Release Date: April 4, 2005
The survival horror genre is getting so clogged as of late, new entries need to offer fresh styles of gameplay in order to stand out from the crowd. These days, simply having monsters jump out of the shadows to scare the bejeezus out of you isn't enough, especially in the same year as the excellent Resident Evil 4. Now survival horror fans have a new option in the form of Obscure, a kind of high school teen-scream take on the genre. While it does deliver on the "BOO!" factor every now and then, it's a slow-paced, unoriginal game that happens to have a relatively fun two-player mode. At least it's available for only $19.99.
The setting is Leafmore High School, and strange, mysterious, creepy things are going on. Horrid screams are heard by students, and jocks are turning up missing. Kenny is one of these people that turn up missing, and you play as his group of concerned friends who are determined to find out what happened to their "dog." In fact, this group of totally hip MTV-ers is so determined to find their bro, they locked themselves inside of their century-old high school to get to the bottom of the strange occurrences.
The gameplay is a not-so-subtle, uhhh, "tribute" to the Resident Evil series. Instead of a mansion, you search through the school room by room, looking for keys, documents, weapons, ammunition, and other items and clues that help you proceed to the next areas. Hydravision included the ability to choose from five different characters that each have talents that will help you get through the game. For example, one character can sense whether there are any more items to pick up in a room, another can detect and quickly pick locks, and another will give you clues about what to do next. The help you get from teammates keeps you from getting stuck for too long, which is nice, and makes the game pretty much idiot-proof.
Not only can you choose from a few different characters, but you can also team up two of them at a time, which is reminiscent of the dual-character gameplay of Resident Evil Zero. You can switch between two characters at will, and give the A.I. character simple commands, such as help, follow, stay put, or swap weapons. Even though it does use a familiar team-play idea, the extra character is mainly used as someone to help you out with extra firepower. RE0's team play was more thoughtful, and was much more integral to the gameplay. If one of your characters dies, that's it for them, unless you want to restart from an earlier checkpoint. When they're gone, they're gone.
Inventory management is done in-game, in a style eerily similar to the Metal Gear Solid series. By holding down the shoulder buttons, you can navigate through your items and select what you need. Unlike the MGS inventory system, the game doesn't pause while cycling through inventory. This means that you have to keep moving if you're under attack, which adds a sense of urgency to your typical inventory perusing. One complaint, however, is that when you bring up your inventory to select health, you're unable to move. It's strange, because you're able to run while switching weapons.
Speaking of health, there are no typical health meters in Obscure. The indications you have of your health status are a vibrating controller, limping character, and an increasingly bloodied up photo that can only be accessed by exiting actual gameplay. This is annoying, especially for players who like to conserve health power-ups by waiting until the last possible minute to recoup. How hard could it have been to include a more accessible health meter? Health is recovered by picking up and using medical kits or energy drinks that are strewn about the school, so fans of herb mixing will be disappointed.
The creatures that are determined to reduce your non-existent health meter to zero range from cute little two-legged mutated munchers to hulking chunks of dense, squirming flesh. Like the Resident Evil series, these monsters are demented, unnatural freaks with a penchant for slashing you and your friends. Gunning down or beating these creatures to death is made bearable by the ability to actually move while you're shooting, a feature that took years for Capcom to implement in their survival horror series.
Not only are the monsters allergic to bullets and baseball bats, but they also hate light. By breaking open shaded windows or "boosting" your flashlight, you can overcome enemies. You come across flashlights of varying power, which can be strapped onto weapons with tape. Holding down the L1 button engages a high intensity boost mode, which you can only use for a few seconds before having to allow the light to recharge.
Obscure does offer the option for you to play with a friend. This actually is pretty fun, especially when you're playing with someone who is easily startled. It's also a nice alternative to the ditzy A.I. More survival horror games should have a co-op mode, because fear loves company. Kudos to Hydravision for this inclusion.
While the co-op mode does redeem some of the game's shortcomings, Obscure feels dated. The game mechanics have a few fresh nuances here and there, but none of these additions make up for the old "find a key, kill a mutant, do a puzzle, unlock a door" formula that's been around since 1996.
On the graphics side of things, Obscure looks surprisingly decent. The framerate is generally smooth, with a few hiccups and skips here and there. The backgrounds aren't pre-rendered, but are polygonal, like Resident Evil: Code Veronica. Also, Hydravision created the environments so that miscellaneous objects like chairs and carts can be pushed around when you bump into them, as opposed to being magically locked into place. Unfortunately, the actual design of the monsters is a bit cheesy. Designing mutants must be hard, because there seems to be a thin line between grotesque and laughable.
Audio is a very important element in this genre, and Obscure does a good job at creating an eerie feeling of lurking doom. Off-screen crashes, growls, and screams are all part of the game's audio arsenal, which can be listened to in Dolby Prologic II. Music is quite sparse, but it adds some definite creepiness when it switches on.
So, should you play Obscure? If you're a big survival horror fan who's looking for a new game that plays like an old game, then yes. However, even genre fans may be annoyed by the slow pace, "2 hip 4 u dawg" dialogue, and overall feeling of survival horror déjà vu. It's definitely worth a rental (you can beat it fairly quickly), but even at its budget price tag, only avid collectors of everything survival horror may want to own this one.
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