Review: Observation (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required
  • Move None
Title: Observation
Format: PSN (15.30 GB)
Release Date: May 21, 2019
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: No Code
Original MSRP: $24.99 (USD) £19.99 (UK) €24.99 (EU)
ESRB Rating: M
PEGI: 16
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Observation opens with darkness and crackling radio. Slowly, Dr. Emma Fisher’s voice becomes clearer as she tries to contact mission control in Houston and her other team members. A few brief glimpses of one of the space station’s modules is shown in disarray.

Soon, the player is brought back online. The player controls S.A.M., the space station’s system administration and maintenance software.

A quick memory scan reveals that most of S.A.M.’s memory was damaged or destroyed. Players familiarize themselves with the station’s cameras as they start to re-establish S.A.M.’s connections to various hatch points, so he can open and close the hatches between the different modules.

The beginning of the game is a series of minor puzzles. Although the game tries to create tension and act like something has to be done immediately, there is no fail state. The game provides, at a slow but steady pace.

Then all of a sudden…Do it! Do it now! I came across a puzzle and before I could take everything in, the puzzle timed out and Dr. Fisher is yelling at me for not completing the puzzle. I have to watch the puzzle two or three more times before I understand what is going on and what needs to be done.

Observation is super vague about its puzzles, providing little to no hints about how to solve the current objective. A little further in the game and S.A.M. takes a spacewalk to better access some of the damage to the space station. I missed part of what Dr. Fisher says when describing the parts of the space station she is interested in. Luckily, S.A.M. can ask Dr. Fisher to repeat the current objective. Unfortunately, she only says to determine the cause of the damage. Real helpful. What should have taken ten minutes took me an hour.

Shortly after, I restarted the game from the beginning, I will discuss the reason why later. I completed the first three hours in thirty minutes. Obviously being comfortable with the controls and mechanics helped, as well as the puzzles being somewhat fresh in my mind. Still, I can’t help but wonder about how much of that original three hours was learning and exploring vs. the game not respecting my time.

I got back to the objective where I need to take a spacewalk. Dr. Fisher asks me to inspect two areas for damage. If I had heard that the first time, that would have gone a lot smoother. Still a little jank in the puzzle but smoother and quicker. Then out of curiosity, I asked Dr. Fisher to repeat the objective and she asks me to “determine the cause of the damage”. The space station is pretty big by the way. I mean… Really? She just said what two areas to inspect. Why can’t she simply repeat herself? It takes nothing away from the game and doesn’t give an unfair advantage to just repeat, with some direction, what the objective is. Why so vague all of a sudden?
,
95% of the puzzles are somewhere on the spectrum from boring to good to mildly annoying at times. Still, the setup and intrigue Observationcreates, some minor road bumps are totally worth it. On the other hand, there are the other 5% of the puzzles. I don’t think I have ever been so frustrated with a video game. It completely destroys any enjoyment I was having with the game.

Observation would not be a fun game if there was a line down the middle of the path directing the player where to go. But give me something. The last puzzle I talked about at least mentioned what areas to inspect, even though it wouldn’t repeat them or once outside the space station, it is not easy to find a specific module of the station. Am I hot or cold? Some of the puzzles provide no direction or hint.

Even once I finally stumbled across the solution or found the hidden item in the corner for a difficult puzzle, there was no relief or feeling like a genius, jJust frustration. I wasted so much time on a handful or a dozen puzzles that were needlessly difficult. Many were simple puzzles but were still confusing because there was no direction or hint. Others required what felt like pixel hunting from old adventure games. Many times I would come across laptops and other interactable items with an “X” button prompt. But I was not able to connect or interact with them. Twenty minutes later, after I had completed an objective or progressed the game, I was able to interact with the laptop. A few times I couldn’t interact with equipment because S.A.M. needed to bring power to it. Too often I was literally pulling my hair trying to figure out what is going on. Do I have to power up this machine to complete a task or is the “X” button prompt improperly displaying and I will be able to connect to it later?

So I restarted the game because I was beyond stuck. I had been playing for about two hours and I had not been able to make any progress. Then there was also a bug and none of the text, for the various tasks that had become available, was visible.

I got back to the point where I restarted the game and stumbled around some more. Eventually, I accidentally discovered that I have to select the task I want to work on. I was doing some of the right things the first time around but because I never selected the task. I clicked through the task to view the objectives but there was an obscure button off to the side to select it. What game opens up with some side quests but then says you select one and only work on that quest? The game never said I had to select a task. Dr. Fisher only said to view the tasks and get working.

The few bad puzzles are so bad that I spent the majority of my time with the game on them. I will put up with a lot for a great story and world, but most of Observation is just a slog. It quickly became unenjoyable, and a game I started to dread even playing.

Visuals:
After watching the opening scenes, players might expect damaged equipment and cracked screens. But the frequent use of screen waves, screen flickers, and momentary screen freezes occur often enough to be annoying at first and headache-inducing later.

A lot of video games have a screen as the game starts up with a warning about bright flashes and seizures as a general protection against lawsuits. Observation should have a second screen that follows saying, “No, we really mean it this time”. Throughout the game, there are times when there are rapid and blindingly bright flashes. These aren’t necessary. The same point/feeling would have been conveyed with a minor light flash or two.

Audio:
The voice acting hits the mark. This is important since you can’t always see people’s faces when they are talking. Dr. Fisher’s sacredness and exhaustion are well portrayed as she speaks.

Because Observation is a linear story focused game, the creepy tones and swells of music are perfectly timed for the moment.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
I desperately wanted to enjoy Observation. It grabs your attention right away, full of intrigue and mystery. Then I came across a difficult puzzle and all momentum was killed.

Observation does so much right. Beyond the world building and atmosphere, the story pulls you forward, the voice acting is well done, and the music is fantastic. The problem is the gameplay. By the end, it was unbearable. I was releasing a surrendering sigh as I sit down to spend what little precious gaming time I have slogging through more vague and aimless puzzles.

Score:

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Matt Engelbart

Matt Engelbart

I love all things video games. When I am not gaming I am watching the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals, BBQing, and reading.

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