A space station has gone awry in Observation where an on-board AI must assist the only remaining occupant, a scared scientist, in determining what happened. Players are thrust into an interesting role as they become the lifeline to a human character as an AI in this curious science fiction thriller of a video game.
Observation released on May 21 for PlayStation 4 and PC .
Developed by Scottish studio No Code and published by Devolver Digital, Observation compiles a multitude of emotional cues and story elements to build an engaging narrative about an empty space station and a subtly terrifying mystery.
It does so by making numerous references to films that work on a science fiction “trapped in space” theme such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gravity, Life, Event Horizon and Interstellar – equally notable, many of these titles are thriller and horror titles.
Being trapped in space is easier when there’s a friendly AI to help you out
The player takes control of SAM – System Administration and Maintenance – an artificial intelligence aboard a multi-national science station in orbit around Earth. The job of SAM is to monitor and observe the goings-on of the station, keep the crew alive and make certain that everything runs properly.
Of course, at the beginning of the game, everything has gone terribly wrong, many of the systems onboard are offline and inaccessible and the crew is missing except for one Dr. Emma Fisher.
SAM is unable to interact directly with the world as a human would – that’s Emma’s job in the game. Instead, players act through SAM by observing and interacting with systems and sub-systems on the station by viewing them first on camera. This is necessary to help Emma move through the station by opening doors, suppressing fires and unlocking new parts of the station previously inaccessible.
As an “observer” first SAM’s role under player control informs game narrative
As the video game progresses, SAM gradually gains access to more and more systems and parts of the station. This also drives the story forward, which includes understanding the mystery of what happened to the rest of the crew.
That mystery is slowly borne out by building an idea of what the crew of the station as like by going through their personal quarters and looking at their daily activities.
The lens of SAM’s observation-only paradigm couples well with Emma’s emotional, human experience of remembering her friends as they were before she was left all alone.
Throughout the entire story, an ominous presence continuously intrudes into SAM causing problems and deepening the mystery and tension. An unknown transmission, possibly part of what created the situation in the first place, often subverts SAM while diagnostics are running and the story builds with the words: “BRING HER.”
Players must determine what this means, why it is happening and what it means for Emma.