Release Date: April 4, 2005
Obscure (a.k.a. Mortifilia: Veil of Darkness) isn't perfect by a damn sight, but it's a step in the right direction, both for its genre and in its own right.
If you're a survival horror fan, this is the perfect rental. It's short, it's challenging enough to keep you in the game, it contains more than a few genuine chills, and the puzzles and obstacles are, for the most part, consistent with the setting. The graphics have a bad case of multiplatform-itis and I hope you're not violently allergic to Sum 41, but Obscure will give you a few good hours.
If you're not a survival horror fan, the first half-hour is going to determine how you feel about the rest of it. Obscure has a really weird inventory system, with weapons and other items stored in two separate real-time menus.
It also places an unusual emphasis on the "survival" part of its genre, as monsters can attack you from any direction at almost any time. Even the weakest enemies will usually land a hit before you can react, and more powerful creatures can inflict staggering amounts of damage. Often, an encounter that I thought wouldn't be a big deal left one of my characters dead on the floor. If you have a low threshold for frustration, this isn't your game.
It also isn't your game if you hate dead-teenager horror movies. Obscure is set in the hallways of Leafmore High School, which has been plagued by a series of recent disappearances. One night, while Kenny Matthews is at basketball practice, someone steals his bookbag. Kenny chases the thief into the school's basement.
The next night, Kenny's friends get together to find out where he's gone. After hours, Leafmore is a strange place; the teachers are acting oddly, there are hints of some unknown controversy surrounding the school's founders, and as the sun sets, strange monsters begin to prowl the halls.
You begin Obscure with three characters, and can eventually get as many as five. Each character has his or her own abilities and specializations; Ashley is good in a fight, Stan picks locks faster than the others, Shannon will give you hints as to what to do next, and so on.
You can take up to two characters into the "field" with you, while the others chill out at some predetermined checkpoint. If you're playing alone, you can switch between both active characters with the Black button, as long as they're both in the same room; you can also bring a friend along for two-player simultaneous action. I can't honestly recommend the former approach, though; you wind up getting in each other's way more often than not. You're better off equipping your AI partner with a gun and using them sort of like an Option from Gradius.
Obscure's combat revolves largely around the use of light. You can use a flashlight to stun monsters or drive them away, and you can often clean out an entire room of enemies by shattering windows or turning on the lights.
As you get further into the game, though, this advantage becomes less and less important, and the enemies get fiercer. The most frequently encountered creatures tend to pop up out of nowhere in just the right place to latch onto your shin; standard-issue zombies do astounding amounts of damage; and the last half of the game is populated by enormous plant-looking things that laugh off shotgun blasts. Obscure walks a very fine line between being challenging and being unnecessarily frustrating.
Admittedly, I kind of like that. Obscure has its share of monster closets and creatures jumping through windows, but there's no accompanying new camera angle or dramatic flare in the music to let you know that such things are scary. They're simply there occasionally, and dealt with as you would any other encounter.
The tension arises quite naturally from your not being sure whether you'll survive the next couple of minutes. Obscure never lets you reach a comfortable equilibrium, the way you can in, say, Silent Hill. You're never so well-armed that you can afford to get careless.
On the flip side of that coin, Obscure lacks a certain amount of atmosphere. Part of it's because of the somewhat underachieving graphics, but it also doesn't screw around with its setting too much. Unlike other modern horror games, its setting isn't the enemy; the monsters in it are.
You're also hamstrung by your inability to control the camera, which is half the reason why the monsters get so many free hits. In the present day, if a game is bothering to use static camera angles, it had better have absolutely spectacular backgrounds, and Obscure's are merely fair. Besides, firing blindly at an offscreen zombie is so 1999.
I may be speaking from a biased position here, as I'm a horror fan. When I review horror games, I tend to be speaking from a different perspective than I am on most titles, and as far as that goes, Obscure's pretty cool. The gameplay's got certain unavoidable flaws, but with a player-controlled camera, some more evocative set design, and another few hours' worth of gameplay, Obscure could've been one of the greats. As it stands, it's a little too short and a little too frustrating for me to give it an unqualified recommendation.
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