A tense, eerie and claustrophobic space adventure which can be slow at times but your patience is rewarded with an interesting story.
Genre: Adventure, Space,
Developer: No Code
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release date: 21 May, 2020
Observation is set upon an international space station where a disaster causes damage to the station and for Dr Emma Fisher to lose contact with the crew. Managing to bring online the Systems Administration and Maintenance computer (S.A.M) she uses it to aid her in discovering the crew and what happened. You play the role of S.A.M accessing cameras around the station and becoming Dr Fisher’s eyes and ears. Later, you will connect to a sphere which can move around the station assisting Emma in running the station and bringing it back to life.
You are S.A.M (Systems Administration and Maintenance computer), brought back online to aid Dr Emma Fisher in recovering the broken systems on the space station.
Initially, you are able to access cameras in the station and inform Dr Fisher of any faults and to carry out diagnostics on her behalf. There are a number of cameras in each section located in different parts of the area. Switching between these cameras will reveal fresh outlooks and reveal problems some cameras cannot see. Moving the camera around you can highlight these issues and report them to Emma.
Sometimes, reporting the issue is not enough and you will need to fix them. There are a variety of different things to fix from opening doors that are locked to powering on systems and dealing with station alerts. I could describe the fixing process as brief mini games. Some are quick time events or similar, but the majority will need documentation found around the station to complete. Dealing with doors requires schematics which are usually pinned to the walls nearby. You have to draw the shape required to unlock, open, close or lock the door causing the obstruction. It isn’t very difficult.
Later, you will be able to take control of a sphere and physically fly through the space station between the four segments. The sphere can move in any direction and does feel quite disorientating as you fly past things which are upside down or tilted. The sphere can fly through vents to access areas otherwise obstructed.
There is a bit of exploration to enjoy with numerous pieces of documentation, personal items and objects to examine and read. Dotted throughout the station are laptops which can be accessed and their contents inspected. Laptops usually hide voice messages from one crew member to another or detail concerns over procedures and events which happened. Some of these laptops require passwords which you need to find.
Items collected all get stored in SAM’s communication core where they can be reviewed and consulted. Certain documents and voice messages can be combined to reveal new clues and revelations.
Apart from successfully navigating the station, which can be troublesome, the puzzles are generally manageable without too much effort. There is one puzzle however, that is almost impossible without a walk-through so you may find yourself stuck when trying to find the array co-ordinates. The answer is readily available online however.
The game took me around eleven hours to complete.
Graphics are beautiful with realistic gravity free animations on characters, and a nice HUD for SAM which flickers when you hit objects. The feeling of weightlessness is evident and impressively showcased.
The outside space sequences are stunning also. The station feels tight and restricted and appears realistic.
The chambers are similar in appearance which can cause disorientation when navigating. The feeling of claustrophobia is evident whenever you’re travelling.
The sound effects ramp up tension to unbearable levels sometimes with a pulsating futuristic drone . It has an awesome sci-fi feel to the game. Characters voice acting is very professional and special effects all sound very impressive.
I really enjoyed Observation. It is successful in creating an eerie, desperate, claustrophobic and mysterious atmosphere from beginning to end.
There are some quiet periods where you have to navigate around the tight corridors and solve some puzzles but it all felt necessary and part of the plan. It is quite easy to get lost in the maze of corridors, especially as the orb can rotate, causing disorientation. There is a map to help you in most circumstances which is vital in gaining your bearings. You will be checking it a lot. I did spend a great deal of time flying around trying to locate the issues reported. Part of the puzzle is finding alternative routes which can be difficult, and due to the station looking so similar you can easily retrace your steps without realizing. It all adds to the confinement and confusion you feel whilst carrying out your tasks. Whilst fixing some of the issues I felt like an astronaut. The puzzles are cleverly designed to fit in with the story and involve schematics, powering on devices and general tasks that felt like you were performing an astronaut’s duties.
There is quite a lot of lore introduced to you by exploring the station and finding personal items, documents and hacking laptops. The more you find, the more complete the story feels. A lot of it is trivial but it fills in gaps and reveals the feelings the crew were experiencing at the time.
Being the on-board computer felt original and there was a good rapport between S.A.M and Dr Fisher. The computer took on an almost human personality and you felt there was an emotional connection between the two characters, even though one was not alive.
The sound and graphics are superb in places with excellent voice acting, even from S.A.M. Although brief, I loved the scenes outside the space station and it was a harsh contrast from the tight corridors and segmented sections to the vast and endless space outside.
The story was intriguing and was paced brilliantly up to the exciting ending. I would say I did have a few questions at the end but then again sci-fi does tend to throw up a lot of doubts.
Observation is a superior science fiction adventure in terms of atmosphere, intrigue and storytelling. It felt uncomfortable playing it at times due to the cramped environments and fearful outlook.
The game does not have much action and it is more of a slow, methodical game, fixing problems with the space station in a slow-moving orb. The tension is always kept high though, and there are moments where excitement is injected into the proceedings. Carrying out duties feels compelling rather than boring as completing the tasks serves to move the story on and unravel the mystery.
If you don’t mind a gradual and systematic approach to science fiction games and favour atmosphere over action then Observation ticks all the right boxes.