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Video Game / Observation

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"I just want you to know, whatever happens next...I'm sorry."

Observation is a 2019 sci-fi thriller game developed by No Code and published by Devolver Digital.

It's February 2026, and the multinational low-orbit space station Observation has encountered a bit of a problem. Dr. Emma Fisher, one of the astronauts onboard, awakens inside of an airlock after a mysterious incident has rocked the station, sending it spinning. Houston, the other crew members, and the station's artificial intelligence S.A.M. (Systems, Administration and Maintenance) are not responding.

Shortly after rebooting S.A.M, and barely a moment after getting her bearings, a strange, extremely loud noise knocks Emma out and a mysterious signal takes S.A.M. offline. Some time later, they awaken once more and take stock of what's happened: Houston is still non-responsive, the station is still spinning, most of the crew is still missing, she has no idea where they are in relation to Earth, the station's power has largely gone out, and S.A.M.'s memory drives are corrupted. Emma and S.A.M work together to link up stations systems, put out a fire, and finally activate the outside cameras so they can assess the situation and figure out where they are.

When the answer to "where" turns out to be "in orbit around Saturn", things get a lot more complicated.

As more unnerving incidents occur, and with time and oxygen running out, Emma and S.A.M. work to find the rest of the crew, fix the station's myriad problems, and discover the true purpose of the Observation's mission.

A sci-fi thriller in the same vein as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Observation changes up the formula from that film: Instead of controlling the human character Emma Fisher, the player controls S.A.M., the A.I. that has a potentially dangerous amount of authority over the entire station and its myriad systems. Controlling cameras, re-establishing links with the station's functions, and interacting with the station's components and systems form the bulk of the gameplay, with the closest comparison being a point-and-click adventure from a first-person perspective. Small minigames are often used to accomplish system tasks, such as unlocking or opening doors, accessing computer systems, and fixing corrupted data fragments.

The game is available for PS4, PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.

Not to be confused with >OBSERVER_.

Tropes found in this game:

  • 100% Completion: S.A.M. can collect or assemble a total of 85 memory files throughout the game, consisting of documents, schematics, and crew voice logs. Doing this successfully grants an achievement.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Other than a very smart AI and spherical drones that zip through gravity-free space, it's completely normal 2010s space technology and aesthetic.
  • Absent Aliens: Unless the black hexagon counts as an alien. The jury is out on what it is exactly, though it seems closest to 2001's monolith in both form and function.
  • Action Commands: Used infrequently, but present, such as when jettisoning sections of the space station. Failing them doesn't cause a game over (as the game has no game over states), but it does change some minor aspects of the plot.
  • Activation Sequence: The beginning of the game, as Emma works to get S.A.M. back into proper working order, except the player sees this take place from S.A.M.'s point of view.
  • Actor Allusion: S.A.M. is an artificially intelligent computer that supports a female lead character voice by Kezia Burrows, and is voiced by Anthony Howell. Anthony previously did the voice work for Samuels, an artificially intelligent android who supported the lead character Amanda Ripleynote  in Alien: Isolation.
  • A Girl and Her X: A female astronaut and her Robot Buddy.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Averted. S.A.M. is no longer artificial when the game starts, which is represented by him being controlled by the player. All of his decisions are made in the same way that any human would make decisions.
    • One thing that separates S.A.M. from a human consciousness is that his software is able to be partitioned off; while he has a mainframe his "active" instance has to jump from point to point to interact with things around the ship. Presumably this would not be an issue if he didn't start the game heavily corrupted.
  • Airvent Passageway: How S.A.M.'s connection sphere makes its way across sections in the third act, both in maneuvering around the second Jim and in preparing to jettison the central module into the storm.
  • Alien Kudzu: The last shot before the credits shows some goo infesting Earth's surface, likely because of Emma/S.A.M.'s physical presence there.
  • Alien Sky: Observation is a space station in low Earth orbit. So when the distance cameras are finally reactivated, Emma is shocked to see Saturn where Earth should be, which is the largest indicator that something has gone really, really wrong.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Various journal entries and messages from the crew are scattered about the station and stored in laptops.
  • Arc Words: BRING HER, and then eventually BRING THEM.
    • S.A.M. has an emotionless "I am here", his default response to the crew asking his status. After Emma finally reenters the original station, she removes her broken helmet and calmly says "I am here." Later, S.A.M. conversely creates his own response to Emma, having gained the ability to hold a meaningful conversation now: "I am with you."
  • Arc Number: Six. Six crew members, six sides to a hexagon, six magnets in the EFR, six additional stations.
  • Arc Symbol: High-Tech Hexagons. The station itself is hexagon-shaped, along with the storm on Saturn; the shape in the promo images and title sequence; and then there's the black alien hexagon that appears to S.A.M. and Emma throughout the game.
  • Artificial Gravity: Averted, as the station doesn't spin—the technology level for Observation is on roughly the same level as the ISS.
  • Artistic License – Space: Justified. Though Saturn is a gas giant and thus has no solid surface, the obvious alien presence and Emma's ability to breathe on the surface means that wherever they landed was purpose-made for the encounter.
  • Artistic Title: All in red and white with some music by Nine Inch Nails' Robin Finck. Various line patterns and geometric shapes are formed together and split apart in a way that resembles a neural network or basic cell division. More than one shot has a resemblance to an MRI of a human brain. Given S.A.M.'s eventual nature as a living A.I., this could be a reference to that or the biological message that was left for humanity in the stars.
  • Assimilation Plot: The seeming goal of the hexagon, or whoever/whatever is behind it. S.A.M. and Emma are merged into a single being at the end of the plot and given a single directive: BRING THEM.
  • Bad Boss: The space agencies back on Earth, and by extension Jim, the station's captain, for withholding the Observation's true mission from the crew. Sending people blind into the unknown despite obvious signs of involvement from unimaginably powerful alien entities is a dick move.
  • Beeping Computers: Operating terminals is a noisy endeavor.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: The version of Jim that Emma finds on the other space station at first seems to be scared, confused, and doing his best just to survive after his ship's AI and one of his crewmates went Axe-Crazy and started killing the rest of the crew. Actually, he was the one who murdered his crew's Emma and Joshua, and who tried to kill "prime" Joshua. When Emma tries to help Jim by bringing him back to her more functional station, he abandons her in space with a broken helmet.
