Observation review – you are the AI in this unsettling space-station thriller

PlayStation 4, PC; No Code/Devolver Digital
Making the player the mainframe in this 2001-inspired sci-fi aboard a space station gone wrong is inspired

A spacestation adrift. A lone crewmember in peril. A mission that’s not what it seemed to be. Observation’s setup is familiar from plenty of sciencefiction, from Moon to Gravity to Event Horizon – but this clever, creepy, extraordinary game is transformed by its perspective. Instead of playing as the endangered human, you are the AI that runs the space-station mainframe, SAM, looking on through fuzzy cameras and rerouting power to open locked hatch doors as astronaut Emma Fisher tries to figure out what’s gone so terribly wrong. It might not be your body in peril, but as a player, you feel it no less keenly.

The opening hours of Observation are extremely 2001: A Space Odyssey, from the premise to the colour palette to the vaguely threatening imagery involving abstract shapes. Later it pivots more towards Alien-inspired space-horror than Kubrickian unease. The suspense is enhanced greatly by your limited power over what’s happening, as you pan cameras around and examine schematics to fix up the station’s systems. These technical puzzles – finding and repairing a power generator, restoring cooling systems – make you think like a computer, analysing diagrams, holding information in your brain and looking for patterns. But you also have a computer’s limitations: when your OS is offline, or your power is failing, your station map fuzzed and glitching, you must rely on human help.

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