Observation - title

It's real refreshing to come across a science fiction game that isn't just about shooting aliens with laser guns or blowing up space ships. If you're in the market for a thoughtful, well-presented science fiction experience, then I highly recommend that you check out Observation. If you're also into horror, then even better, because this game definitely has some horror elements as well. They're much more subdued, but this game does do a fantastic job of creating a building sense of tension and intrigue as its over-arching mystery is slowly unfurled.

The gimmick here is that you play as a malfunctioning artificial intelligence on a near-future orbital research station. The game is presented as a sort-of found-footage narrative (think along the lines of the Apollo 18 horror movie) told entirely from the point of view of the on-board A.I. Something goes wrong, the crew are all missing and possibly dead, and you help the sole survivor try to find the remaining crew and piece together what happened to the station. Think along the lines of playing as the HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, or as Kevin Spacey's character in the [fantastic] movie Moon. You do this by jumping between different surveillance cameras (a la Five Nights at Freddy's, but, you know, with ambitions of being more than just a random jump-scare-generator). Through the cameras, you interact with various technology and station systems within your line of sight. You'll occasionally be asked questions or given commands by the surviving astronaut, and you chose how to respond.

You are an unreliable A.I.?

From the start, there's a certain degree of unreliable narrator going on. One of the very first actions that the game asks you to do is verify the identify of the surviving astronaut via her voice print. You are initially told that her voice print does not match, and you're given the option to accept or reject her voice print. If you reject, she'll repeat her authorization code, and you'll be told that it matches this time. Is she not who she seems? Are your own systems providing you with misleading information? Are your systems merely damaged? This creates an immediate sense of distrust. You (the player) don't necessarily trust the survivor, the survivor doesn't necessarily trust you, and you can't even trust your own perception and judgement.

From the start, it's unclear whether you can trust Emma, or whether she can trust you...

This immediately creates a dense atmosphere of intrigue and mystery and sets a level of tension that persists through the entire game.

This atmosphere is helped by the richly-detailed near-future space station that you inhabit. The visuals are immaculately detailed, and the station looks and feels like it could be modeled after the real-life International Space Station. The spaces are tight and claustrophobic. Accessories and stationary are strapped or velcroed to the walls, floors, ceiling, and desk surfaces in order to prevent them from floating off in the zero-gravity environment. Everything is believable.

The game further builds its atmosphere with its immersive U.I.. Every button press, command, and interaction has some in-universe context behind it that helps to keep you in the mind-space of your A.I. character. The U.I. is mostly easy to use, and most actions feel intuitive.

This game hooked me in with its setting and atmosphere, and I just had to keep playing to find out what happened and where this would go!

The space station and U.I. are believable and immersive.

...

[More]
Interstellar - poster
Interstellar is a rare hard sci-fi movie.

There has been a sad dearth of hard science fiction movies in recent memory. While comic book and alien invasion movies and the like have been proliferating (and some of them have been very good), there haven't been as many movies that have been willing to take science fiction subject matter seriously. The only mainstream releases that I can think of off the top of my head are District Nine, Inception, and Gravity, neither of which really wowed me. District Nine was alright, but I felt that its racism allegory fell flat since the aliens themselves considered the majority of their species to be mindless automatons. Inception was a fun ride, but nowhere near as clever or complicated as people made it out to be. And Gravity wasn't really "science fiction"; more like just "space drama" disaster porn.

That leaves the indie movie Moon and the surprisingly good Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as the only really good examples of high-brow science fiction that I can think of - and maybe Edge of Tomorrow can count as "medium-brow".

That's why I've been very excited about Christopher Nolan's new movie, Interstellar. It had all the trappings of a modern-day 2001: A Space Odyssey, which (confusing psychedelic ending aside - read the book!) is one of the best hard science fiction movies ever made. Interstellar definitely lived up to this expectation, but it's a much gloomier and more depressing epic than Arthur Clark and Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece.

The space travel plot is, in fact, almost identical to 2001. A crew must travel in hypersleep in an experimental spacecraft to investigate an anomaly around Saturn (the original 2001 book placed the monolith in orbit around Saturn, but it was changed to Jupiter for the film). The sleeping crew is even overseen by intelligent robots. The rising action has conspiratorial undertones, and the climax dives deep into metaphysical fringe science.

Interstellar - Saturn approach 2001: a Space Odyssey - Jupiter approach
Interstellar [LEFT] is very similar to Arthur Clark and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: a Space Odyssey [RIGHT]
in its detail-oriented depiction of space travel.

A lot of the science in the first half of the movie is solid, and it's actually integral to the narrative and drama between the characters. The second half takes a lot more creative license for the sake of plot. There are significant issues with relativity with regard to a black hole, metaphysical stuff about a "ghost", and some ham-fisted mumbo jumbo about the power of love transcending time and space. But despite some silly science, there's a very real possibility that audiences might leave the theater with a better understanding and appreciation of relativity.

So Interstellar definitely earns its comparisons to 2001...

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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