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Observation - PC and PS4

Dark Soldier

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Observation is a sci-fi thriller uncovering what happened to Dr. Emma Fisher, and the crew of her mission, through the lens of the station’s artificial intelligence S.A.M.


Players assume the role of S.A.M. by operating the station’s control systems, cameras, and tools to assist Emma in discovering what is happening to the station, the vanished crew, and S.A.M. himself.









Trailer + Title Sequence:








Observation doesn't explain itself to you, and it keeps its cards close to its chest even after you go through the effort of digging up as many bits of background info as possible. The greatest compliment I can give is how I longed for all the parts it withheld from me - more interactions between Emma and Sam, a more coherent thread between all the mysterious happenings so they feel less like a sci-fi cliche checklist. I levy the same criticism towards it I do to my favourite sci-fi films - a myriad of influences, theories and plot points come together until it feels almost too much and you're not sure what to focus on. But this is part of what makes it stay with you, what makes you turn over what you've just experienced long after the credits have rolled.


Observation works almost in spite of itself. Its individual parts aren't particularly interesting, but the slow dread, the pull of uncovering the next bit of the puzzle, makes you bear with its less confident parts. Perhaps its premise of an AI suddenly attaining consciousness is ultimately underused, but this remains an intriguing, atmospheric spin on a rare theme in games.





I was relieved to discover that Observation wasn't just another horror game set in space. It has the measured pacing, knife-edge tension, and twisting narrative of a great thriller. It's scary, but only under the surface, quietly eating away at your nerves rather than shocking them. And it's the best kind of science fiction: exciting and entertaining, but also making you think about humanity's place in the cosmos and, perhaps, the deeper mysteries of universe.




Of all the words I come back to in describing my experience with Observation, the most persistent is “frustrating.” It’s an ambitious game, with an inspired premise and an equally inspired approach to framing the player’s perspective within that of an entity both familiar and foreign. But this same dogged commitment to replicating the clumsy tactility of analog interfaces and artificial reasoning creates an intractable wedge between the game’s story and its execution. Compared to Observation’s writing and presentation, the actual moment-to-moment experience of traversing the station’s knotted corridors and teasing out its mysteries feels laborious and unnecessarily convoluted. Frustration in and of itself is not indicative of a shortcoming in a game’s design. At best, it can accentuate a game’s core concepts and emphasize moments of dramatic heft and consequence. Unfortunately, this is not the case for Observation.


Observation is a conceptually ambitious, albeit mechanically flawed, effort — an experience that, while impressive in some respects, too often seems like it can’t stop getting in its own way by dint of its own design. It’s worthwhile experience, warts and all, though one whose peculiarities will inevitably confine it to the niche audience of players willing to look past its shortcomings





Observation (the space station) is a strong setting. Instead of a techno-haunted-house aesthetic, it uses realistic NASA-style construction with blue panels, sterile white walls, and constrained tunnels adorned with posters and family photos that serve as a cramped home for the crew. These trappings make the station feel eerily familiar; watching such a realistic space shift into something more horrific over time is an unnerving experience, with the literal structure of the station changing depending on what happens to it throughout the story. Even the act of moving through that space in either camera mode or as the drone is disturbing, as you never know what gruesome scene might be around the bend.


I ripped through Observation in one six-hour sitting, propelled forward by the novel blend of challenging puzzles and gripping storytelling. Though at first glance, Observation may appear to be your traditional first-person horror game, I’ve never played anything quite like it. Challenging and unnerving in equal measure, Observation shouldn’t be missed by anyone in search of a mind-bending and unsettling thrill.



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5 minutes ago, Dark Soldier said:


Runs like a dream on PC and has enough customisation:


Geek question, can it do 32:9 / 5120x1440 as might be about to pull the trigger on a hilarious new monitor?

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3 hours ago, Dark Soldier said:


Its really, really good. About two hours in and its suitably creepy and intriguing. The puzzles are simple but they're just there to forward the plot.


Fuck that spacewalk bit. Had no idea what I was doing and it took ages.

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It’s succeeding in making me feel like the world’s thickest AI.


