Halloween may have come and gone, but we’re not ready to stop reviewing horror titles just yet. Up today are Bloober Team’s second crack at Observer with Observer: System Redux, and the P.T-inspired visage, which is definitely in the running for the creepiest title of the year.
Observer: System Redux
Observer wasn’t released that long ago, and was actually still on my backlog of games to complete after abandoning it halfway through about a year ago. When the remade/remastered System Redux version was announced, I shelved that plan and waited for the new next gen release instead. Originally scheduled as an Xbox exclusive on consoles, it was also just released (as a surprise) for the PS5 when it launched. Passing both of those versions by, I played it on a PC.
Mixing horror and cyberpunk (a bit like this year’s Transient from Iceberg), Observer is largely unchanged but does feature a few gameplay modifications on top of the visual boost that comes with the ‘next gen’ treatment that the game received. If you stick to the core narrative you won’t notice much of a difference, but System Redux features three additional missions that add to the lore and world building while at the same time making sure they organically fit with what was already there.
The more eye-catching changes, especially for players who previously played Observer, are technical in nature. This was also a game full of mood and atmosphere, but this new version features much-improved lighting effects that makes scenes look far more realistic and less like a computer effect. Picture neon lights shining through a thin layer of fog – it’s something I’ve never seen portrayed in a videogame this convincingly. The lighting system also makes the visuals a bit less dark, giving the details in the environment more opportunity to pop out at you.
Character (facial) models have also been improved, and this is most apparent when looking at Rutger Hauer’s Daniel Lazarski. Now on par with some of the AAA titles out there, it’s almost like seeing the recently passed actor as though he was being filmed rather than computer-generated. This isn’t just visually impressive, it also brings the characters more to life than before. With so few truly next gen releases available at launch, I could see this being a great showcase for owners of a new console.
One gameplay tweak I noticed was the option to completely automate the hacking experience, which was and is a minigame if you keep the option unchecked. I personally enjoyed the diversion of the minigame as a break in the tension, but I also know that plenty of people weren’t a fan so they’ll be happy they can now skip right by them.
If you’ve already played Observer and weren’t considering a second playthrough then this will be a hard sell for you, but for anyone who was always at least a little bit interested or hadn’t finished it yet, this is easily the best version of the game out there. Highly polished, this is what a remaster should look like.
Visage proves once again that a relatively unknown studio can pull off a great horror experience. The studio in question is SadSquare Studios, and their P.T.-inspired game Visage is a must-play for horror fans on both PCs and consoles.
As with the infamous demo mentioned above, Visage creates an unnerving atmosphere that grips you right away and never really lets you go. It’s not perfect and some of the aspects from P.T. that I wasn’t a fan of can also be found here, but it’s certainly up there with the best scary games this season. If you’ve played it, picture the P.T. demo and stretch that experience out to include an entire house and its surroundings, and you have a pretty good idea.
The opening moments of Visage give you a false sense of security, as you’re free to explore the house and get your bearings. It’s not a happy house and it’s got a dark history, but you don’t feel like you’re in direct danger just yet. That changes once you trigger the first story beats and reality starts to shift all around you, with things that appear out of nowhere or seems to have changed while you weren’t looking. This is when Visage turns into a tense experience of psychological horror where you don’t know what to expect, but you know it’s not going to be good.
The sound design definitely adds to the sensation as well, with atmosphere coming from weather conditions outside of the house as well as subtle and not-so-subtle sound effects coming from within. And while you do have to break down doors to progress every now and then, Visage isn’t an action/survival horror game, but more a title that relies on suspense and dread. Hiding in the dark doesn’t help you either, because that ultimately unnerves your character and summons monsters.
But while Visage works great in how it creates atmosphere and sheer terror, it’s also a game where players will miss a sense of direction at times. With P.T, even though it was a short demo, I still had to look up “what do I do now?”, and Visage follows a similar (lack of) pattern. In a few cases, I was just randomly looking at things to see if it would trigger something, which takes a bit of the edge off because you feel you’ve reached a point where nothing will happen anymore (until you somehow start up the next sequence). What doesn’t help is that so many of the items in the house are interactive as well. That may sound weird (because you also don’t want the opposite to be true), but item and inventory handling isn’t very streamlined and thus time-consuming.
With something like a hint system (perhaps optional) to help streamline the experience, Visage could be right up there with the likes of Silent Hill and Resident Evil. As it stands, it’s an excellent but flawed horror experience that is absolutely worth playing after you’ve wrapped up the new Amnesia game.