Observer: System Redux is the same basic title that came out a few years ago to rave reviews, but with a few new missions and updated visuals. If you missed this cyberpunk thrilled the first time, you absolutely owe it to yourself to play it. Having enjoyed the title myself in the past, I was more than happy to revisit this dark version of 2084 a second time.
You take the role of Daniel Lazarski, an Observer. This is the title given to those who hack into the minds of those who draw the attention of corporations – the true, new power in this dark version of 2084. Right off of the bat, to hear the protagonist voiced by now-deceased Rutger Hauer just lends an immediate weight to the character than it might have had in less capable hands.
While the content is described in some spaces as cyberpunk or thriller, I’d go so far as to say there’s a very strong sense of horror here, just in an unusual setting. Everything that worked about the storyline three years ago holds true today. The core plot device of Daniel hocking into the memories of both the living and deceased creates a very open template for the narrative, and it is used to great impact by developer Bloober Team (also known for the phycological horror game Layers of Fear). Dan’s work however, comes with risks and begins to compromise his own ability to process things. The abstract darkness of others’ dreams seem to be creeping into his own, adding that horror element that makes the atmosphere so thick with tension throughout.
While Observer: System Redux is largely an adventure game, there is a stealth element baked into the gameplay that was not always my favorite aspect of the original. It feels as though it has been finetuned here (admittedly, it’s been a few years and maybe I was just better at it having experienced this before?), but it seemed a little more forgiving this time. If that is the case, then I am appreciative as I vaguely recall feeling more frustrated when playing the title for the first time a few years ago. That being said, I enjoyed my second tour through the game and found myself more than willing to have conversations with the many unusual, memorable characters you can encounter along the way. Being an adventure game at heart, Observer: System Redux wants you to explore, and is at its best when you’re taking your time and just soaking the atmosphere.
There are some nice touches throughout as the protagonist’s grip on sanity starts to slip more and more, but I will not get into the actual story here. If you played the game a few years ago when it first released, you have a pretty good idea of what is going to happen here. The key plot points have not changed any, though the three additional cases are welcome and continue to add to the world-building. If you are new to the series, anything more than what I have said would prove to be a disservice to you, as the story is really the main reason to play this.
The sound design of the original game was already quite good (again, something the development team seems to have a really good handle on based on their other titles I’ve played in the past), and that remains true here. With a set of headphones on, the subtle ambiances are easier to pick up on and appreciate. However, the true improvement to the presentation comes in the visuals.
The original Observer was not an ugly game, but it is amazing what a few years can mean both in terms of the technology and the development team’s improving skills. Character models are notably improved, with more smoothness to the animations. Beyond the characters however, the environments are also markedly improved upon. I am a sucker for that cyberpunk, neon glowing aesthetic found in movies and games, and Observer: System Redux really nails this. The hum and glow of the world around you, punctuating the often dark, rain-slickened environments just melds wonderfully with the audio to create an immersive experience that I was more than happy to revisit despite having played the game a few years ago.