Observer PC Reviews

Observer

After Blade Runner implanted itself into the minds of moviegoers back in 1982, elements of its cyberpunk world and story would echo throughout pop culture for decades to come. Despite writers, filmmakers and game designers telling stories in similar worlds with outstanding results, the familiar dark rainy streets, grimy neon lights, and cautionary tales of body augmentations remained seemingly steadfast. With that in mind, it’s a small revelation to see Polish studio Bloober Team take early cues from these influences and use them as a springboard to create something new and exciting with Observer.

Set in the year 2084, Observer tells the story of Daniel Lazarski (played by Blade Runner’s Rutger Hauer), a detective who works the despair-ridden streets of Krakow under the direction of the leading corporation of the Fifth Polish Republic, Chiron. The world at large has gone to ruin. A digital plague killed thousands of augmented people and a colossal war wiped out any previous global superpowers. Thanks to this all-consuming conflict, Chiron rose from the ashes and became the leading authority and manufacturer of basically everything. Lazarski takes jobs from his contact at Chiron and using his body tech, is able to violently jack into the minds and memories of people (alive or dead) to track clues and solve crimes. Hence his official job title: Observer.

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Lazarski gets called to a slum in the worst part of Krakow and this is where the majority of the game takes place. Citizens are divided into classes and this bleak Class C district is bursting at the seams with desperate, frightened people hiding in their rancid apartments and whose only escape from the absolute hell of their daily lives is drugs–chemical or technological.

Essentially a detective story, Observer almost immediately becomes more than the sum of its parts. Talking to residents, examining crime scenes and deciphering clues make up a lot of the gameplay here but it is all housed inside gorgeously detailed environments, the twisted memories of deranged strangers, and one of the most intriguing cyberpunk narratives in years. There’s a constant sense of the towering dark skyline of the city but you’re too focused on putting your hands in the muck to feel like you’re missing out on anything greater. The society that has been carved out in this apartment building is all that matters and it’s here that Observer starts to pull away from its influences and blaze its own unique trail.

Told from a first-person perspective, Lazarski slowly unravels events with his augmented technology by scanning crime scenes for either biological or electronic evidence (either of which can reveal different clues). He also makes use of his “Dream Eater” augmentation, which is designed to observe people’s minds. Throughout the course of the game, it is these extraordinary sequences that present the horrific story beats in psychedelic, surreal ways.

From terrifying nightmare worlds, low-tech video game holograms and game designs that border on mad genius, both you and Lazarski emerge from these sections mentally exhausted but also instantly compelled to push forward to find out what happens next. Exploration, discovery and human interaction drive the narrative forward. In these bloody crime scenes and filthy apartments, the ability to open a door inches at a time adds another sense of sweat-soaked tension. Being in the moment is all that matters and every movement you make, whether it’s scanning ID tags on illegal body mods or sneaking a look at the tenant list before the janitor comes back, pushes you deeper into Observer’s illusion.

Another key feature that helps this universe emerge fully formed is the outstanding sound design. Hallways creak as you stalk from door to door, listening to bizarre noises rising from each apartment. The crackle of terrified residents through speakers, broken video screens blasting static and the cacophony of rainstorms envelope you in an uncomfortable tale. Mixed with the truly disturbing sounds coming from somewhere in the basement and Arkadiusz Reikowski’s ominous industrial music and Observer’s clutches become almost impossible to escape.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of moments that are frustratingly jarring. More than once, you are forced to engage in some instant-fail cat-and-mouse sequences that really don’t fit with the rest of what Observer is trying to achieve. However, they are brief and are over within a few minutes. Problems like this are quickly forgotten when you’re lost in a discussion with a tenant telling you about his religious order which rejects body modifications or slowly discovering the oppressive extent of Chiron’s reach, from desktop computers to picture frames. Everything is covered in a film of grime. Random neon lights sputter in and out of life in the hallways and obsolete technology is bolted onto apartment doors making it clear that nobody of importance cares about this corner of the city.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10 No Caption Provided That’s why Observer succeeds as well as it does. Every scene adds a meaningful piece of the puzzle to a world and a story that you want to immediately know more about. It consistently presents surreal moments and surprises that would seem like, on paper, the work of lunatics. However, in this grimy and hopeless corner of Krakow, they feel completely at home. The writing for even the most fleeting of characters (even dead ones) feels genuine. Every person here, from crappy parents yelling at their kids while talking to you through a grimy video screen to abstract constructs of lost souls trapped in their own minds, has a convincing life of their own and that commitment to detail make Lazarski’s descent into this future hell, and his own personal demons, all that more compelling.

