Observation (PC) Review
Open to multiple interpretations
Poorly crafted puzzles
There are many games set in outer space and space stations across different genres. One could even wonder if there is a genre left untapped that is set in a space station. That sure is up for debate, but I think we could all agree that there is definitely more room for the sci-fi/thriller/mystery games set in space. Observation is one among those genres and could easily be mistaken as a horror game on the surface, but actually focused on so-called puzzle solving with a strong focus on enigmatic nature.
The plot entirely follows the story of Emma Fisher, one of the crew members of the international space station named observation, as she tries to establish contact with the ground and tries to comprehend what happened to the rest of the crew after an unidentifiable event that left the station debilitated. All she has left is the station’s integrated operating system named SAM and various functional failures the station ran into in the aftermath of the unknown event. The role you will have to take up is what makes Observation sets slightly apart from other sci-fi games. The story of Observation will unfold through the eyes of SAM, which is your role in the game and you will be assisting Dr. Fisher by following her commands that includes performing self-diagnosis on yourself (SAM), communicating status reports, scanning documents, penetrating into laptop and door hatches using schematic layouts through the cameras all over the different modules of the station.
If they made 2001: A Space Odyssey into a game, it would totally be Observation as it has the same kind of mystery and uninterpretable line of plot. Mainly because there is a similar pattern of tension between humans and computers aboard the station. As the story unravels through the eyes of SAM, which are the fuzzy cameras aboard the station, SAM would often get intercepted by unknown signals containing some coordinates along with the message ‘Bring Her’, which is presumably referred to Emma. Although SAM isn’t straight-up diabolic like HAL 9000, a certain level of discomfort can be sensed in the stone-cold voice of SAM.
Observation has a confusing and complicated UI. I understand that being an all-knowing super AI aboard a multinational space station comes with a great deal of responsibilities and dealing with complicated troubleshooting, but I don’t think I was pleased with what so-called puzzles that are just merely designed to make players feel like they are solving something, but in fact, it’s the directionless puzzle concepts that make it challenging. At one point, I was supposed to find the rescue station’s coordinates in the astrophysics terminal interface. My job was to pinpoint the target’s coordinates and send the data to the comms system. Through the viewfinder, on what seems like pixelated satellite images, I was slowly panning the crosshair until I accidentally land on the target’s data. It took nothing more than tedious guesswork to get around the puzzles. And a few memorizations too, you would often have to find schematics to unlock the hatches and in order to do that, you will need to draw the exact pattern on the circuit. When SAM is contacted by the unknown signals at certain times, a series of hexagon shapes will be displayed and you will need to memorize and input the same order to solve. I guess those puzzles could have been better.
Almost forgot, cameras aren’t the only eyes of SAM. You’d be able to possess a sphere and freely roam around the stations, but the catch is controlling the sphere isn’t exactly simple. Aside from the fact that the entire station is built like a maze, the sphere drone would go upside down sometimes and I felt like I am at a different place all of a sudden. The navigation system kind of reminds me of Alien Isolation (2014). Don’t get me wrong, I like everything about Alien Isolation but one thing – its navigation. And little did I know, Observation’s developers worked on Alien Isolation. No wonder why I often got lost in-between modules while traversing the station. Despite how it falls short on puzzle-solving, overall immersion has to be praised. UI seems rather convoluted but it really captures the perceptive of semi omniscient AI with the melded effects of grain and distortion when sphere bumped into an object. The lighting is perfect and the sound design actually stirs up unsettling nature in the situation.
Observation had a lot of potential with where the concept was going but could have been much better if it wasn’t for the raw idea of mechanics and unrefined UI.