Subtitles, which are supposed to be in sync with the audio, are definitely not. I think it’s supposed to come up in time with the audio, like you, the computer, are getting it as it comes in. But it flashes up before the audio finishes

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Clocked it. A few occasions of not knowing where or what to do spoiled the immersion at times but otherwise, it’s rather good.


The main issue is nothing happening when you’re spending ages trying to work out what to do. The characters don’t start talking or moving again until you do the thing. Which I guess is sensible because you could spend ages just trying to hear all the audio lines and that would ruin the pace but at the same time, it does sort of ruin the sense that they are real people.


One other thing, there’s not a lot of actual ‘observation’ going on. I was hoping I could just hop from room to room in the space station and observe people doing their things - and if done properly would be great for plot advancement and the 2001 vibe - but that doesn’t really happen.

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It's the name of the ship. Agree totally though. It's interesting for a space person to admire and the atmosphere is good, but it's intensely frustrating and a bit boring to play too. I think I'd rather just watch it as a POV film without all the gameplay getting in the way.


I think I'm getting near the end, it's unfortunately quite tropey and actually getting less interesting as it goes on. The controls are fairly absurd - on controller the UI is a bit of a chore to navigate, on mouse and keyboard the physical/camera movement is unnecessarily fiddly and frustrating. Multiple menus have keyboard shortcuts from hell (e.g. you can't press ESC to exit a menu that only uses the mouse, you have to press backspace, and other infuriating little things).


Most of the puzzles aren't really puzzles, but rather cumbersome tasks to carry out where you're given the answer and simply have to input it into some annoying but beautifully realised menus. For example one involves simply clicking all the numbers from 1 to 10 as they randomly appear around the screen. Except you have to hold the button down for a second for it to register. Other times you have a task like "close all the doors", all of which close in an identical way. So you're inputting the same code into the same menu three times rather than solving a nice little puzzle for each one. With the puzzles reduced to annoyances you're left with a core mechanic of floating around the claustrophobic and disorientating station looking for things that aren't signposted very well, with controls that feel not unlike playing Descent with a full second of input lag. Of course, it's not an action game in the slightest and doesn't require any kind of dexterity, but that's not an excuse to make all movement an exercise in frustration and tedium.


On the plus side, it's absolutely bursting with atmosphere and authenticity. If you liked wandering around Alien Isolation for the scenery or you're a fan of rustic user interfaces and cosmic dread, this is probably worth checking out! I love both of those things but the other issues are wearing on my patience at this point.


I haven't found the story to be particularly interesting or clever, though the performances are good and there's nothing to dislike. If it's saying anything in particular it hasn't gotten to the point yet. Here's hoping, I'll pop back in and update this post either way.


There's probably an incredibly cool and intense VR experience in here somewhere, with a few tweaks. I wonder if there's one on the cards?


Edit - no, they answered this already. "This is a flat game. We did actually spend a lot of time on building VR functionality in, but moving your head around as a human really doesn’t make you feel like an AI possessing a camera. It was much less amazing than you’d imagine, and actually made the game much much more troublesome and uncomfortable to play."


I find that hard to believe honestly, but it's giving me mild motion sickness just by playing on a monitor so maybe they're right.


Final edit: Well, I found the ending (and really, the entire thing) to be a whole lot of nothing. The final puzzles are the same as the first puzzles - the game gives you the answer and you simply tap it in via an irritating interface. There's an ending sequence which had some technical issues for me (unintended clipping through the environment for a lot of it which left the screen flickering and me seeing outside of the level) and concluded with some done-to-death sci-fi stuff that was even less surprising than I'd expected. The sparse dialogue hints that you  went through some kind of arc but there wasn't one present while playing, in the storytelling or the mechanics.


Ultimately it's the kind of thing I would probably have overvalued and oversold to people when I was younger, mistaking vagueness for intelligence and forgiving the numerous annoyances as an uncompromised vision. If the story or gameplay were compelling I could easily forgive the other, but neither really worked for me.


