Monday 17 June 2019

Observation review: It's 2001 all over again

(PS4/PC) ★★★★ Age: 12+

Team Sonic Racing
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

We've been suspicious of AI ever since HAL refused to open the pod bay doors in Kubrick's masterful 2001. Observation wears its inspiration nakedly on its sleeve in this atmospheric thriller about an accident aboard an Earth-orbiting space station that leaves just scientist Emma Fisher alive.

The twist here is that you're the station's AI. Ostensibly, you're helping Fisher to bring the station back online and figure out where the hell everyone went. But buried deep in your coding is one overriding command: BRING HER. So your first rogue move is to silently reposition the crippled wreck into Saturn's orbit.

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Observation's creators know their Kubrick well, majoring in slow-motion pans across deserted metal hulls, unsettling crackling audio and flickering video feeds. It's eerie more than scary, but effective in establishing malicious intent. Your job as AI involves doing Fisher's bidding - opening airlocks, establishing links to data on laptops and generally dabbling in computer interface manipulations.

It's untaxing stuff, made cryptic by a lack of any gamey-style tutorials, but it serves to further the narrative. If it were set on Earth, you'd call Observation a walking simulator - that wrongly dismissive term to describe lightly interactive fiction. Let's call this a floating simulator then - but in zero gravity you'll still find a weighty story.


Team Sonic Racing

(PS4/XO/PC/Sw) ★★★★ Age: 3+

Team Sonic Racing

Everyone loves Mario Kart, that colourful madcap racer where chaos is an intrinsic ingredient. Team Sonic Racing slavishly mimics the formula, albeit with one significant variation as the title suggests.

Winning a race means nothing if your teammates finish well down the field because all your scores count towards the final figure. TSR requires you to boost your pals' track position (and they yours) by slipstreaming or side-swiping for bursts of speed. Meanwhile, collected power-ups become more effective if swapped between teammates.

TSR echoes a lot of what makes Mario Kart great and the teamwork mechanic introduces a new strategic element to the wacky races. But a lack of variety in the tracks and characters and a weird lootbox approach to the upgrade system leave it some way off the pace of Nintendo's classic.

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