Cyberpunk is a reflection of where we’re headed as a society, an oddly alluring reality where we’ve allowed impressive technology into our lives at the cost of our humanity. This is a niche genre that needs new revisions and new pioneers so it can keep evolving as we inch closer to seeing its fictional warnings play out in real life, and Observer adds to the familiar parables in fascinating and unexpected ways. In that respect, and on so many other levels, Observer is a haunting and remarkable achievement.

Fortnite Early Access Review

Fortnite Early Access Review

GameSpot’s early access reviews evaluate unfinished games that are nonetheless available for purchase by the public. While the games in question are not considered finished by their creators, you may still devote money, time, and bandwidth for the privilege of playing them before they are complete. The review below critiques a work in progress, and represents a snapshot of the game at the time of the review’s publication.

Almost every moment of Fortnite is a chaotic mess–for better and for worse. It’s an action-packed shooter that knows how to encourage cooperation between team members. And, as a result, you’ll often build out hasty forts with friends to defend yourselves (and often some special MacGuffin tucked inside your base) from hordes of cartoonish beasts. That part is usually a thrill and highlights all the best pieces of what should be a solid formula: building bases with friends to defend against monsters. The reality of that is sullied far more often than it should be, however, by a staggering deluge of “content.”

Fortnite isn’t an easy game to describe. It staples together pieces of disparate genres into something new. It combines the construction elements and resource-gathering of Minecraft, the team-based shooting of Left 4 Dead and Gears of War, the quest design of a modern MMO, and the progression of any given free-to-play hit. It’s surprising that such divergent elements work together at all, but Fortnite definitely knows what it’s best at and tries to thrust you into ideal scenarios early.

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Fortnite is quite content to keep its writing and tone lighthearted. Instead of any serious moves to address what’s going on, you get a solid stream of jokes. Its zombies look about as threatening as a Furby (i.e., a bit creepy in the right light but otherwise harmless). If you’re trying to bust down a wall, it’ll pop and flex with each strike as if ripped from old Looney Tunes skits, and many character you find will be some over-the-top caricature of a classic disaster/horror-movie trope. Your main companion, for example, is a finicky bot that only partially knows how to run your shelter. From there, you organize expeditions to gather other wacky folks to join your band, all while seeking out whimsical tech, such as sky lasers, to help cleanse the world of ghouls.

The early missions teach you the basics of defense and shooting. After that, you’re tossed in with three or four other players and told to hold up against wave after wave of foes. You’ll be running lots of instances with other players you won’t know–though you will need their help. Most missions are challenging, and tackling things on your own generally isn’t advised.

Tearing through zombies with others is so easy to get right, but it’s here that Fortnite sets itself apart. The shooting is sharp and tight, without feeling too “clean” or artificial. Constant communication with the squad can help you focus on problematic monsters worming their way through your defenses. You can have someone set a trap in a weakened area or have a friend buttress a wall as you gleefully charge out and bounce grenades off of zombified crania. Unfortunately for us all, after a few minutes that mode ends and you enter what amounts to advanced inventory management.

These missions with others are a means to several ends. They’re how you gain experience and progress your character. They’re how you gather the materials you’ll need to make new weapons and build out your base. They’re also where you rescue and then retrieve survivors. Together, all of these elements become the other main thrust of the game. You use each of these to build up your base’s power, which is essentially your level. As you gather recruits, you’ll make squads and strike teams, each adept at handling different tasks. Then you’ll send them on missions to get more resources to feed into other parts of the system. In turn, every element feeds back into every other. Leveling can help you unlock slots for more squads so that you can launch more missions to get more gear and experience so you can unlock more slots, and so on.