If you're after beautiful retro-future interiors and a scary atmosphere, play Alien Isolation. If you're after a great puzzle game with some rumination on the nature of AI and the soul, play the Talos Principle (or the Turing Test, or The Swapper). If you want to pipe hot existential dread straight into your consciousness, play Soma. If you want 2001, just watch 2001. I can't recommend this above any of those, even for the £7 I paid in the EGS sale. I'd be a bit bummed out if I'd paid £20 for this. The 9/10s I'm seeing dotted around are totally mystifying, the metro review (which I hadn't seen until a moment ago, after writing all of the above!) has a more accurate take on it from my perspective:




It’s upsetting to play a game that has clearly had so much effort expended on it; as you realise that all its obvious potential is slowly being drained away, like oxygen out of a leaky spaceship. The fact that you’re an AI rather than a human has almost no bearing on the story or your interactions, and the denouement is entirely underwhelming. It’s a rare video game that has both good storytelling and a good gameplay, but either on their own can still be perfectly compelling. Observation has neither.


In Short: 2001 is hardly the most obvious movie to use as inspiration for a video game and perhaps predictably the end result suffers from slow-pacing and a lack of meaningful interaction.

Pros: Fantastic visuals and a stunning, and impressively realistic, portrayal of space travel. Great music and atmosphere.

Cons: Extremely dull and simplistic gameplay that goes out of its way to be as slow-paced as possible. Predictable and unsatisfying story that lacks originality and narrative depth.

Score: 3/10



The gameinformer review is especially weird, "I ripped through Observation in one six-hour sitting, propelled forward by the novel blend of challenging puzzles and gripping storytelling.". The game's three hours long even with a good bit of getting lost, the puzzles have zero challenge (the answer is literally printed on the screen next to where you input the answer half the time) and the storytelling is increasingly uninteresting as it progresses. Their suggestion that the replay value is "moderately high", and that "navigating the station is easy thanks to a snappy interface and simple controls" makes it sound like they played something else entirely. Ah well, I'm glad to see that some people are enjoying/buying stuff from a small UK developer at least. I picked up stories untold when it was free too, I'll give it a go.

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Jesus, the space walk bit is close to making me jack the whole thing in.


I finally fudged my way through it, got back inside, and then the game deadlocked for me on a pause screen and put me right back to an autosave before it started! :( I'm now back to aimlessly floating around the station trying to spot the tiny bit of slightly different texture that I need to look at to let me continue...

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This game is amazing. Anyone who likes sci-fi should immediately buy it. The atmosphere, sound and story are brilliant. The station feels very real, like the ISS, and the actor performances are excellent which really sell you on the characters (aside from a bit of uncanny valley facial animation). It's an engrossing experience which has loads of brilliant moments that keep you hooked, and I found it really hard to put down and completed it in two long sittings.


Playing as SAM is a really cool twist on the formula, although the game does stutter at points with a lack of clear direction for some puzzles (astrodynamics, anyone?). At some points I got stuck for ages just due to poor signposting on the game's part, just wanting to progress to the next bit. However the lack of handholding at other times makes a nice change and figuring out the various cool looking interfaces is half of the fun. Getting around can be a bit of a drag and confusing as a lot of the station looks samey combined with the slow and clunky movement. However with some patience and the will to explore I was quite happy to overlook these minor drawbacks in favour of the incredibly compelling sci-fi adventure that you are flung into.


Observation's full of hard sci-fi cliches and wears its influences on its sleeves, but No Code pulls it off with such panache I was gripped from start to finish. Play in a dark room with the sound turned up and soak in the atmosphere. I love this kind of sci-fi and despite it being cliched, for me this sits up there with the other gaming sci-fi greats, in fact it's better than a lot of movies that cover the same ground! It's full of awesome and "what the hell!" moments in it, I wish I could just forget it all and play it again, so instead I'm reduced to vicariously seeing other people's reactions to it on Youtube!


Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Observation, and it's not too long at 4-6 hours depending on how long you spend exploring/getting stuck. Highly recommended for any fans of the genre, and although it does have its flaws, the overall experience far outweighs them. It's the best story-led single player game I've played in a long time.


Curious to see what other people here thought and also theories welcome!


