Observer: System Redux Review
Reviewed on PCAlso available on Sony PlayStation 5 and Microsoft Xbox Series X
A next-gen remaster of a cult classic, Observer: System Redux is a cyberpunk horror mystery starring the late great Rutger Hauer as Daniel Lazarski, a detective for Krakow PD answering a call from his estranged son, Adam, who asks him to come to The Stacks to help him out of some trouble. Things quickly turn dark when Daniel arrives at the apartment to find a gruesome crime scene, with a headless corpse slumped against a wall. It could be Adam's body, but Daniel lives in a faint hope that it could be someone else. Daniel sets about investigating the crime to uncover the identity of the killer and the body when a lockdown is initiated in The Stacks, and Daniel finds himself sealed inside with the killer and a steadily rising number of victims.
The word "lockdown" will unquestionably stick out to anyone reading it; Observer: System Redux is set during a pandemic of its own that afflicts anyone with cybernetic implants and, given this is a Cyberpunk story, that is a large number of people. Most of the residents you will meet will speak to you behind locked doors, some will be afraid of what is happening around them and some will be frustrated. The only characters you will physically interact with are relevant to the story.
The prevalent way you will interact with characters is through neural-links. Daniel's primary role in Krakow PD is an Observer. These are special investigators who can access people's memories for clues.
Hacking into people's memories leads to some of Observer: System Redux's most terrifying and visually astonishing sequences. The fractured remnants of the memories of victims of violent crimes become terrifying and disorienting hallucinations. As the software tries to account for the imprecise nature of human memory, you get fractured images, objects may float or flicker out of existence, data may be scrambled, events become disjointed and skip around, sending you into different memories. Sometimes you will be within the mind of a character as they are dying and you will be experiencing their memories shatter and fade around you, watching the lights shut off from the inside. It becomes an existential nightmare that chills you to the bone, something Bloober Team is experts at doing.
Things get more complicated within these minds as the story progresses and it eventually becomes possible to die inside the mind as you are hunted down by abominations.
Another chilling development is the way Daniel's own memories begin bleeding into those of his subjects, your grasp on what is relevant to the investigation and what is part of Daniel's own troubled history becomes part of the investigation itself. You are unravelling the mystery of The Stacks and the mystery of Daniel himself.
Other means of investigation in Observer involve using different scanning for electronic and DNA data. You keep track of your crime log through your arm implant and can monitor your synchronisation levels, the more erratic they become the more susceptible you are becoming to the virus and must medicate before things get out of control.
The visual style of the game pulls you in almost immediately, blending the dirt and desolation of David Fincher's Seven with the oppressive neon-glow of Blade Runner, made all the more immersive with the use of some top-notch ray tracing. Beautiful and ugly all at once, the use of air particles and light diffusion, the artificial glare and dirt in the air adds to the eerie aura of a world where advancement and decay intersect at all times. This is a civilisation pushed forward by technological advancements but, at its core, it is the same rotten and broken mess that it's always been. The contrast between technology and humanity is blinding.
The legendary and greatly-missed Rutger Hauer delivers an understated but engrossing performance that fits the tone of this world perfectly; every bit as weary and run down as the tenement building that he finds himself in.
Observer: System Redux is a full next-gen remaster of the 2017 original but has wisely made some crucial structural changes to streamline the storytelling in key places and expanded it in others. The original game spent most of its time over-indulging in the nightmare sequences that occur when Daniel makes a neural-link and not enough time immersing the player in the world of The Stacks. System Redux has stripped down a lot of the nightmares, funnelling the focus with improved visual markers and clearer objectives. The game has also been expanded with additional side cases to investigate if you so wish, but the creepy, insular world of The Stacks is one that you will be compelled to explore more, and these additions give you that chance.
You often wonder why devs remaster and re-release old titles but, with Observer, it is abundantly clear why. With the state of the world in 2020, and with the increased cultural interest in Cyberpunk as a genre, Observer: System Redux is more relevant than ever. In many ways, it feels like a game of the moment.