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On first pass, this is awesome. It’s a prime example of a game working itself around a few core ideas that conspire to give you a lot to do. In combat, this usually works out pretty well–there’s always something to manage or coordinate–but once you leave, it’s obvious how deeply the game is intertwined with itself. You have to dig into the less engaging parts like strike team management in order to keep up with quests and combat challenges. That’s nice for a breather, but it also contrasts with all the other systems, highlighting their weaknesses.

Fortnite is designed to be free-to-play, but for now, at least, it isn’t. That shouldn’t be as big of a deal as it is, but it’s impossible to get around. Much of the game is built to burn time. You have energy meters in the form of research that your pack of survivors conducts. These meters place limits on progression in that they’re a resource you must wait to accumulate. At the same time, they’re engineered to keep you coming back, since you can only store so many points before they need collecting. If you have substantive experience with mobile free-to-play games, you can see where this is going.

Fortnite loves giving you extra things to do and stats to pore over. There are stats for each of your different heroes, for the defenders, for the research team. There’s your personal inventory and progress that’s tied to your account. And then there are also levels for each of your characters–and you can get dozens of these folks. Each of them can be trained, outfitted, and upgraded and then placed into teams that you can align based on personality types for maximum statistical benefit.

It’s awesome to have that sense of progression tied not to you, but to your group as a whole. It makes this apocalypse feel survivable and gives you a constant sense of growth. The problem is that most of these activities aren’t interesting in and of themselves. Instead of fleshing out all these ideas, the game only gives you the option to crunch for better numbers. All of the base-building and combat elements are linked, too, so if you’re not keeping up one piece, the logistics of your operation will screech to a halt for lack of one or another resource. For completionists, that will certainly have an appeal, but others will drop the grind.

Content dominates in Fortnite. There’s so much to do–so many skills to unlock, heroes to find, quests to finish, and llamas to whack–that it can choke on itself at times. In the fleeting moments it feels focused, however, it makes a grand case for itself. There’s nothing quite like scrambling to coordinate with your team to build out some extra turrets as you all blast away in a last-ditch effort to save a mission. These moments, for now, simply don’t come as often as they need to. The good news, though, is that Fortnite’s issues are solvable. They’re a matter of balance and tuning and expanding upon on what’s there.

Pyre PS4 and PC Reviews

Pyre Reviews

Editor’s note: Pyre was designed and written by former GameSpot editor in chief, Greg Kasavin.

Competitors strive to win. Criminals yearn for freedom. These pursuits go hand in hand in Pyre, the latest game from Bastion and Transistor developer Supergiant Games. And like those games, Pyre enchants your eyes and ears with beauty at every turn. But this time around, its greatest feat is the unrelenting pull of its characters, a mix of passionate beings that fight for salvation, revenge, and revolution.

That isn’t to take away from Pyre’s unlikely mix of fantasy RPG elements and–of all things–sport. You are one of many exiles unjustly trapped in the purgatory-like Downside for crimes against the Commonwealth, but exiles that manage to win enough competitions known as “rites”–3v3 matches that incorporate elements of football and basketball–have a chance at redemption. Your journey to build a team of champions takes you across the Downside and back in search of challengers and new skills, with each match bringing you closer to understanding your allies’ and enemies’ motivations.

Your basic objective during a rite is to maintain possession of an orb while sprinting, dodging, and leaping towards your opponent’s goal on the opposite end of the court. Run it in, throw it in, or jump overhead into the goal to douse the opposing team’s pyre and reduce its energy. If a team’s pyre is depleted, they’ve lost the match. You only control one character at a time, and will frequently switch control among your triumvirate to jockey for position on the field, or to take advantage of the nine classes’ unique offensive and defensive maneuvers. When Pyre hits its stride, rites become fast-paced mind games that call upon your ability to turn on a dime and come up with new strategies under tense circumstances.

