We’re all well aware of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey being a masterpiece in modern narrative telling.
The movie was so ahead of its time that it still inspires people to create narratives that take away from a lot of elements of the movie. Among many works that have taken inspiration from the film, such as The Stanley Parable and Wall-E.
Observation is a game that directly takes full inspiration from the movie.
One of the acts of 2001: A Space Odyssey is mostly based in a spacecraft where astronauts are taking a mission to Jupiter and are assisted on the journey by the supercomputer HAL9000 (Heuristically Programmed Algorithmic Computer 9000) who claims he can make no error ever. There is evidence along the way in the movie that HAL 9000 is not just an AI but is also a sentient being.
Similarly, in Observation, instead of you seeing the game through the eyes of the sole surviving human astronaut, you are the sentient supercomputer named S.A.M (Systems Administration & Maintenance) in charge of assisting the astronauts aboard the space station Observation.
Most of the gameplay includes you seeing things through the cameras around the space station and running diagnostics, and playing minigames that involve puzzle solving to advance the narrative.
Main controls are through holding down specific keys and using the mouse to select and execute tasks. Although the gameplay is not your average action-packed space adventure where you have to fight aliens with big guns and explosives, the puzzle-solving and the amazingly interesting narrative keeps you going to find out what exactly is happening and where we are.
The game, as mentioned before, is directly inspired by Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but gives you a fresh new look towards things when instead of you taking the role of the human protagonist, you are the AI that we have seen in so many forms before but never experienced it in first person.
The game starts off telling you nothing but hinting at the fact that something went terribly wrong, and S.A.M had been offline for a while before being restarted either by Dr. Emma Fisher or itself.
As you assist Dr. Emma with different tasks and diagnostics, there is another entity or power of some source that is influencing S.A.M. These are moments where the player cannot do anything but helplessly watch and receive different messages such as “Bring Her.”
The mysterious elements of the narrative are exactly what drives you further and keep you exploring what has happened and what will happen?
A similar narrative telling we found in a game was Gone Home, where through the eyes of the protagonist, you have to find out where your family is in a vast empty mansion, which was also a very well-received game.
Throughout the game, there are different symbols that appear on the screen whenever S.A.M is taken over by the mysterious power that is controlling him.
It can be deduced that these symbols are a reply from otherworldly beings to the symbols we had on the golden record inside the voyager that was launched by NASA in 1977. The symbols were meant as a map for whoever found the voyager to understand the path to our galaxy and the anatomy of humans and their evolution.
The symbols appear to guide us (S.A.M) to take the ship to where the otherworldly beings or mysterious power wants us to go.
The sound and environmental design of the game is astounding. The voice acting of Kezia Burrows has all the emotions of a stranded human in space we are looking for, and Anthony Howell as S.A.M is strikingly similar to what HAL 9000 sounded like in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Although the voice acting is incredible, the same cannot be said about the facial expressions of Dr. Emma Fisher. There are instances where you would find problems with lip-syncing of the dialogue and her eyes not responding to the kind of emotions she is trying to portray.
The space station environment can actually give you the feeling that you are aboard a space station. With beautifully designed corridors, rooms, and hulls, you can easily see the level of detail put in and how similar it is to the current International Space Station orbiting the earth.
Although the map seems to be huge, after a little further into the narrative, you would become familiar enough with the environment to not need the map at all. Although there are some instances where you might find it a bit difficult to navigate as you won’t find a map outside the space station and might find yourself drifting for a long time before you realize you’re going in the wrong direction.
Overall, the game is a fantastic playthrough and is one of the best space-based narratives in a long time. In case you are a Kubrick fan, this game is definitely something that you have to play as it will recall all your favorite moments from the movie. Even if you haven’t heard of 2001: A Space Odyssey before this, you should play this game if you love unraveling mysterious narratives.
Developer Spotlight: No Code
No Code are an award-winning Entertainment Development Studio, based in Glasgow, Scotland. Formed in 2015 by Creative Director Jon McKellan and Managing Director Omar Khan, the team have established a multiple BAFTA Award winning and critically acclaimed reputation for exceptional storytelling, atmosphere, and game design in their original IP titles Stories Untold and Observation.