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Observation review: Space-inspired Hollywood blockbuster in game form

Take control as a space station OS

Observation Xbox One Jupiter
(Image: © Observation)

The average temperature in space is around 2.7 kelvin (-455 degrees F), which is a slight shade warmer than my blood when playing Observation. Observation is a mini-masterpiece, in its own way. It's a strong opening for a game review, but let that speak for itself. Developers No Code is already well established with its interactive horror narrative games; you may be familiar with their BAFTA award-winning title, Stories Untold, Observation is the newest installment to the company's growing library of excellent horror content.

Taking place in deep space, this mysterious puzzle horror puts you in a Space Station OS. It dazzles with the brightness of a thousand suns, drawing influence from popular recent science fiction movies and outshining them all.

Observation: Blurring the lines between movie and game

As most games do these days, our story begins as Dr. Emma Fisher has regained consciousness aboard an international space station. What should have been a routine mission performing research in space has somehow landed her across the solar system under increasingly mysterious circumstances with apparent extraterrestrial influence.

Most of the crew are dead or missing, and she can't get back to Earth alone, which is where the player comes in. Taking control as SAM, the onboard AI operating system, you will assist Emma in investigating. With the smooth graphics and excellent voice acting, the game plays more like a film than a game.

CategorySpec
DeveloperNo Code
PublisherDevolver Digital
PlayersSingle-Player
GenrePuzzle, Indie
PlatformsPC, Xbox One , PS4, Nintendo Switch
Cross-playYes
Age-ratingMature
Price$20 - $30 or free with Game Pass

With no physical body to navigate at first, SAM swaps between different terminals. This method of hopping between terminals and controlling hatches via the internal OS allows Emma to progress through the station, but you won't be focused too much on what she is doing. You'll be using your machine brain to solve puzzles; but, the beautiful part of Observation is that it doesn't feel like a puzzle game. It's balanced very well with "mundane" tasks performed in a unique way, and duties which become increasingly more difficult and long-winded.

Players are encouraged to explore as much as they can, collecting data through various means, such as scanning documents that will deliver more information relating to the story and the crew. This becomes slightly addictive, although you can quickly get lost when seeking out documents in new areas.

Observation Xbox One Spacestation

Source: Observation (Image credit: Source: Observation)

I was always on the lookout for new things to pair with. SAM pairs with a device using onscreen button prompts, similar to pairing a Bluetooth device in real life, which will grant access to its juicy data for you to read and fill in backstory, or help you solve puzzles. When I got lost, I saved myself a lot of frustration by using the map marker, which pops up on the screen, showing you where you need to go.

After a short time, SAM will be able to inhabit small drones, which will perambulate you through zero gravity. With 360 degrees vision from turning on both axis and forward movement, you can zip through the adjacent hubs into new zones. The only penalty to knocking into something is a slight vision blip, which I found weirdly endearing.

Sounds, playtime, and creepy sci-fi fun

Observation Xbox One Bring Her

Source: Observation (Image credit: Source: Observation)

Observation's music is on par with a movie score. The soundtrack is greedily atmospheric, sucking the air from your lungs as though you'd just popped your space helmet off. I highly recommend using headphones if you want a delicious taste of space seppuku. Sometimes beautiful but almost always eerie, binaural tones will massage your brain, or assault your senses. It gives the game a little something extra.

The soundtrack is greedily atmospheric, sucking the air from your lungs.

The thrills don't last terribly long, though. Being a short game of around 3-5 hours (depending on how lost you get), the pacing of the plot that is overtly delivered is just right. You could devote more time to going back and looking for more research and data because I didn't pick up everything on my first play, but I got more than was required for the plot to progress.

At first, the suspects responsible for moving the space station and damaging the equipment seem apparent. Is it the crew commander? Dr. Fisher's potential lover? One of the other crew members? In the end, you'll end up asking yourself more questions as you play, so just enjoy the cryptic ride. Plus, one of my favorite things about the game is how it stages and frames the scenes for high impact. Couple this with the immense soundtrack, which complements so well, the game is, at times, jaw-dropping.

Since Observation is pretty heavily story-based, I've tried to steer clear of too many spoilers, but if you're a fan of films set in space, you will feel themes and influences. A couple of movies I'd loosely compare this to would be Sunshine, The Martian, Interstellar, The Cloverfield Paradox, and Arrival.

What you might not love about Observation

Observation Xbox One Death By Space

Source: Observation (Image credit: Source: Observation)

There aren't many negative things to say about Observation. I experienced a couple of texture glitches, which suggested some kind of nebulous black hole was being stored behind a port hatch, but that was the only thing I noticed. When you get the ability to use drones to move around the space station, it was not as fun or as easy as I wished at times due to moving on all axis.

As well as this, since the space station is so large and much of it looks the same as the rest of it, it is easy to find yourself a long way from where you actually need to be. Still, I don't see that as an overall detriment to the game because it doesn't take up too large a majority of the time you will spend as SAM.

Should you get Observation?

Observation is a great way to spend a few hours to soak up some generous achievements. The story is engaging and twisted through the tubes of spacetime and will leave you wondering. As a true space-head, I felt elated by the end of it. A chilling score, coupled with even colder visuals set in deep space, makes for a great experience.

With an intriguing and sometimes fiddly twist on standard mechanics from the perspective of artificial intelligence, Observation is a deep-space mystery with lots to offer. Great visual framing and icy soundtracks push Observation into overdrive, delivering a game that feels like a movie, or a film you can interact with. You can grab this title on Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, or play it on Steam right now.

Lauren Relph is a games writer, focusing on Xbox. She doesn't like piña coladas but loves getting caught in the rain. Follow her on Twitter!

5 Comments
  • Tried this previously, could get past the first 5 mins. May have to give it another shot.
  • It took me about an hour of attempting to figure out everything off and on for a couple of days before I got into it. Its certainly something that you need to focus on and go through in one sitting. I'm actually glad I missed some achievements and had to replay it so I could appreciate it the 2nd time. Its a great mix cinematic and game. Very 2001'ish!
  • May have to give it another shot. I was stuck when using the cameras. God knows what I was supposed to do.
  • "you may be familiar with their BAFTA award-winning title, Stories Untold" - I wasn't, but now I am. And I see I already have that via Epic Games. So, installing that right now.
  • Any game where I have to perform EVAs in space.... gives me chills. I know I'm not physically in danger in IRL, and yet, flying around outside space station where you don't know which way is up and the endless black.... I always get anxiety.