Observation is a sci-fi thriller uncovering what happened to Dr. Emma Fisher, and the crew of her mission, through the lens of the station’s artificial intelligence S.A.M. Players assume the role of S.A.M. by operating the station’s control systems, cameras, and tools to assist Emma in discovering what is happening to the station, the vanished crew, and S.A.M. himself.
A new take on the space horror genre - pitting you as the rogue AI rather than the humans fighting it - that absolutely drips atmosphere, but lives or dies based on how absorbed in it you can get.
It's not a short game, clocking in at around 7 hours, but I'd nonetheless recommend trying to find time on a long night to play through it all in one sitting because it's difficult to get re-immersed if you come back to it mid-way through. Unfortunately though the game itself doesn't make that easy. About half of what you'll be doing as SAM - the System Administration & Maintenance AI - consists of interacting with various units in the space station and, not only is it sometimes unclear which one you need to complete your tasks, it's sometimes unclear if something's even interactable. Objects sometimes look interactive but have no prompt, sometimes they do have a prompt but activating it does nothing. This caused one particular occasion of frustrated wandering around to try and find the one thing I needed to interact with to progress, only to learn it was the Power Management Terminal that did nothing when I activated it half an hour ago and continued to do nothing until I reset the game. There was also a hard crash to desktop at the WORST possible time, mid climactic ending, that pretty much ruined the wrap-up of the game for me.
When not exploring the station the other half of SAM's duties are pop-up windows with - I'd hesitate to even call them puzzles - data entry tasks to activate various systems like re-routing comms and jettisoning modules. As the name of the game suggests, Observation is very light on the interactivity - if you're the type of person arguing that "walking simulators" shouldn't be classed as games this one probably isn't going to be for you - but it makes up for that with some stunning cinematography. Easily the high point of the game, the developers No Code have a real knack for creating powerful imagery and the design of Observation is up there one of my favourite space station designs in fiction. The only element of cinematography I found lacking was the not-quite-perfect transitions between cutscenes/gameplay and different environments. It might be that recent games like Ground Zeroes and God of War have spoiled me with their seamless camerawork but in a game like this where most of the cuts are from fixed camera angles it seems like a jarring omission.
The story Observation tells slowly unfolds at a pace that keeps it gripping throughout and, while the twists might hit as hard as intended, it ends strong by straddling that perfect line between over-explaining and leaving things too open to interpretation. It's just a shame it's bogged down by technical issues and the occasional tedious interactable hunting mission.