Observation Review: Sci-Fi Cinema Intertwined with Brutal Puzzle Gameplay
When the starting credits first rolled for Observation, there was something euphoric about watching it. It felt as though it should have been the start of a film in the cinema, but instead of simply being a passive observer (see what I did there?), Observation wanted to hand you the reigns.
And boy, do you get the reigns in this game.
In Observation, you play as the space station’s, which is also named Observation by the way, AI, SAM. When you’re rebooted for the first time in-game, you’re met by a voice that demands voice authentication. This voice belongs to none other than Emma Fisher, a Welsh lass who doesn’t know what happened, but is certain she needs your help to fix the space station, as well as contact the rest of the crew.
As SAM you mostly exist through the use of the space station’s security cameras, but later on you get to function inside a small sphere that lets you flit between the space station’s many corridors and rooms. This is particularly useful, as there are numerous amount of puzzles that include numbers and patterns which you aren’t able to see when you’re just using the room’s security cameras.
However, controlling the sphere can be a pain in the neck, and I found that I had to constantly re-adjust myself by going to the top of the room and spinning around in order to get my bearings. In that aspect, it captured being on a space station very well — but it certainly wasn’t fun to have to keep repositioning myself constantly.
Speaking of repositioning myself, the ultimate sin of Observation for me was this: it made me dread going outside. You know, into actual space, which is to be expected in a sci-fi game? Yeah, I know.
Unlike the space station, where you can use waypoints in order to tell you which way to go if you get lost, space isn’t all that forgiving. Again, it makes sense that you can’t use your map or waypoints when you’re out in space if this was in real life. But this is a video game and good god, I couldn’t find a damn thing out there.
It was a lot of circling around the space station in SAM’s sphere form, trying to find the right objective and then, when finding it, trying to remember where I’d left that opened hatch so I could get back to it. It got to the point where I had to restart at my last checkpoint, solely so I could take individual pictures of what the area looked like so I could find it again. Also chucked my controller down and sulked a bit.
Yet even outside of space, Observation’s learning curve is brutal. Some will start you off fairly easy, such as hold triangle, and then x, and then release them. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Others, however, aren’t so forgiving. Some will require you to write them down so you don’t forget, and at one point I opened up a notepad, drew the whole puzzle’s schematics that are used to help you, and then sat there and worked them out one by one.
If you like puzzles, you’ll definitely like this. If you don’t and are playing Observation for the narrative, like me, you’ll still get through them after thinking hard enough. That said, because the puzzles are so difficult, the satisfaction of completing them cannot be understated and they really do add a special spark to Observation that simply wouldn’t be there without them.
For me, what really stands out is the mystery of the relationship between humanity and artificial intelligence, namely between you, SAM, and Emma Fisher.
From the get-go, you’re in control and that already puts you, the AI of the ship, in an interesting position. On how you’ll play the game yes, but also the boundaries of what artificial intelligence is and the extent of how much it ‘feels’. For example, when unlocking something through voice authentication, you can either accept Emma’s voice file or you can deny her, which causes her to become frustrated with you.
While these instances are rare, small interactions like this allows the player to choose how to express themselves to the characters around them and gives SAM a personality beyond being a voice. It also lets you shape some aspects of the relationship between yourself and Emma.
“Does this unit have a soul?” Fans will recognize the quote to belong to Legion from the Mass Effect series, an AI who ultimately, leaves it up to the player on whether artificial intelligence can have a soul or not. With SAM, that question is arguably already answered due to you being in control of the AI in the first place, but it is still a fascinating concept to consider and I deeply enjoyed the intrigue behind it.
– Reviewed on PlayStation 4
Observation is a game that has a deeply captivating story with a lot of heart, which makes it worth playing for those who love the mysteries of space and artificial intelligence. Unfortunately, some aspects, such as SAM’s janky controls and unenjoyable space sequences made an otherwise enjoyable game, feel weighed down by space debris.
- Vince Mcmahon
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