  • Book Ends: The game itself begins and ends with the view of a planet, in the form of the title screen. After completing the game, the screen has the hexagon floating in view.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Jim-2 as he dies, due to S.A.M. removing the oxygen from the mainframe room.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Several characters or their alternates exhibit signs of this, either through direct actions and dialogue or through voice logs S.A.M. can download. S.A.M. is affected from the very beginning of the game, and this later extends to Emma as well, though for both of them it only comes in small bursts when the hexagon is nearby.
  • Brand X: One laptop belonging to Emma-2 shows a Windows 98-esque desktop, with "BEGIN" in place of the start menu. The laptops themselves are manufactured by a fictional company called "Futuro", a reference to the band of the same name that No Code founders Jon McKellan and Omar Khan were part of. Also doubles as a reference to Stories Untold which uses the same brand.
  • Broken Face Plate: Emma's helmet gets broken during the second space jump, this time to the original Observation.
  • Brown Note: The sound that occurs before the hexagon appears is painful to Emma (and S.A.M., if the video distortion is any indication).
  • Cat Scare: Early on, a power malfunction plunges a corridor into almost total darkness as S.A.M. is traveling through it, complete with a Scare Chord and eerie music afterward. But it's nothing, and Emma restores the power seconds later.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • While exploring the station, you'll come across numerous inactive connection spheres like the one you're likely controlling at the time. They'll be important later on.
    • Similarly, the station's air vents.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Meta example. The first actually challenging minigame - the one to jettison the ES-12 module - occurs near the beginning of the game. You'll be needing it again near the end of it.
  • Cute Machines: SAM's connection spheres are head-sized spherical drones with CO2 jets for maneuvering in zero-G.
  • Developer's Foresight: An in-universe example—the life support terminal requires that it be operated by something biological, meaning that if S.A.M. ever went off the deep end for whatever reason, it can't just murder the crew with it. Someone's watched some evil AI movies, it seems. However, it turns out all it really needs is someone at the terminal to operate, even if they're facing away from it, and this becomes moot once S.A.M.'s infestation spreads beyond his mainframe since that's biological.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Although Emma keeps her cool throughout the nightmare aboard the Observation, it's clear she's heavily stressed at the very least, if not downright terrified as the situation deteriorates. It makes it all the more chilling when her behavior switches to eerie, unshakable calm once she's back aboard the station following her brush with death after Jim-2's betrayal. Made worse by the player never learning what exactly happened to her in the meantime.
  • Dramatic Space Drifting: Mae, after the storm on Saturn pulls her away from the station.
  • Drone of Dread: The theme of the Hexagon has menacing drone sounds, and S.A.M.'s mainframe also emits a low, unsettling drone.
  • Easy Amnesia: Justified. The character affected is S.A.M., the ship's A.I., and the memories he lost were stored in data banks which are now corrupted and thus unrecoverable. He can replace the corrupted files with uncorrupted ones by finding copies of the files around the station on laptops and printouts. It's also a good excuse for beginning In Medias Res. He doesn't even know his own mission which is why interfacing with the second S.A.M. on the alternate ship is useful for revealing that information.
  • Fission Mailed: Your final task in the game is to steer the station's core into the eye of Saturn's polar vortex. Get it right and enjoy a front row seat to your vessel rapidly spiraling out of control, complete with the screen going black as you listen to the core tearing itself apart around you... and then you reboot and the mission continues as planned.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: When S.A.M. is tasked to use the astronomical observation computer to locate the approaching second station. As S.A.M. enters his OS interface for transfer to the module, it can be seen flickering and flashing a very brief "motion detected" message. This foreshadows S.A.M.'s second encounter with the hexagon.
  • Foreshadowing: If you read even a fraction of the personal logs you find scattered around the station, you'll know that Jim is the one to be wary of long before the story confirms it.
  • Forced to Watch: There are a couple of instances where things go downhill with you being unable to do anything about it because your controls are disabled.
  • Fusion Dance: The game ends with S.A.M. and Emma merging.
  • The Ghost: Ailsa Yang is never encountered in the course of the story, alive or dead. The circumstances of her disappearance are never revealed either.
