Saturday, July 4, 2020

Observation (Xbox One) Review

Observation is a space puzzle game that was released on May 21st, 2019 for the PlayStation 4 and Windows PCs and for the Xbox One on June 25th, 2020. The game was developed by studio No Code and published by Devolver Digital. The game is available to play (as of the date of this review) on Microsoft's Game Pass on either a PC or an Xbox One which is what I played on.

The setting of Observation is a space station set in Earth orbit called Observation. The station is run by a number of different countries including Europe, China, and Russia. The station is inhabited by seven crewmembers but you do not play as one of them. Instead, you play as SAM (Systems Administration & Maintenance), the artificial intelligence system that runs the station, similar to HAL 9000 from 2001 A Space Oddysey.

As the game begins there has been an incident and there is only one astronaut in contact with you. With her help, you begin to regain control of the station while also looking for the missing astronauts as well as trying to figure out what is happening.

I really like the way the game plays. You'll be given instruction by an astronaut and then you control SAM's computer by carrying out whatever command you are given. You'll scan audio to verify if an astronaut has authorization or realign modules so the astronauts can enter a section. You'll turn the station's power on by interacting with the reactor or combine pieces of information you'll find into a complete file on station personal.

The way you interact with the station is through two means. The first is with cameras that are in each segment of the space station. Most compartments have at least one camera and most have two to three. Each of these cameras can be moved and zoomed wherever they can physically be pointed. The other way is with spheres. You, as the stations AI, can transfer yourself into it and travel through the station and even into space between different parts of the station. The spheres have little thrusters that you can use to control your movement through space just like a vehicle in space would.

Without giving away too much of the plot I'll say that something has happened to the station and crew and quickly you find out that the space station has moved from Earth orbit all the way to Saturn and that you only have contact with a single astronaut. As you start to put the clues together you learn that there is much more going on than you first thought.

The space station looks very authentic and it really helps to set the mood of the game. I really felt like an astronaut moving around in microgravity just like real-life astronauts. The look and technology are very close to our modern equivalent and I would find myself just exploring the station while pretending I was on the ISS for real.

The puzzles, for the most part, are easy enough but it sometimes can be a bit obtuse in what you need to do and I'll admit once or twice I had to go online to figure out what I had to do. Overall I enjoyed the puzzles and the way they are presented makes them feel less like a puzzle and more like you're actually on a space station using the technology to solve problems.

My only real gripe with the game is the fact that I couldn't figure out a way to save the game. I understand that they want you to play the game in one sitting and with the game itself taking around five hours that is possible but in the modern world it isn't really doable. Except during intense moments, you can pause the game to take a break or go to the bathroom but if you need to leave the house you can pause the game and hope it's still going when you get back.

This did happen to me while I played and when I came home my Xbox One was off and when I reloaded my game I had lost a bit of my progress but it was only a couple of minutes and nothing big. One thing I did notice was that when you leave the game to do something else on my Xbox I could come back and the game would still be paused. Other games on my Xbox will also do this but most games will only let you switch between one or two apps and if you've spent hours on your Xbox and come back to a game it will usually have to reload back to the title screen.

The only time this happened with Observation is when my Xbox One was actually turned off. I guess that's better than nothing but I would have liked a save button even more.

In the end, I have to say I very much enjoyed the time I spent in Observation. If you like modern realistic space travel, think NASA and not Sci-Fi like Star Trek, and puzzle games then this game could be up your alley. I give Observation an 8 out of 10!

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