23rd May2019

‘Observation’ Review (PS4)

by Britt Roberts

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I was a latecomer to Stories Untold, a friend recommended it to me less than a year ago and I loved its mood, tone, idiosyncrasies and the ingenious insertion of mini-games and puzzles as a way of moving the narrative forwards. When I got sent the review code for Observation and watched the trailer, it came as a real surprise to see that this was the newest title from No Code and I couldn’t wait to get hips deep.

Set upon the titular space station, you play Sam, the installations’ Operating System as you try to piece together what has happened and what is happening to the oddly empty Observation.

I’m going to avoid going into the story as the slowly unfolding narrative is a real highlight, through each ominously empty hub of the ship, through crackling VHS-quality cameras, spheres and scenes the ‘gravity’ of the situation is bled to you through Sam’s myriad eyes. The very antithesis of cheap jump-scares and YouTube streaming fuel, this beautiful slow-burn is clearly best enjoyed alone (and with wine) so you can get soaked in the atmosphere (or lack of). As the missions got fed to me and I patrolled the station piecing everything together, listening to audio logs, working through the labrynthine layout and adding different abilities to Sam’s OS, the importance of the presentation really got to me and the journey through the story became as enjoyable and seeing it all play out.

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The sound design was something that really struck a chord with me, from the crackles of Sam’s static through to the creaks and hums of the station, Observation nails the tone. The voice actors also deserve plaudits as the relatively minimalist dialogue is heavy with emotions and ulterior motives, conveying just what is needed without seeming overwrought. Following on from the precedent set by No Code’s previous title, Stories Untold, the puzzles in the game are laid out for you to learn and complete with little hand-holding but they are never tedious or overly complex, not existing as lazy expansions of game time but instead as integral, world-building sections that enhance the narrative.

Observation was a joy to play through, admittedly the pacing and style of explorative gameplay in such a confined space may not be to everyone’s tastes but if you enjoyed Stories Untold, this natural progression into a more expansive story with weightier subject matter should easily find its crowd. There is even an amount of replay value as the hidden PS4 trophies and unlockable logs will attest, meaning that the collectors out there have something to get their teeth into as well. The best parts of Alien Isolation for me were the moments I spent walking around the in-game world, lost in the evocative environments, enjoying the quiet tenseness, Observation delivers that without requiring you to hide in bloody cupboards, in fact, at one point quite the opposite is required.

What are you waiting for? BRING HER.

Observation is available on the Playstation Store now.

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