Edit: Just read Moz's big post above. Although I agree with most of the criticisms they really didn't stand in the way of me enjoying the hell out of the game and its atmosphere. And the story is full of tropes, but as they are tropes I enjoy, I loved it!  


Big spoiler discussion for those who have finished the game:



Dunno if anyone else spotted this, but I started to make some sense of the Hexagon communication symbols. I was tipped off first via the symbol showing a pyramid of squares, which corresponds to the symbol for Emma you see in the Crew Status screen. Then I started deducing more of them, for example there is one for Saturn (represented by the top down view of Saturn in the storm), SAM is the eye thing, the lines mean something like "bring" or maybe "save". The arrow going into the circle is "go here" or "bring here". The "antennae" probably means the signal, the boxes and bendy arrows show the convergence of realities, the X, Y, Z axis symbol probably indicates the marker. Jim's icon from the crew manifest appears with a red cross just before "that" happens to him. And so on. So SAM is basically getting orders from the Hexagon right from the first encounter, and you can kind of get the gist of it if you go back and rewatch the Hexagon encounters. If anyone figures out any more of the icons feel free to share. 


Also did anyone find all the collectables? I was missing about 10 by the end and just curious if there are any big ones I might have missed, especially if there are any special ones that get unlocked once you find the rest. I unlocked most of the crew profiles but not one for SAM.


I liked the epic and ambiguous ending, in fact they could have ended it at multiple points before that and I still would have been happy (for example when the camera zooms out to show loads of other stations, or just them going down into the storm). I was quite surprised they fleshed out the ending as much as they did considering the legacy of horror sci-fi endings, but they still did a great job with it. However to me it was clear this is a sinister future for mankind, especially due to the spreading darkness at the end from Sam/Emma, the dark music and of course the revised game title screen showing the hexagon above earth. I loved the mysterious figures you see in the amazing final hexagon sequence too - other Emmas or something else?.....


I wish they had done more with the alternate stations and versions of the crew in the story, I feel like the game could have been a few hours longer. I was also expecting a lot more action on board the station due to the number of scannable objects, like there's a medbay and tons of consoles you never end up using. The fire fighting bit was really cool and I would have loved more of that kind of frantic stuff. Still, can't complain, it worked very well at what it did, and in a way I'm glad they ended up not using all the equipment because otherwise it would have felt like a checklist of - "oh here's a device/situation we'll definitely be using later on". 


The sound design, unease and mystery in the game was amazing, some of my personal highlights were: The "Bring Her" start, the Saturn reveal into "I don't know", the Hexagon appearances, the "another station" reveal. Realising the other station is a copy, chatting with Alternate SAM, killing Jim and of course the final descent into full blown alien AI and the ending sequence (very epic!). 


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Absolutely loving this this as thought I'd give it a go as Outer Wilds was dl/installing (it bloody stops whilst you're playing but whatever).


Amazing atmosphere, really enjoying the interactions and searching out clues and what not and also looks and sounds fantastic. Great on a pad on pc as well. Also had 5120x1440 res as default when I loaded it so that was a win.  Just got through to the main area and first grim scene shall we say and can't wait to carry on. 

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  • 2 months later...

My sort of game - played through it last weekend. My main issues with it were the outside bits and some stuff towards the end where I went a bit off-piste and had to crank the gamma up to max to find my way back. Aside from those it was pretty well-paced and the atmosphere more than carries the whole experience. Good stuff.

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I’m enjoying this for the most part, but my god the spacewalk bits are painful. Would it have killed the developers to give you at least some idea where to go? I feel like I’m supposed to be boggling at the unimaginable scale and the oppressive infinitude of it all, but I’m mainly scooting around saying “where the fuck am I supposed to go?”. 


At least paint the names of the modules on the side, in huge letters, so I can vaguely orientate myself. 

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There are so many rough edges in this and I’m absolutely going to cut it slack for all of them. This was absolutely my kind of thing and it’s so rare to have a game that properly scratches that particular SF itch. (Loved the sly dig at Sunshine.)


Why can so few developers write an actual story with structure and stakes and a steady rate of plot developments like this?

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