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>observer_

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Bloober team
Release Date: Feb. 8, 2019

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Switch Review - 'Observer'

by Fran Soto on Feb. 22, 2019 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

>observer_ is a first person dystopian thriller/horror game that focuses on a dark, atmospheric environment and deep story telling.

Buy Observer

The year is 2084. The future is bleak despite marvelous advancements in science and technology. A civil war, a digital plague, and the rise of a power-hungry corporation have created a dystopian cybersociety where the strong take advantage of the weak. This is the world of Observer, a cyber-noir thriller mystery from Bloober Team (Layers of Fear). Originally released in 2017 on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Observer has made its way as a port to the Nintendo Switch. With as much success as the title has seen in the past couple of years, it's not surprising to see it make the leap to the portable console. How does the Switch version compare to the other versions? More importantly, is it worth playing (or rebuying) on the Switch? Let's take a trip to 2084 and find out.

For the uninitiated, Observer takes heavy influence from cyberpunk works such as "Blade Runner," "The Matrix," and others. It leans more toward a noir style of narrative as we follow futuristic detective Dan Lazarski on a case to reunite with his estranged son. While out on patrol, Dan receives an encrypted message from his son, Adam. Adam signs off by saying, "You are not in control." After not seeing Adam for years due to a falling out, Dan triangulates Adam's position to see him in person. What he uncovers is a case of murder, deception and puppeteering.


As we arrive at the location of Adam's last call, Dan is disappointed that his son had fallen into such a state. Adam's now living in Class C housing, so Dan is concerned that he's reached "rock bottom." Once a prominent tech developer for the Chiron Corporation, Adam has reached a new low by taking up residence in an apartment complex meant for cripples, junkies and the general outcasts of society. After a civil war that pitted the West against the East, Chrion Corporation rose from the ashes to assume an almost totalitarian regime. The creation of a caste system helped Chiron to assume control and take advantage of lower-classed workers for cheap labor. This societal state was solidified even further as a disease known as the "Nanophage," which plagued citizens with any kind of augmentations.

Upon arriving to the Class C housing, Dan investigates Adam's apartment and finds a dead body. Unable to identify the body, Dan continues to search for Adam within the building. One of the reasons Observer makes such a strong impression is because the entire story takes place within the apartment building. Multiple shortcuts and secret passageways make it seem like a labyrinth that's much larger than it actually is. Dan begins to interrogate other tenants in the building about suspicious activity. While some tenants drive the story forward, it's possible to interact with almost all of them (who answer the door) to learn more about the world of Observer. It's a subtle touch in the game that adds depth and world-building. It's even a pleasant surprise when some tenants offer side-quests with intriguing decisions.

Almost all the tenants are wary of Dan, however, as he is not just a normal cop. Dan's official title is "Observer," a special detective with augmentations to jack into suspects' minds. When someone can't — or won't — remember, Observers will find out. As we play through the story, we're able to utilize Dan's augmentations to help with the detective work. He has tech vision to scan mechanical objects throughout the world and a biology scanner for organic materials. At some point, we'll also be able to jack into subjects' brain chips to find pieces of the puzzle in their scattered thoughts.


Observer has us doing some hardcore detective work in a thrilling, and sometimes horrifying, atmosphere. The title does an amazing job of setting up ambiance, providing thought-provoking puzzles, and posing questions that need answers. The Switch version has some distinct features, like some touch functionality when pulling up case files. The most notable feature, however, is the use of the HD Rumble for more tactile gameplay. We can feel Dan's footsteps when he runs or when we ring a doorbell to interrogate a neighbor. We can also feel the light pulsing when Dan needs to take the medication that stabilizes his Observer abilities. It's a simple feature that allows the player to become even more immersed in the first-person story. Even being able to feel the rumble of enemy footsteps in a tense situation adds to the atmospheric horror.

Despite these positive additions to the game, the Switch iteration does falter in some game-changing ways, primarily in the way of graphics. When a title originally released on more powerful consoles gets ported to the Switch, it ends up being the "lite" version of the game. When it comes down to processing power, Nintendo's little console definitely can't hold a candle to the PlayStation 4 or PC. This is just fact, and it's something that should be considered when picking up a re-release.


Observer utilizes the cyberpunk theme beautifully with neon signs everywhere and a dark, gritty ambiance to complete the noir flair. In handheld mode, the game looks gorgeous with smooth frame rates. It becomes an excellent title to have on the go. However, docking the Switch paints a different picture. The game looks blurry in the dock (surprising, considering I play on a 32" monitor that shouldn't stretch resolution too much) and becomes a test in being able to locate smaller items that don't appear well. Observer, overall, has a "glitchy" aesthetic, but playing in docked mode was completely different. I found myself struggling in the detective work and had to squint at objects. It became frustrating enough that I preferred handheld mode. It's a shame that an indie title like this would have such a hiccup with larger resolution. Having previously played Observer on the PlayStation 4, it did a fine job of creating excellent visuals that were easy to follow. It was a tad disappointing to see that I couldn't play the game docked. Whether this is something that can be fixed with an update has yet to be seen.

Observer is a beautifully crafted thriller from Bloober Team that creates a riveting story by blending the horror and cyberpunk genres. Its captivating narrative serves as an excellent vehicle for detective work and puzzle-solving. The cyber-noir aesthetic is upheld by character development, rich world-building, and convincing voice-acting. Whether you've played it before or are playing it for the first time, Observer is deserving of your time and money. However, the Nintendo Switch port falls short in comparison to other versions of the game because of its frustrating graphical resolution when docked. While Observer is highly enjoyable in handheld mode, not being able to fully enjoy it when docked eliminates half of the Switch's format. If a Switch is all you own, then absolutely look into Observer. For those with other consoles, I'd recommend grabbing the game on PC, PlayStation 4 or Xbox One first. Overall, Observer still manages to shine through as an excellent addition to the horror genre.

Score: 8.8/10



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