The atmosphere in a game can be just as memorable as the story or be a character itself. Fallout 3 proved this as the Capital Wasteland was a character all on its own. A great atmosphere is something that can draw you in and make you feel a part of the world.
Just like Soma, Obverser delivered an unrelenting atmosphere that is chilling to the bone, disturbing, and outright immersive. Not a single game this year touched Observer in terms of atmosphere. It was a let down storywise towards the end, but the entire play area of Observer tells its own interesting story.
Indie games are no longer becoming cute little distractions between AAA releases, they are now becoming the AAA releases as major companies have lost their imagination and ability to create new and unique experiences. Every year this just builds up more and never falters, with many of my most memorable games being indie, you should not overlook this category.
Cuphead is passion incarnate. I have yet to play an indie game that strives to be this original or stunningly beautiful. While the game is brutal, there’s no denying that the attention given is something we stopped seeing in major companies years ago.
Artistic graphics don’t necessarily mean the most impressive technically. They probably won’t push your system to its limits, but instead, provide a fantastic visual experience that you won’t forget.
Cuphead is one of the most visually pleasing games I have ever seen, using early 1900 Disney style visuals with inspiration from cartoons like Steam Boat Willy, Cuphead just looks and sounds like a piece of moving art. This isn’t just the most artistically impressive game this year but in gaming history. No other game out there looks and sounds like Cuphead.
Bloober Team is quickly becoming one of my favorite game developers. You may recognize them from Layers of Fear. Their style of single-player storytelling is unlike anything that you will see today in gaming. The horror factor is also kicked up to 11 in their games with frightening and surreal moments and scenes that put you on the edge of your seat and that will make you grind your teeth. Observer ditches to the early 20th-century theme and goes for 20 minutes into the future cyberpunk that is done so well. Observer’s cyberpunk setting is some of the best in gaming history as it captures the feeling perfectly.
The game starts out simple enough with you playing a cop named Daniel who gets a strange call from a man named Adam. He is told to investigate an apartment building that goes on lockdown. You stay in this building throughout the entire game and must solve simple puzzles and find your way through the narrative. There are two parts to the game, playing as Dan in the apartment building and when you jack into people’s minds while you investigate crime scenes. Investigating crime scenes isn’t as complicated as it seems. You switch between two different visions that allow you to see electronics and organic material. You can scan items that are highlighted and slowly unravel clues that help move the story forward.
Most of the game consists of wandering confusing hallways and talking to people through the intercoms on their front doors. The dialog will give you clues as to where to go next such as learning key codes, apartment numbers to investigate, and anything else the crazy story throws at you. This is where the game’s atmosphere really digs deeper than most games. There is no human contact in this game as you speak to everyone through doors and walls. It helps add to the sense of loneliness and desperation that the citizens on the lower levels of the city suffer. Every corner you turn is full of wires, monitors, computer banks, and propaganda from the government and corporations that run the world. The atmosphere is done brilliantly and will definitely stick with you long after you finish the game.
Like Layers of Fear, when you jack into someone’s brain you get to run through trippy drug-infused nightmares. Some are literally horrifying and frightening and that’s actually a good thing. Most of these segments are story and narrative-driven with very little interaction, there’s an occasional scary stealth sequence that adds plenty of tension, but nothing overwhelming or confusing. It was one of the things that made Layers of Fear so great as the gameplay sacrifice gave you an amazing audio/visual experience that you won’t forget.
Once you finish these jacked-in segments, you enter the real world again and move on to unraveling the story. There’s not much else to the game outside of this and it can be finished in about 5-6 hours depending on how often you get stuck. The story itself is a bit hard to understand and is very confusing, even at the end. I was hoping it was going towards more of a Soma vibe, which is still one of my favorite video game stories of all time. Almost everything is explained at the end with a couple of different endings, and while you feel the story is concluded, the middle of the game is very confusing.
Again, the reason to play this game is for the horror and atmosphere. The scary moments are actually scary and mess with your mind and that is very rare today in gaming. If you want a lot of gameplay then look somewhere else, honestly. I can’t find too much to be disappointed with outside of the story not being very clear, even at the end, and you can get stuck and lost too often in the game. If you loved Layers of Fear or even Soma, then you’re going to love Observer. This is already one of the best atmospherically driven story-based games this year.