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>OBSERVER_ : Impressions

I was immediately excited for this game. An investigative horror game set in a Blade Runner-y dystopia! Not only did I start thinking about re-reading everything by Philip K Dick, but I even started waving my bionic limbs around. Yes, that’s Smark excitement.

Unfortunately, dear reader, my love faded like an android’s dream. Please read on if you’re bothered about discovering why. Warning: it may not have this effect on everyone and it might not be the game’s fault. But it does mean I didn’t finish the game and is why this is a Switch Island think-piece rather than one of those reviews you’re used to.

You play as a cop (a rozzer, a boy in blue, a police officer), who has received a call from his estranged son, who’s calling from an apartment block in a down-and-out part of the city. You travel there and discover…well, you’ll have to play it; no spoilers from me.

The game does a really good job of simulating a Blade Runner type of world. Everything is futuristic but a bit broken, and you do feel like Deckard as you step out of your flying car into a rainy neon-lit courtyard. Plus, the protagonist is voiced by Rutger Hauer. ‘Who?’ ask the under thirties. He played the bad-ass replicant from Blade Runner. ‘What’s ‘Blade Runner’?’ Oh never mind. Google it, ask Alexa.

To use my parents’ generation’s slang, this game is a trip. With its atmosphere and first person dynamics, it feels like it should be a VR experience if it isn’t already. It really takes you with it as you explore disturbingly realistic apartment rooms, filled with detritus, kibble, and mutilated human remains. Your character has two special augmented reality views, one which scans for electronic devices and the other which scans for biological evidence. This sounds cool, and has great potential and interest, but in practical terms is a lot of switching back and forward to turn grey objects into coloured objects, and isn’t as well utilised as it could have been. But, I must admit I’m jaded now, and I was really enjoying it at the beginning; chasing down clues, questioning reprobates, commenting on things in a Raymond Chandler hard-boiled sort of way. To give a reference, the scanning is a bit Metroid Prime-y, not much, but hey this is a Nintendo site.

The plot is told through conversation, clues, comments and discoveries, rather than coshing you in the face with interminable cutscenes. I appreciate that, and there’s a handy menu for remembering different objectives to pursue based on what you’ve found so far (like a ‘bomber’s notebook’). I always felt like I had a place to go and explore,.

Audio-visually, there’s some fuzziness around the edges and especially in the distances, probably because this has been downscaled for Switch, and this makes it difficult sometimes to resolve objects and rooms as well as you might be expected to, but it’s good enough. I would love to try playing this on a different system though.

So: for a few hours I was really enjoying it. But then the game throws up a genius idea and quickly turns it into ‘not my cup of tea’. Basically, the cop has the ability to scan processors left inside dead bodies to find out about their lives through their memories, like an episode of Black Mirror I’m going to pretend exists and call Black Box. (Oh wow, I’m going to dive inside the memories of a mutilated dead person to look for clues for his/her final days? This is Smark excitement all over again.) I was a little scared by the prospect, but I wasn’t here for the Yoshis. But, in my opinion, the game totally screws up what happens when you hack these brain processor things. I was hoping to be able to explore the memories, like in Minority Report (also by Philip K Dick…Ooh, get me with the knowledge), but instead you face long, unskippable, linear sequences with opaque relevance to the investigation. These are technically interesting in a Portal sort of way, but I never felt at home with them because they removed the agency of the investigation. I never had a sense they were providing our cop with any useful intelligence. It was like these brain sequences had been created and shoe-horned into the game, rather than because they had any use. A bit like having a roller coaster in a supermarket. It might seem a blast, but why mum why?!

(I’m going to move to a new paragraph even though the topic hasn’t changed.) If you’re investigating, agency is everything. Imagine if Monkey Island’s Guybrush was forced into something as linear as a rollercoaster carriage…oh wait…dammit. But the biggest issue for me is something I get with rollercoasters (that’s why I’m continuing with this analogy): disorientation and boredom. The fuzziness of the Switch graphics plus having room after room dissolve, explode and reconvene like something the Improbability Drive would create, left me reeling and annoyed. I wanted to pull my cop protagonist outta there, and get back to exploring the awesome, 29th Century tenement building, scattered with clues, information and terror. But I couldn’t. And so, a little bit nauseous, a little bit annoyed, a little bit disappointed, I stopped playing.

All I can say is I hope this doesn’t happen to you. This game does so much right, and I really wish I could still play it. It just needs that last bit of Nintendo spit-shine to turn it into something magical. Unfortunately it forced me out.

So, that’s all I have to say. I’m sorry this isn’t a full review. This game is definitely worth trying. Don’t be put off.

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