America - Front
America - Back
By Thomas Froehlicher 22nd Jun 2019 | 1,097 views
Ever since the first scientific discoveries, and doubly so with the growth of the science-fiction genre, space and the space race have been the objects of fascination for mankind. Star of the very first of Sony's State of Play broadcasts last March, Devolver Digital's Observation brings these subjects back into the spotlight. Developed by a modest team called NoCode, and widely inspired by major science-fiction movies, it has you following the misfortunes of an international space station.
Observation marks its originality right from the start, by the character you play as - you don't take on the role of a human being, but instead act as an AI system called SAM. The space station quickly runs into big trouble, and SAM is contacted by astronaut Emma Fisher, the only crew member that seems to still be alive.
Through SAM, the player has to restore a lot of the station's functions. In order to do so you need to browse through error reports and investigate ailing parts of the station. As a digital entity, SAM cannot move by itself (at least initially), but can take control of the various security cameras within the space station (there are about fifty of them) and inspect every angle in order to locate computers and access terminals. Once you've found them SAM can connect to them and perform repairs.
Each new module of the station has a puzzle you need to solve in order to progress the story. The puzzles are all unique (Devolver Digital's game boasts great diversity of puzzles) and most of them require a great deal of observation and reasoning to be cleared. For example, you need to find precise coordinates on a huge space map, locate hidden passwords, tune frequencies following particular rules, and re-establish electronic connections, amongst other things. Observation doesn't give you even the smallest of hints during puzzle segments either, so those looking for a challenge will be in their element, at least early on.
Later in the game SAM acquires a kind of electronic sphere, allowing you to take control and levitate through the whole station. This is where Observation becomes less enjoyable, because roaming through the space modules can be a real pain and it's easy to get lost in the ever identical corridors. Additionally, since you're exploring a zero-gravity environment, exits are sometimes above and under the sphere, and SAM's inertia causes a lot of trajectory problems when floating around, which makes navigation even more laborious.
Despite its limited content (10 hours or so of play), the narrative is arguably Observation's biggest quality. Astonishingly close to cinematographic sci-fi, the story unfolds gradually and includes some sudden and shocking reveals, as well as suspense and uncertainty. At certain points the game asks you to make choices and you can never be sure which is the ideal path to take.
SAM can enter systems all around the station, including its own core terminal, and through countless hacks you slowly discover the terrible fate of the crew in a clever sequence of events. The eerie atmosphere is absolutely terrific, thanks to a brilliant sound environment; silence is sometimes broken by loud, ear-splitting compositions amplifying dramatic scenes.
It's short, but Observation is nevertheless an intense and memorable experience. Its oppressive atmosphere and great story direction makes it a true interactive science fiction movie. It's also quite inventive, with plenty of puzzles to please fans of the genre, making for a great experience at a reasonable price (€25), although it is hurt slightly by navigation issues that disturb the flow of the game.