It’s an amazing thing when a game comes along that doesn’t feel like a game at all. When something is so real and immersive that it feels like you’re actually there. That’s what Observation does.
It’s perhaps because instead of taking control of a person, Observation has you playing the role of a space station’s artificial intelligence called S.A.M. And it’s via S.A.M. that you follow the story of Emma Fisher, a crew member aboard the station that’s suddenly found herself in a very bad situation.
As S.A.M. you have the ability to control many of the station’s systems, and can move from camera to camera to explore and resolve any queries that Emma has. It’s also the way to rebuild your store of information, which has been damaged due to an unexplained event. Much of Observation, then, is essentially spent completing maintenance on various systems for Emma, while also gathering information to piece together what has happened.
What basically amounts to a sci-fi story driven by puzzles though, is made so much more engaging by how natural it all feels. Observation isn’t the type of game in which to access a panel you need to solve a sliding block puzzle or rotate some panels to complete a circuit. Instead, it presents you with user interfaces that you must operate to complete tasks. Sometimes you might have to carry out more mundane duties such as turning on power or activating nodes to make use of a system’s functionality, but it all adds to the feeling that you’re genuinely playing a critical role on a real space station that for some reason isn’t operating as it should.
The action isn’t confined to just the interior of the space station, either. At various points in the game you get the opportunity to posses a robotic sphere, and aside from allowing you to explore the nooks and crannies that the station’s stationary cameras can’t see, it also enables you to venture out into space to deal with any exterior issues. Thanks to zero gravity, however, controlling the orb can be very disorienting. In fact, navigating the station as the sphere proved to be my biggest frustration while playing Observation. But again, it feels authentic, drawing you into the experience just as much as it pushes you away.
To say anything about Observation‘s story would be to spoil it. Plus, after seeing the credits roll last night, I’m still piecing bits of it together myself. It’s a mysterious tale that is utterly captivating, and also horrific in some regards, too. It’s safe to say that you really begin to feel for Emma throughout the course of the game, despite not really knowing a great deal about her; her struggle begins to feel like your struggle. As the situation changes from bad to worse, you’ll wonder just what’s going to happen next. And when you reach the game’s conclusion – which is likely to take about six hours – you might be left scratching your head in puzzlement, yet still feel fulfilled.
But the thing that really sells Observation is its presentation. The station is meticulously detailed, and character models are very lifelike. Combined with the use of various effects to give you the impression that you are observing the action through cameras, it all feels very real. While most games strive to be cinematic, Observation opts to be more like an interactive found footage experience. It’s like you really are looking in on a critical situation that’s playing out, and must do what you can to help.
There were one or two occasions where Observation drove me a little mad because it wasn’t exactly clear what I had to do, and controlling the unwieldy sphere didn’t help matters, but when it was all over I couldn’t help but feel I’d experienced something special; a unique game that had me totally engrossed and emotionally invested from beginning to end. Observation is a puzzle game that breaks the mould, paired with a gripping story that combines sci-fi and horror to great effect.
If you’re after an experience like no other, that will challenge your problem-solving skills in logical and believable ways, you absolutely need to play Observation. It’s one of the most compelling and surprising games I’ve played in recent years. Its biggest achievement, though, is that it didn’t make me feel like I was playing a game; it made me feel like I was genuinely assisting a crew member in distress.