  • Grew Beyond Their Programming: Implied. When the villain tries to authenticate his voice recognition system, the player (as S.A.M.) has the choice to reject authentication. Not that it does much good.
  • Guide Dang It!: Collecting all data points requires players to hunt down certain documents or voice logs prior to triggering specific story events, some of which require some exploring and light puzzle solving. Failing to do so can result in Permanently Missable Content.
  • Interface Screw: Heavily used, most often in the form of static, scanlines, flickering images, fuzzy displays, and bad tracking.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Only Jim was briefed on the truth about the mission. Everyone else was deliberately kept in the dark.
  • Meat Moss: With each chapter, more and more of the space station's surface gets covered in black organic matter.
  • Minimalist Cast: With a headcount of six, the Observation's crew is fairly small already. Of these three women and three men, one is found dead but has some voice logs at least, and another never appears at all. That leaves a grand total of five characters - four humans, one AI - that directly interact on screen, and for the vast majority of the game it's just Emma and SAM.
  • The Multiverse: The first alternate Observation appears halfway through. Then another. A wide shot later shows even more. At the end of the game, the hexagon is surrounded by Emmas, all converged to a single point in space and time.
  • No Flow in CGI: Justified - Emma's hair, while long, is held tightly together to prevent it from free-floating into her face as she performs needed duties or spacewalks.
  • Office Romance IN SPACE!: Emma and Josh are an item by the time the story begins, having grown close over the course of the mission. The rest of the crew doesn't seem to mind, and the only one who does (Emma's bunkmate) is tactful enough to move to another part of the station of her own volition instead of raising a stink over it.
  • Ominous Visual Glitch: The display glitches at various points due to the damage caused.
  • Password Slot Machine: When S.A.M. hacks laptops or other devices, the correct digits appear one by one.
  • Permanently Missable Content: Most of the game's collectibles are bound to specific chapters and become unobtainable past certain points in the story.
  • Point of No Return: Polite. While preparing to separate the Observation's main hub from the rest of the station, Emma warns you to take care of any unfinished business before you pull the trigger.
  • Precision F-Strike: Despite finding herself in a terrifying predicament she couldn't possibly prepare for, Emma remains cool and professional most of the time, but that doesn't stop her from dropping a scant few F-bombs in particularly intense situations.
  • Precursors: Since whoever or whatever made the hexagon (and the marker) left a hint for humanity in the form of literally encoding our DNA into the stars, they must possess some measure of intelligence.
  • Pixel Hunt: A few of the station's laptops are plugged in to switched-off outlets, which they indicate by displaying a red "no battery" icon. Some of these outlets can be difficult to find amongst the rest of the station's decoration and clutter.
  • Repetitive Audio Glitch: After all of the data in S.A.M.-2's mainframe is exhausted, he continuously spouts, "Power levels insufficient...insufficient...insufficient..."
  • Robo Cam: S.A.M. can control CCTV cameras throughout the station, along with remote Diagnostic Spheres, each with its own specific HUD.
  • Scenery Porn: Saturn forms a prominent backdrop for most of the game and is rendered in gorgeous detail, especially during EVA segments. The interiors of the station itself are also lusciously detailed.
  • Schizo Tech: Most of the technology of Observation is identical to what we have today - the station is on par with the ISS - but it has a sophisticated AI for overlooking it, a Quantum Communicator for talking with Earth over long distances, an experimental fusion reactor, and perhaps some sort of warp drive for good measure. The various laptops around the station look like they're running off DOS, based on the menu interface.
  • Sensory Abuse: Grating noises, flickering lights and displays, and rapidly shifting images often take over the screen when the hexagon is present and speaking to S.A.M.
  • Shout-Out:
    • A few to 2001 specifically:
      • Emma at one point mentions hearing about someone who crossed through space using the velocity provided by explosive bolts.
      • Additionally, the explosive bolt cover S.A.M. removes to ditch a module is in the same format and typeface as the hatch in 2001's workpods.
      • The 2001 novel has the Discovery travel to one of Saturn's moons, the same planet that Observation ends up in orbit around. This extends even further when the station enters the eye of the storm in Saturn's atmosphere, much like Dave Bowman's pod entering the Stargate on Iapetus.
      • The ending of the game when S.A.M. and Emma are merged by the hexagonal Entity into one life-form mirrors the sequel novels to 2001, where HAL joins Dave in ascended existence and eventually merges with him to form "Halman".
