change to, and further down the line the player will be able to control camera spheres that will add movement and the ability to see where the fixed cameras cannot.

Under guidance from Emma Fisher, the AI will slowly manage to repair and upgrade their own systems, giving access to more areas and more answers. It turns out to be quite an interesting relationship between the two of them. Had it been only the AI, the lack of emotional resonance would have left the game feeling very mechanical despite the engaging story. However, Emma relies on S.A.M., and S.A.M. on Emma to a degree, and that human aspect gives the game a great range of emotion, thanks largely to the excellent writing.

obs2 (Copy)

Aside from gathering information or moving around the station as a camera sphere, the rest of the gameplay will come down to solving puzzles. The puzzles in the game are mostly quite mechanical in that the player will have to find and enter codes, or interact with interfaces in other ways. Either way, they will not be too taxing to most players once they understand what to do. In this respect, Observation is not like most traditional puzzle games, but rather a game about learning realistic systems.

That realism comes through with the visuals as well. Observation is a very good looking game, with the claustrophobic, damaged space station beautifully recreated to give that sense of isolation in space. The use of lighting adds to this tense atmosphere, and when the player has to step outside into the endless darkness of space, it really does feel terrifying. The only weak link here is Emma Fisher herself, in that her animation and facial expressions do at times break that immersive bubble. However, these moments are fleeting and it takes no time at all for the player to be pulled back into the illusion. The audio work is similarly well done, from the creaking of the damaged space station, to the voice work of Emma Fisher. All of this combines to make Observation a very immersive game.

Not everything is perfect in this sci-fi thriller though. The pacing can sometimes be a bit meandering, especially in the early game. This is not helped by a couple of times where it seemed unclear what was supposed to be done next, and not always knowing exactly how to do what was needed. Obviously, some things need to be worked out as part of the game, but it does slow things down. The slow pace may not be too much of a problem if it leads to a satisfying conclusion. The story is very well written and served up on a beautiful platter, but it is not exactly new and will be predictable to many sci-fi fans. Does that really matter though, as most stories have already been told in one form or another.

obs3 (Copy)

Observation is an incredibly well crafted sci-fi tale told from a different perspective. Running for roughly six hours, players will be presented with a very realistic interpretation of space travel all while they unfold the mystery of what happened aboard their space station. It can be slow, and the puzzles are not very engaging, but it is beautifully presented and quite unique. Sci-fi fans would do well to pick up Observation and give it a try.




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