Published by Aspyr
Available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One
Rated M for Mature
I’m getting old. There was a time when the most eratic of flashing lights and thunderous of random screams would only excite me. Bring on the visual holocaust of lights and colors, I can take it! The more your monster makes my screen shake like I took bad acid during an earthquake, the better. I don’t know when exactly I became an old man, but >Observer_ definitely showed me that I am. Along with the typical video game photosensitivity warning, the game should come with two Advil and a Dramamine.
I supposed I should tell you what the game is about before I get into how it all gave me a migraine. >Observer_ is a bit old to be reviewing at this point, initially released back in August. But with the Game of the Year list on the horizon, I’m trying to knock out all of the games that should be contenders that I happened to miss. I loved Bloober Team’s previous game Layers of Fear, so I was actually excited for >Observer_. No real good reason why I didn’t play it sooner, but here we are.
The world of >Observer_ is cyberpunk for the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. generation. All that is bright and glossy exists to cover up a thick layer of decay and filth, and only just barely. The megacorporation Chiron controls all of future Poland, enforcing their will with a team of elite police called Observers. It’s within the ranks of these titular Observers that we meet our hero, Dan Lazarski (Rutger Hauer). After receiving a call from his estranged son Adam, Dan rushes off to a decrepit tenement building populated by lowly Class C citizens.
I’ll keep this all spoiler free, but the basic premise is that you have to investigate a string of murders using your special Observer powers. Equipped with two different Detective Vision modes, you’ll scan crime scenes for both biological and electronic evidence to piece together what happened. More importantly, Observers have the power to jack into a person’s brain and explore their memories. This manifests itself as a series of surreal snippets of interconnected thoughts. Each piece is individually confusing, but woven together creates a loose picture of tragedy, misfortune, death, and sometimes even love. Think Psychonauts meets Silent Hill.
<i>>Observer_</i> has plenty of direction, but overall the four story building is open to explore from early on. Most of your interaction with the tenants will be over intercoms on their doors, as early on the plot locks the building down, trapping everyone inside. There are plenty of colorful characters to stumble across, as long as that color is somewhere between red and pitch black. Each of them is fucked up in their own way, contributing to the overall hopelessness of the world. There are a few side quests to stumble across, each confronting a different difficult question you’ll have to answer to resolve things. It’s all disturbing, but that cerebral kind that tests your morals beyond typical video game convention.
There’s a great deal of backstory and snippets of the outside that gives the overall world a much grander scale. You’ll learn about gene splicing, a mysterious plague called the Nanophage, the omnipresent Chiron corporation, vast VR networks, cults of unaugmented humans, and a number of other things that gives >Observer_ the sense of something much grander beyond the walls of the building you’re trapped in. Despite the breadth of the universe it seeks to create, the story of >Observer_ is actually very focused.
While most games would seek to tackle these grand sweeping problems—cure the Nanophage, take down Chiron, free the world from corporate oppression, wake everyone up from their VR slumber, etc.—>Observer_ is content to just solve the one little problem of Dan and his son. The murder mystery is all in service of that, and even the big plot twist at the end doesn’t go beyond the little moral struggle of Dan. Focusing on Dan and his investigation lets the game be much more personal than most cyberpunk settings would allow for. Even in this strange world (and even as a half machine mind reading thought policeman), Dan is human.
So far I’ve been pretty much all praise for >Observer_, and it deserves it. Unfortunately, the exceptional craft and artistic vision of >Observer_ makes the shortcomings all that much more abrasive. My big one I already mentioned. I seriously felt like this game was punching me in the face with its visuals. Don’t get me wrong, the game is absolutely beautiful. But the amount of times I had to pause and give my eyes a break was staggering. Some segments with silhouette figurines bouncing around like a topical YouTuber made me physically ill. It sucks, because I really wanted to take in every inch of this world. But some of it felt like staring at needles quickly and repeatedly pricking right into my pupils.
They also had a real chance here to make an interesting split between the real world and the world of memories. It does this at the start, with each being horrifying in its own way. The world of memories is erratic, surreal, and free from the constraints of physical law. It can be as horrifying as you want, as unreal as you want, and as metaphoric as you want. The real world is terrifying because of just how far humanity has fallen. People live in abject squalor, gladly accepting the eyes of less fortunate creatures to heal their own. All in service of plugging back into a virtual world while the real one dies around them.
And then Bloober Team just had to go and cock that up by making the real world turn into the same non-euclidean, surreal mess as the dream world. There were some really awesome segments—like the holo-room I had to detective vision my way through—but when the walls started bleeding and doors led to looping paths on different floors the game lost me. The game tries to explain it away by saying you were “going mad,” but I really don’t like it when going mad just means the walls turn to jam and you teleport around like a Portal challenge map.
“Hey Ted, that’s basically what Layer of Fear did, and you liked that!” Well yes voice in my head, but Layers of Fear was never meant to be taken at face value. Whether it was all metaphor, a trip through purgatory, the fever dream of a madman, or whatever, it was always supposed to exist in the realm of the unreal. >Observer_, on the other hand, needs to have one foot in the real world for the story and its consequences to be taken seriously.
That all being said, >Observer_ is a fantastic experience. The hacked together, barely functioning building reflects its residents. Even if the distant Class A cities are all shiny and chrome, here in the boonies life is horror. It’s genuinely disturbing, and frightening beyond the frequent jump scares. Never one to pass up a pun, >Observer_ is well worth… checking out.
The hacked together, barely functioning building reflects its residents. Even if the distant Class A cities are all shiny and chrome, here in the boonies life is horror. It’s genuinely disturbing, and frightening beyond the frequent jump scares. Never one to pass up a pun, >Observer_ is well worth… checking out.
American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.
In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!
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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
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American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
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