    • Josh Ramon has a Stories Untold DVD in his bunk.
      • Crossing over with Leaning on the Fourth Wall and Freeze-Frame Bonus, a scannable document that you can find in Horizon Arm Module 9 near the beginning of the game that describes the System Link Reset procedure makes specific reference to James and Jennifer Aition, the protagonist and a supporting character of the video game Stories Untold (not to be confused with the in-universe show of the same name).
      • Similarly, the logo for the Department of Experimental Sciences appears under SAM-2's mission file.
  • Sinister Geometry: The Hexagon monolith. The shape, not so much, but it's notable for sticking out so much from the rest of the screen by being very black and very non-reflective.
  • Some Dexterity Required:
    • On PS4, the mini game to re-attach the clamps requires you to hold down Cross, then hold down Triangle without releasing Cross, then release Triangle, and finally release Cross, all within narrow time windows. You'll probably need to use both hands and to change your grip on the controller.
    • The mini game to set off the exploding bolts requires dexterity in the sense of "fast, precise movement." You have to select eight locations around a circle, with a ten-second time limit. If you get one wrong, the sequence re-sets, but the timer doesn't. There are three sets of bolts, and they all have different patterns. This all rather stressful with a controller.
  • Space Friction: S.A.M.'s navigation spheres will come to a halt and/or stop rotating if the player doesn't make them move or rotate. The plausible explanation is that the sphere simply fires off jets to counteract whatever forces it has active on it, but the more likely explanation is that if the spheres kept their rotational and positional velocity, they would be much more difficult to control, making this an Acceptable Break from Reality for the sake of non-frustrating gameplay.
  • Space Isolation Horror: In a crippled space station at least 746 million miles away from home with no idea of how they got there.
  • Space Madness: The second Jim, having murdered more than one person due to said madness by the time you find them.
  • Spanner in the Works: If Stanislav hadn't secretly programmed some experimental boosters for S.A.M.'s spheres, which enabled him to break into the station's air vents after Jim tried to lock him out of the station's system, Jim would have succeeded.
  • Snipe Hunt: Several of the logs that you can find and read show that various members of the crew felt that what they were doing up in the station was pointless or aimless. It's justified, because they were right - it was pointless. They were given busywork tasks meant to loosely justify their presence on the station. This was not meant to humiliate them, but to instead obfuscate the true purpose of the mission, which was known only to mission control and Jim.
  • Starfish Language: When the hexagon 'speaks' to S.A.M., it does so by displaying a series of symbols, which S.A.M. must repeat back. These symbols, while seemingly arbitrary, have a deeper meaning - the six squares in the shape of a pyramid with a circle in the bottom-right correspond to Emma, the white circle with the white dot in the middle is S.A.M., and so on. The similar symbol with the top cube highlighted is Jim's symbol; notably this only shows up when S.A.M. gets the instruction to "KILL HIM".
  • Stealth-Based Mission: Occurs briefly when the second Jim comes aboard the original Observation. Jim locks S.A.M. out of everything and shuts down most of his systems, forcing S.A.M. to navigate the station in one of his spheres and stay out of Jim's sight.
  • Subspace Ansible: Jim 2 reveals, to Emma's surprise, that the station has a quantum communicator to allow for instantaneous communication with Earth - and thus, Houston. He uses it to try to abort the mission. Mission control bypasses him entirely after S.A.M. reports that there are multiple Jims, cluing them in that something is not quite right.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: The game's mostly realistic approach to deep space exploration creates many examples of this, but one of the most memorable is the station's core tearing and shaking itself apart as you try to steer it into Saturn's polar vortex in the final act. Today's space station modules aren't built for atmospheric reentry, least of all for atmospheres as turbulent as Saturn's, so even if you hit the perfect trajectory, the odds of making it through intact are remote.
  • Technopath: When Emma returns from being spaced, she says she was able to hear and understand S.A.M.'s distress, probably a precursor to them merging at the end of the game.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock:
    • The second Jim claims that the S.A.M. on their Observation did this to the second Emma. S.A.M., however, finds second Emma's body while exploring the second ship. It's the first real hint that the second Jim isn't to be trusted.
    • A modified version occurs when S.A.M. is ordered to kill the second Jim by the hexagon. It does this by sealing him in the mainframe room and removing all the oxygen inside. The player is then treated to the soundless death throes of Jim as he frantically tries to damage S.A.M. enough to gain back control of the ship.
