The future’s so dark you gotta have night vision augmentation. That’s an early realization while playing Observer: System Redux, that other techno-dystopian game releasing before the end of 2020. That said, if you’re looking for something to fill the gap while you wait for Cyberpunk 2077, be aware that Observer: System Redux markets itself as dark cyberpunk, and the first next-gen horror game, for very good reason. This rebuild of the acclaimed 2017 psychological thriller is grim, sordid and disturbing. A few niggles aside, it’s also one of the best blends of horror and tech-noir you could ever experience.
For the debut of a new console generation, indie developers Bloober Team, the studio behind Layers of Fear and Blair Witch, have revisited their earlier game, transforming it into a next-gen showcase in every department. 4K resolution. Ray tracing and HDR lighting. Upgraded textures. New animations, models and effects. Packing in all the visual bells and whistles (in addition to mechanics that use the PS5 controller’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers), Observer: System Redux is notable as a day one release for both PS5 and Xbox Series X|S.
Even reviewing the game on PC, it’s clear that Observer: System Redux has been extensively overhauled to take advantage of surges in graphics processing power. There’s a new, striking vividness that encourages immersion in the game’s dark future.
It’s not just the aesthetic of Observer: System Redux that has been revamped, however. It’s far more than a straightforward visual remaster. The game includes three new cases (i.e. side quests) that dial up System Redux’s detective quotient. These are a welcome inclusion, expanding the variety of things to do, and pushing the game’s playtime past the 10-hour mark.
The new cases also shine a light on different aspects of Observer’s bleak setting – a post-war, post-plague Poland where corrupt corporations enjoy supreme power; citizens’ lives are shaped by their social grading (sought-after A to shunned C); and people escape the hopelessness of their existence through drugs, virtual reality, gene splicing and body augmentation.
For the record, in Observer: System Redux, you play in the first person as Krakow police detective Daniel Lazarski (voiced by, and based on the likeness of, late Blade Runner star Rutger Hauer). A message from his estranged son Adam leads Daniel to a derelict tenement building in the Class C slums. There, Daniel must investigate a string of brutal murders.
Investigation in Observer: System Redux is a three-pronged process: One, resort to good ol’ fashioned detective work (with a high-tech twist), using Daniel’s Electromagnetic and Bio Vision to scan crime scenes for technological and biological clues – and then crack a few access codes. Two, interview the tenants, who are largely outcasts embroiled in illegal activities, or insane. Three, use Daniel’s notorious ability as an Observer, or “Leech,” to hack the brain implants of corpses to scrounge for truth in their memories.
Probably most surprising to newcomers will be how geographically constrained Observer: System Redux is. Don’t expect the diverse and expansive cityscapes of Blade Runner and Cyberpunk 2077, for example. In Observer, it’s the mind hack sequences that vary the game’s locations. They also provide relief from the slums’ blood-filled bathtubs and garbage strewn hallways, which are extra visceral thanks to System Redux’s aesthetic overhaul.
Daniel’s deep dive into people’s heads also makes up a good quotient of Observer’s horror content. The more Daniel uses his “Dream Eater” attachment, and the further he penetrates into broken minds, the more long-suppressed memories and madness seep into his own consciousness.
The brain hack sequences are certainly impactful. Elevating player stress through sound design, it’s hard to forget one particular surreal puzzle with a balloon-like, floating TV screen that wails like a newborn every time you leave it.
However, the memory dives also suffer for being repetitive. A large part of the gameplay in these levels is striding long hallways that nightmarishly repeat over and over and over. They also tend to be lengthy. Combined with an annoying automatic save system, you’re typically forced to reach the end of these stages or endure a five-to-ten-minute replay when you reload the game.
Again, these scenes make you grateful for the new story content, which results in a more satisfying, multilayered gameplay experience. This, even if narratively, the new cases aren’t always the most coherent, and Bloober Team clearly had to make do with scraps of dialogue from old Hauer recordings. Then again, with the cyberpunk genre you expect unanswered questions and ambiguous endings. The main Observer storyline itself requires several assumptions and logic leaps to make sense.
The only other gripes worth noting are that Observer: System Redux hit PC with several graphical issues, and at least one visual glitch that forced a reload of earlier saves to keep playing. A 2GB patch was released within the first week to address player issues, so the bugs should be ironed out, but it’s something to be wary of.
Still, Observer: System Redux presents such an enticing and atmospheric world, you’ll likely want to stick through its rougher patches. Whether you consider the game a rebuild, remaster, remake, or any combination of the terms, it’s 100% an example of an enhanced edition done right.
Observer: System Redux is available now for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S. Depending on the platform, owners of the original 2017 Observer can get the upgraded version at a significantly reduced price.
Last Updated: November 18, 2020