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Before seeing 'Blade Runner 2049,' try this cyberpunk game

Observer, a new sci-fi PC game starring Rutger Hauer, borrows liberally from "Blade Runner," but adds its own psychological twists.

Dan Ackerman
Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings

The "Blade Runner" aesthetic, created by director Ridley Scott, futurist Syd Mead and many others, has remained deeply influential for 35 years. Even during the initial shooting of the 1982 film, those working on it referred to its massive futuristic urban city as "Ridleyville" (according to the definitive history of the film's production, "="">a book called "Future Noir"), and its dark, rainy, technology-infused urban planning can still be seen in countless movies, TV shows, comic books and video games.

Just before the release of the long-awaited sequel, "Blade Runner 2049," comes a video game that plays up its Ridleyville influences very openly. Observer, a new psychological sci-fi thriller from a team of Polish game developers, goes so far as to have "Blade Runner" actor Rutger Hauer as the face and voice of its protagonist, police investigator Daniel Lazarski.


That's the familiar-looking face of "Blade Runner" replicant Roy Batty. 

Aspyr/Screenshot by Gamespot staff

Lazarski is no ordinary beat cop (just as Rick Deckard wasn't). He lives and works in Krakow, Poland, in the year 2084, an employee of a police-state corporatocracy run by an all-powerful technology company. The nods to "Blade Runner" start right away, with an opening written crawl mimicking the one at the start of the film, offering some backstory to this game's dystopian world.

Within the first few minutes, Lazarski is searching for clues on a laptop, using software that looks and feels almost exactly like Deckard's Esper machine from "Blade Runner." The city he eventually steps into is pure Ridleyville, dark, damp, and covered with neon signs and futuristic advertisements. But instead of fully robotic replicants, we instead get people who have replaced parts of their bodies with implants and artificial limbs. Transhumanism, rather than traditional androids.


The technology in Observer is highly reminiscent of "Blade Runner."

The protagonist;

Lazarski even finds himself walking through dramatic flocks of birds, echoing Roy Batty's white dove at the end of the film.

Aesthetics aside, the actual plot of the game owes less to "Blade Runner" or its source novel, 1968's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" Rather than chase down rogue robots, the police protagonist uses high-tech implants to search through suspects' unconscious minds by literally plugging a jack from his smartwatch into the backs of their heads. These psychological excursions into the mind break up the visual style and pull us periodically out of the drab tenement slums much of the game takes place in.


Observer is what gamers sometimes call a "walking simulator." There's little action or danger involved, and you're mostly following the next clue to another location where you may talk to a witness, read some emails or listen to an audio recording. There are occasional simple puzzles to solve, and one or two stealth sections where some mild sneaking is required.

You're really just there to take in the story and scenery, although even just following the game's predetermined path can get tricky once the dream world of the subconscious starts to bleed into the real world in all sorts of hallucinatory ways. Things take a left-turn into David Lynch territory after the first few hours, which is predictable side effect of mess around inside other people's brains. 

"Blade Runner" was about characters unsure of the bodies they were in -- either replicant or human. Observer is about characters unsure about the very minds they occupy, an interesting twist on the familiar future noir concept, and a good way to whet your appetite for "Blade Runner 2049." 

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