I stumbled across the I’m on Observation Duty series by accident last year when the fifth edition of the game was released for the Steam platform on the PC. It was a lot of fun to play and also a real treat to find something unique in the horror genre that didn’t involve running around desolate landscapes with weak flashlights being subjected to endless jump scares. In fact, the Observation Duty series seats players behind a camera monitoring station as a sort of supernatural security guard. And while that might not sound like the perfect recipe for an immersive horror game experience, it’s surprisingly enthralling and can also be a bit terrifying at times. And it’s something that previous titles in the series, like the aforementioned I’m on Observation Duty 5, have done amazingly well.
But the Observation Duty series has also been evolving over the years, while still maintaining the same basic format throughout. The overall premise is that there are certain areas where reality is weaker than normal, so-called haunted places, and evil entities are able to punch through from their world into ours at those locations. They do that first by spawning anomalies, which are subtle things that break down reality and act as an anchor for them to follow. This includes very small changes to the environment like adding an extra piece of bric-a-brac to a shelf, opening or closing a door, vanishing tables or chairs, changing the text or graphics of a picture or poster hanging on the wall, and lots of other little things that players need to notice in order to halt the supernatural inclusion.
Players in the Observation Duty series are placed at a camera monitoring station looking over a haunted location. The type of places being haunted varies quite a bit in I’m on Observation Duty 6 from a remote cabin to a public pool and a parked commuter train. There are six new environments to observe, and all of them have either been abandoned or had their human population evacuated due to the disturbing events going on there. So, you will be completely alone with the environment and the evil entities that are trying to invade it. Any time you see a change in the environment, you can be sure that evil is behind it as the humans have been cleared out so that you can work.
Each location has a handful of cameras set up, and jumping from one feed to the next is as easy as pressing the arrow keys. Each level begins at midnight when the evil entities start to stir and ends whenever their invasion is successful, or when the clock strikes six in the morning if players manage to hold them off for the entire night – which is the ultimate win condition.
As mentioned before, the evil entities start off very slowly in trying to get a foothold on reality. In the first hour of the title, which moves at a pace where an hour is about five to ten minutes of real time, there might only be two or three attempts to change reality. Stopping that change involves a player first noticing the transformation, which always happens while they are busy looking at other camera feeds. So, when you come back to an area after watching other locations, you might notice that something has changed, like the floor is a different color or a suitcase that was once sitting off to the side has suddenly disappeared. At that point, players need to report the anomaly. Once they do, the agency they work for will perform some kind of magical ritual and presto, the environment is returned to normal a few seconds later. However, if players fail to notice too many changes over time, then the entities overwhelm the environment and it’s game over.
One of the coolest things about I’m on Observation Duty 6 is that the developers listened to player feedback to really improve the gameplay. After the fifth title released, the team at Notovia asked for feedback about I’m on Observation Duty 5 on social media, and gamers (myself included) made a few suggestions. I’m actually really happy because one of my suggestions about the core gameplay made it into I’m on Observation Duty 6.
In the previous title, whenever a player spotted an entity, they had to press a button to bring up a text-based report form which they filled out about the anomaly they spotted. My suggestion was to instead simply let the players click on the screen to point out whatever oddity that they were seeing, and that is what happens now with I’m on Observation Duty 6. This makes the whole experience much more interactive and fast paced, without having to pause the action to fill out a form. There are a few anomalies that still require the form-based interface for things that affect the entire environment and can’t be clicked on, like if the lights are blinking, the room is filling up with smoke or the camera starts to malfunction. But for the most part, everything is point and click now, which is great.
While the night always starts off slowly, it does not stay like that for long. The anomalies start to pick up, and it’s not unusual for three or more environments to have hidden anomalies added at the same time. That’s important because generally if there are three anomalies stacked up and you don’t quickly remove at least one of them, it’s game over.
Also, the anomalies can get more powerful, including full manifestations of some of those evil entities. That is the closest thing to a jump scare you will get in I’m on Observation Duty 6 as you page over to a camera feed, and there is a spooky entity right there on the screen looking back at you. Those entities can also end the game on their own if they are not quickly removed, so you always need to be on guard and be ready to quickly click to report them. You should be especially wary of that later on in the night when the entities start to grow in power.
I’m on Observation Duty 6 provides a delightfully different take on horror gaming. It’s also easy to play but difficult to master, something that should appeal to both veteran gamers and more casual players. It’s also really nice that developer Notovia keeps improving the series. Almost anyone can get I’m on Observation Duty 6 and start immediately playing and having fun, keeping the world safe from reality-bending evil entities, one spooky camera feed at a time.