Preview: Obscure (XB) Hands-On

Publisher: DreamCatcher / Developer: Hydravision / Genre: Survival Horror / Release: 03-29-05

After playing through the Test build of this game, it amazes me in retrospect that no one has ever made a Teen Slasher Survival Horror video game in a very long time. There was Friday the 13th for the venerable NES, but that was really it. Look at all the other games. Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Dino Crisis, and on and on. The only two I can think of that that even approach the genre have been within the last ten years are Illbleed for the Sega Dreamcast, which was simply a dreadful game, and the first two US Clock Tower games (Actually 2 & 3 in Japan) which are some of the best (and easily the scariest) games of the PSX generation

And that’s where Obscure comes in. This survival horror game, which has already been out for about six months in Europe and Australia, play like something akin to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Faculty, Ginger Snaps, I Know What You Did Last Summer, or whatever other Teen Scream flick you can think of. Dreamcatcher, publishers of some of my favorite PC games like Dracula: Resurrection, Necronomicon and MISSING: Since January, has decided to bring Obscure Stateside. So what can you expect from this game

Well a lot actually. The test build only contains 55% of the game, but from what I had a chance to play, it was a great deal of fun.

Let’s talk plot first. In Obscure, you start off as a basketball player named Kenny who stays in the gym a little too late, and while talking to his steady squeeze on the phone, has his gym bag stolen. As he tries to track it down, he ends up biting off more than he can chew, finding a fellow student half starved and mad in an underground dungeon. He also finds these strange tooth-filled brain things that hop around like bunnies, along with a hideous humanoid monstrosity that crashes through a wall and right as Kenny is about to climb the ladder and escape into safer reality you and I share, the creature grabs him and pulls him back down, leaving only Kenny’s frightened screams to usher into the night air.

And that’s the beginning of the game. And yes, you play through all of that. It was impressive, both visually and thematically. And the plot gets better from there.

The rest of the game has you play as four students, two boys and two girls as you try and find out what happened to Kenny. But the more you delve into Kenny’s disappearance, the more you discover the school you go to, and even some of the faculty, possess a dark and sinister secret.

I don’t want to ruin the plot for you, as it is quite good. It’s not some mind blowing Opus that will forever change how you view video games plot wise, but it achieves its goal of being a very good teen horror film turned into a video game. It avoids cliches where it can, but embraces them when they would actually be of benefit. I had a lot of fun putting the clues together and seeing where the story was going. I didn’t find the game scary though. Like I said, Teen Slasher. Where Resident Evil is about gore, Silent Hill tends to be amazingly pretentious, and The Suffering and Eternal Darkness manage to get things right, Obscure would be best summed up as “fun spooky” rather that horror or terror. Like Jason X vs Hellraiser.

Like any Dreamcatcher published game, the Graphics are visually stunning. I’ve yet to play a game released by the company that didn’t wow my eyes. This is an amazing looking game. The backgrounds are so realistic you could swear sometimes the scenery came from life like a Richard Upton Pickman painting. And the monsters are original and imaginative. Yes, there’s a zombie or two, but hey, what horror game doesn’t seem to have them nowadays?

In fact, the only thing I think is bad in the game is some of the character models. They were a little too rigid and robotic for me at times, but trust me when I say the rest of the game makes up for it in the graphics department. If you get the chance, stroll around the school ground and just look at the work Hydravision put into this. And the CGI cut scenes? Wonderful. And lucky for you my fellow gamers, there’s a bunch of them.

Soundwise the music is catchy and it sounds like the band (or bands?) that do the music might actually be a decently known group, but alas, my music tastes run more to Sisters of Mercy or Joy Division and thus I am ignorant about the band. The voice acting is okay, and gets irritating sometimes while playing due to the repetitive comments, but it is quite enjoyable in the cut scenes.

Most important though is the gameplay. Unlike the old Resident Evil and Silent Hill games (Not counting RE4 or SH: The Room, both of which play very well indeed), Obscure’s controls are easy and fun instead of frustrating. You’ve got the L trigger to power up your flashlight, or torch as it is called in the game, thus revealing it’s European origins, the R trigger to aim, two inventory control buttons, an attack button and the Y button which gives each character their special ability. After years of loathing the controls of games like Alone in the Dark, I’m ecstatic to see Survival Horror games finally be enjoyable to you know, play.

I did notice two problems that I had control wise. The first is there is no bar of life in the game. You have no idea how healthy you are except that the more injured you get the more your joystick vibrates to mimic a heartbeat, and your character looks in pain on the screen. I like this, but at the same time dislike it. Not knowing your exact health adds a level of suspense to the game, but it also can be annoying for that same reason. However, there are a lot of medical kits and soft drinks in the game to restore your health.

The other nit-pick I had was the actual in game fighting. With guns, it’s pretty easy to take something down. But with actually hand-to-hand weapons, the collision detection seems a bit off. Especially in regards to the bouncing brain things. As well, if you give your computer assisted partner the gun, he will take things out for you like trained sniper or crazy Montana Militia member.

Ah yes, you saw that didn’t you? Computer assisted partner. Well, the gimmick of Obscure, and what truly makes it worth picking up, is that you are generally in teams of two in this game, although you can go it alone, but why would you? Either you can have a computer assisted partner, which can be both helpful and detrimental in combat (give them a gun and not a bat!), but you can also have a SECOND HUMAN PLAYER come in and out at any time and help you.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, you read that right. The first ever two player simultaneous survival horror game. And it plays brilliantly. This aspect alone takes the game to a whole other level and I have to say this is the reason to rent or buy this game when it comes out in a few weeks: because now you can actually play a horror game with a friend and double up the fun.

Finally, I want to point out that it only took me one evening to get through the demo build. If that is more than half the game, then I have a feeling the full game can easily be beaten over a weekend stretch. But to combat that worry, the game is being released with a $29.99 price tag. It all evens out I think.

In all from my playing Obscure, I have to say anyone who likes horror games really needs to pick this up, and preferably preorder it. I can always find Dreamcatcher games on the PC fairly easily, but finding their console games in stores tends to be hard. Look at my attempts to find Curse way back when. Obscure has the potential to be its namesake and it’ll be a shame if you miss out on playing it. It looks good, the story is good considering the genre, and you have actual two player action in this game. This has all the earmarks of a sleeper hit/cult classic, and I hope you get the chance to play it when it first comes out.