Reviewed: May 15, 2005
Released: April 6, 2005
What happens when Resident Evil meets Beverly Hills 90210? You get the class reunion from hell, or what DreamCatcher calls, Obscure. Mix a bunch of co-eds fresh off the latest WB series, toss them in a high school that looks more like an asylum than a place of higher learning, and throw in a few light-sensitive demons and you have the makings of a rather terrifying little adventure.
You are introduced to the major players and their sinister school in a stylized cutscene that looks like the vintage 8mm films I actually used to watch in school. We have a healthy mix of male and female characters, the jock, the stoner, the shy girl, and plenty of other stereotypical characters you might find in any Scary Movie knockoff, and oddly enough, many named after the cast of South Park. How fitting that Kenny is the first to...
When the opening narrative turns the controls over to you (as Kenny) on the basketball court you can shoot some hoops in eerie silence before heading to the locker room. Things only get worse from there and we quickly transition to the following day where Kenny is missing and his friends decide to hide until the school closes and look for clues to his disappearance.
Obscure plays pretty much like every other survival horror game with a slight twist. Rather than trying to survive hordes of demons on your own you get to team up with your classmates, controlled either by AI or a second player who can opt in at any time by pressing the Start button on the second controller.
It might sound gimmicky but the gameplay is designed around at least two characters most of the time so you are either going to submit to the AI, manually bounce between characters, or get a friend involved. The latter is the smoothest and most enjoyable option.
Each character has certain abilities and eventually you can acquire tools and items to further your quest. One girl can pick locks while the one with the baseball bat can smash glass doors or soda machines if you get frustrated. There is also a cooperative puzzle system, not the push two switches at the same time kind, but rather a buddy system much like the new co-op mode in Splinter Cell Chaos Theory where one character might have to boost another into an air vent.
Your dependence on the second character is even more crucial in combat. Early on you get a handgun (so much for metal detectors in high schools) and a flashlight. In a brilliant move that defies the abilities of a 24th century marine (see Doom 3) you duct tape the flashlight to the gun to not only light your way but engage in a bit of unique combat inspired by Boktai.
You see, light is a weapon in Obscure whether it comes from your flashlight, which can temporarily increase the beam intensity to fry demons, or you might get creative and shoot out windows to allow outside light to stream in and do the fighting for you. Itís a fairly clever dynamic that is used with great success in this game.
As with any single-screen co-op game you are always at the mercy of the other player, so, much like Gauntlet, you might be trying to get that item or open that door that is just out of reach until player 2 moves a few inches close to you. It happens a few times but itís not terrible, thanks to the ďleaderĒ feature where the players choose who is the leader and the camera sticks with them. If one character exits a room the other instantly joins them in the new location.
While you can save your game anytime and anywhere you can only do so for as many times as you find blank CDís lying around the level. Donít worry; there are more than enough discs. And while you will certainly enjoy your fair share of premature deaths, it wonít be due to a lack of first aid kits and vending machines that offer health-restoring energy drinks.
The interface is slick with simultaneous and independent control over weapons and non-weapon inventory as well as a seamless GUI to manipulate and combine items. The actual HUD is very minimal to keep you immersed in the surroundings and story.
The story in Obscure arcs a 36-hour period than runs out of creative energy about two-thirds into the game. What starts off as a sinister crawl through a deserted high school ends up much like any action-shooter game where tension is traded in for bullets. Even so, itís a fun little romp whether you choose to tackle it alone or with a friend.
Props to MC2 for creating a very unique and stylized look for Obscure; hopefully that was their intent. The entire game has a grainy (vintage) feel to it, both the backgrounds and the artistically rendered characters. Itís almost like a painting come to life.
Character design is excellent with a great look for each character that matches their stereotype personae. I was a bit miffed that they couldnít come up with more creative monsters. Youíll see most of the 6-8 demon types and bosses early in the game and then they repeat.
Lighting, and a lack of lighting play a very important role in Obscure. Many locations are dark or at least in subdued lighting allowing the designers to show off their fancy flashlight effect. It works remarkably well, realistically lighting the environment and frying any demons, all in real-time.
The camera system avoids the popular pitfall of cooperative games with the innovative leader system that tracks the character you want. There are also tons of thrilling cinematic angles that instill fear and other desired emotions as you explore the world of Leafmore High School.
The audio portion of Obscure is what really sells the experience. The music is cinematic and downright creepy infusing the gameplay with a sense of dread and anxiety. It fades to a subtle whisper then hits you like a brick when a monster jumps from the shadows.
The sound effects are terrifying, even when they arenít meant to be. There is just something overtly creepy about the echoing footsteps as you walk across an empty gymnasium after hours or the challenging growl of some unseen monster behind a locked door. Even the hollow drip of a dirty sink in a slimy bathroom sends a chill down your spine, and the Dolby Digital mix put you right smack in the middle of all the horror.
Seasoned survival horror fans will rip through Obscure in 6-8 hours, but even so itís is a steal at $20. The cooperative gameplay feature begs you to invite a friend to share the experience and there is more than enough terror to go around.
You also get to choose which characters to play and can switch off pretty much whenever you like. This triggers original gameplay and cutscenes specific to the chosen characters and adds substantially to the replay value.
There are even some hidden surprises, weapons, costumes, game modes, etc. for those that actually survive to the end and these will probably have you replaying Obscure at least once more. Much like any good scary movie, this is one game you might revisit once a year, just for the thrill.
Released for the PS2, Xbox, and PC, I'd have to give a nod to the Xbox version only for the faster load times and better surround sound. The PC obviously has a bit sharper visuals but the console-nature of the game design requires a gamepad, or two for co-op, and it's not always as easy to get two people huddled around your computer as it is a console.
Obscure is a most fitting name since you might have a harder time finding this game in a store than winning it once you do. Admittedly, itís a $20 title at launch, which already [unfairly] condemns it to the bottom shelf or bargain bins at most retailers, but for survival horror fans this is a fresh and original title you might want to hunt down.