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One rule in particular pushes you to consider all of your options when it comes to scoring against the other team. Should you physically carry the orb into their goal, the character who scores will have to sit out until the next goal. This can be negated, however: you need only throw the orb into the goal instead. Shooting the orb rather than carrying it comes with its own risks, as the shooter must charge up an arc according to the distance to the goal. In process, that player is vulnerable to attack from the other team. The penalty for being attacked is a temporary banishment from the court for a few seconds, which can leave your own goal open to attack. Weighing the pros and cons of shooting versus rushing is one of many negotiations you must make, often with little more than a second to make up your mind.

Pyre is worth playing for its exciting matches alone, but what makes it worthy of renown is how it leverages the tension of competition to tell a captivating story. Like Roman gladiators, the characters you bring into battle are ultimately competing for freedom. Lose these pivotal liberation rites, however, and kiss that chance goodbye. With a fixed number of liberation rites throughout the story, you have limited chances to help your friends. And while it can be heartbreaking to watch your opponent ascend rather than one of your party members, there are bigger stakes at play that weigh heavier as time goes on.

Your team operates under the tutelage of a revolutionary figure with plans to overthrow the corrupt Commonwealth–it will only work if you effectively liberate enough characters in your party to fight the good fight at the end of campaign. It behooves the cause, then, to put your best characters forward, but sending off champions is bittersweet as you have to say goodbye and carry on with less experienced characters. And no matter what, when the final rite passes, those who remain must relinquish hope and live out their remaining days in the Downside. Having control over who stays and who leaves (and when) allows you to shape the relationships and interactions that define your journey, and your outlook on the conflict at large.

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Were it not for Pyre’s elegantly written characters, the consequences of your decisions wouldn’t carry nearly as much weight as they do. Every exile you meet bears a unique backstory and personality, and the nine that join your cause stir up emotions both in you and among each other. Hedwyn’s unrelenting optimism, for example, becomes all the more meaningful when you understand that it’s a coping mechanism for constant heartbreak. Pamitha, a cold and fearsome Harpy, seems less imposing and more fragile by the time you realize that her family ties complicate her position on your team. You feel proud when a rite is won and you’ve guided a dear friend to freedom, but failure and guilt are only a few mistakes away–a very real threat in the latter half of the game.

But win or lose, your journey continues. There are no game over screens, only bad endings if you rack up enough losses. Regardless of the outcome of an individual rite, your exiles earn experience towards enlightenment and get to choose between a small selection of special abilities as they level up. You can also acquire talismans to benefit individual characters or the team at large. Beyond who you take into rites, and who you converse with during your limited downtime, character progression and customization is yet another way that Pyre allows you to personalize your journey.

Although Pyre is designed to be replayed and supports that quite well through the power of choice, you thankfully aren’t required to restart the game in order to jump back into competition. A local versus mode gives you the chance to compete outside of the campaign, which is appreciated given that there are less than 30 matches throughout the story. With every character (including your various opponents) and item unlocked, versus mode also allows you to explore the full potential of the Pyre’s roster in ways the campaign doesn’t. The only catch to PvP is that rites are at their best when you’re on even footing with your opponent, and it only takes a few matches with less experienced players to highlight the conspicuous absence of online play.

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Pyre’s competitive side is a wonderful surprise, both for how it introduces a brand new sport and for how it seamlessly connects to a narrative filled with heartfelt characters and tragic circumstances. But it’s all held aloft by relentlessly beautiful artwork and a masterful soundtrack packed with a diverse selection of genres and instrumentation. Every inch of the lush Downside, and every second of your journey, is a delight for the senses.

And thus it’s all too easy to fall in love with Pyre. It’s immediately attractive. Its songs dance in your head long after they debut. And before you know it, you find yourself driven to get better at rites and perform at the top of your game. Likewise, you can’t help but reflect on your partners in the Downside–those you trained, as well as those you neglected. Supergiant Games has created something special that lives on in your heart. And against great odds, it’s invented a sport that could have stood on its own without the story it’s attached to–but it’s so much better because it is.