I find myself in a very strange position – having a game where there is nothing wrong with it in terms of appearance, gameplay, or performance, and yet I was totally and completely bored by. This is a game that has nothing fundamentally wrong with it. I just got so bored playing it. How is that possible? Maybe it’s just not the kind of game for me? I honestly don’t know. There could be a lot of self-reflection in my future as I think about this game and what it represents to me. This review may end up with me just stroking my own dick as I think about why I didn’t really enjoy this game as much as the Steam community seems to, but so be it. I do want to talk about it.
The story goes that you’re in a 1980’s style dystopian future horror movie. Everything about the aesthetic screams old school horror films. This game seems to have taken some cues from Alien: Isolation in that regard. You play as Daniel Lazarski, voiced very well by Rutger Hauer. I like the voice acting from this character. Rutger isn’t known for being able to boom. He plays the broken down old man very well. He is an Observer. They’re a new kind of law enforcement who can go into people’s minds and take information that they don’t want to give up out of their heads. It’s a dark concept, that admittedly has a lot of potential. Now he’s on the trail to find his son, with whom he is estranged, and gets involved in a plot of murder and deception, all inside the heads of the dead or dying.
This game has a very unique look. I liked the retro feel of the tech in this game. You have all these holgraphic displays, mixed in with computers that look like they were coughed up from the 80’s. It’s cool stuff. Seeing games willing to eschew the modern film convention of making all the technology super advanced is really refreshing. A pity Hollywood can’t seem to do that. The problem here is that since the game really doesn’t take a large amount of time building the world it inhabits, I didn’t find myself getting into this beyond the most basic “that’s kinda cool” sorta way. Which is really unfortunate because there was a lot of loving detail put into the environments.
Hacking into people’s minds brought me to another game that this one clearly took a lot of cues from. Well, not really a game so much as what could have been a game – P.T. After the death of Silent Hills, a TON of games have been trying to take that concept and run with it. To extremely varying degrees of success. In my opinion, this game didn’t seem to rise to the ambitious goals Hideo Kojima was trying to do the way others appear to be. All the intricacies of P.T.’s environmental puzzles connected to being in a single hallway are lost on this game.
Then we get the sections that it’s clear they took from a previous work, Outlast – the moving around and hiding sections from a monster that you can’t kill. These sections got very tedious, very quickly. It was so easy to predict where the monster would be, so all the tension that could have come from hiding from the creature was lost in a nano-second. I found myself wishing that they could have just ditched those entirely for maybe more creative environmental puzzles in the world of people’s minds. For all the potential the idea of jacking into people’s heads has, they really seemed to not want to take any crazy chances with it. I can think of 100 ways to make it a surreal nightmare all off the top of my head that they didn’t even try. I kind of want to see this idea done again by a studio that is a little more ambitious. Maybe Kojima can take a crack at it after he is done with Death Stranding? Just a good idea.
Which brings me to the fear element – this game isn’t scary. At all. They really should have ditched the fear side. I guess the fear is supposed to come from the idea of what it means to get into people’s heads and how that is violating their minds. But here’s the thing – 99% of everyone you jack into is dead. This concept could have been made immediately more disturbing if you had living people who are desperately fighting you in their minds from getting to their secrets. Like maybe have an investigation where the Observer is so desperate to get to the answer that he’ll do all sorts of crazy shit in people’s head. As I said, this is a really neat concept, that I want to see done better.
I guess my biggest problem here is that this game feels like a ton of potential that wasn’t wasted, per se, just not taken far enough. If they wanted to make a game where the implication of what you’re doing is supposed to be the scary thing (which I like on a VERY large level), then why not go all the way with it? I mean REALLY fuck with the player. Make it so that the player feels like they are partly to blame. Have them also so eager to get to the answer that they are pushing the main character to do all these things. Maybe some Fourth Wall moments where you put on the player that what they’re doing is wrong. So much potential in this thought process.
This is not a bad game. I just got very bored by it. To me it feels like a game that is riffing off other games and doesn’t go out of its way to be its own thing. Which is a bummer, because the kind of game I described above, I can see Rutger Hauer being an amazing addition to. Hopefully this isn’t his last foray into video games before he passes. He is quite old. It will be a shame when he goes. He’s a great actor, and has the chops for great voice acting too. But that’s just my thoughts. Let me know what yours are below.
6 out of 10