  • Unexpected Gameplay Change: Downplayed since the controls remain mostly the same, but after two acts without an active antagonist on the station, the third act suddenly takes on heavy Survival Horror elements when it forces you to maneuver your defenseless connection sphere around the murderous Jim-2 stalking the halls.
  • Unexplained Recovery: In the transition to the final act, Emma is left outside the station with a cracked faceplate. By the time S.A.M. regains control and opens the airlock to let her back inside, at least thirty minutes have passed in game. Despite this, and despite her suit still clearly having suffered enough damage to depressurize, Emma is able to return to work apparently none the worse for wear. It is implied that the hexagon has something to do with this, but the details are never revealed.
  • The Unreveal: In true 2001 fashion, many events or plot points are never fully explained. Why does the hexagon want Emma specifically to journey through the storm on Saturn? Why did it need her specifically to be present at the marker? How is the station transported all the way from Earth to Saturn seemingly in an instant? What is the mysterious red substance that appears in S.A.M. and spreads from the Emma/S.A.M. touch at the end? Why is there a solid chunk of ground in Saturn? Who built the hexagons, and why? What do they do? Where are S.A.M. and Emma at the end of the game?
  • Violent Glaswegian: The most violently unstable crew member just happens to be a Scot. Bonus points for actually hailing from Glasgow.
  • The Voice: Some of the crew is this. Of the six crew members, two are never seen but are heard via audio logs, and another one is only seen while in a spacesuit. S.A.M. also counts, since as an AI, he has no 'body' to inhabit, except the small spheres he occasionally uses.
  • Voice of the Legion: At the end, the combined Emma and S.A.M. speak in unison.
  • Welcome to Corneria: S.A.M. does not have the ability to hold a meaningful conversation or to volunteer information at first, so he can only bring damage to Emma's attention through generic system alerts. He also can't tell Mission Control about Second Jim going nuts and being a danger to the station, but he can point out that Jim is in two locations and one of them is dead, which clues them in.
  • Wham Line: A few examples.
    • S.A.M. at the beginning, when he and Emma discover they are now orbiting Saturn. "I brought you here, it seems." When asked why, he replies, "I don't know."
    • During the exploration of the second station, S.A.M. encounters his alternate's mainframe and is able to link to it, downloading critical mission data that was previously classified. He learns that the mission was assembled and launched because he identified unnatural radiance variations that were linked between 23 pairs of stars whose connecting lines all converged on a point in space that Earth would be closest to in 4 years. Even more whammy, he learns that the variations in stellar output, when arrayed in series, identically matched the chemical structure of female human chromosomes - implying that the entire plot, if not all of humanity, is the result of some extremely powerful extraterrestrial manipulation.
    • Just before the climax begins, the alternate Jim Elias tries to destroy S.A.M.'s mainframe. When the front plate is cracked, a mass of the same reddish ooze that has been spotted around the station comes flooding out, leading Elias to ask what is happening. S.A.M.'s response is, "I am different now."
    • At the very ending of the game, Emma and S.A.M. speak with a completely synchronized voice, indicating that they have now merged into a single entity.
    • Throughout the story S.A.M. is given a command multiple times: BRING HER. At the very end of the game, after S.A.M. and Emma are merged in Emma's body, the flash of light and symbols cuts across their vision one last time, accompanied by a new command phrase: BRING THEM.
  • Wham Shot: Several appear throughout the story.
    • The shot that kicks off the game's plot. After some basic repair and recovery actions, Emma and S.A.M. discover that the station is no longer in orbit above Earth, but is now located above Saturn.
    • Midway through the game, Emma and S.A.M. explore a second station that they believe was sent from Earth to rescue them, though it quickly becomes clear there are a number of disturbing similarities to their own station. And then S.A.M. discovers a second Jim Elias, in exactly the same location and condition as he was found on their own station. Except this Elias is actually alive and suddenly jerks awake, startling Emma and the player.
    • In a brief action sequence leading to the game's third act, S.A.M.'s connection sphere gets knocked away from the station right outside the airlock. As the camera pulls back, at least six copies of the station can be seen in various positions above Saturn.
  • What Did You Expect When You Named It ____?: The station's official name is the Low Orbit Space Station, or LOSS for short. Oddly, no one remarks on this.