Review: Obscure (XB, PS2)

Developer: Hydravision
Publisher: Dreamcatcher
Genre: Survival Horror
Release Date: 04/06/05

I loves me some sweet sweet horror. But true horror games. Ones that focus on plot in addition to gore and gameplay. The Resident Evil series lacks plot and good controls (Save for 4 and then its only got controls), and focuses purely on Gore. Silent Hill 1-3 had horrible controls, a substandard plot which might as well have been “Baby’s first scary story” and even the visuals were poor. But it gained a cult following.

There’s far better horror games out there that focus on actually weaving you an intricate story. Games like Clock Tower, Eternal Darkness, Echo Night, Hell Night/Dark Messiah, and more. But there’s one thing all these games have in common. They’ve all been stoic adult figures fighting the forces of evil. Only Clock Tower has a teenager in the game, and even then, she acts like a 30 year old, not a 13 year old.

Enter Obscure. A game that is by far the most original entry to the Survival Horror genre in two generations of console gaming. Not only has this game tackled an aspect of this genre only Hollywood has touched in regards to the Teenage Slasher Genre, but it also touches on something no other Survival Horror game has done since the NES’ old Nightmare on Elm Street title: Obscure gives you two player simultaneous gameplay. This is something I have heard countless people ask for and we finally have it.

So now we have a game that lives up to its name with a small print run and little to no attention. Well, we’ve given it a lot of attention what with last month’s Preview and Geli’s Interview with Hydravision, but that’s because Yeager and I have been salivating for this game since the first hint of it finally making it to America (it’s been out in Europe and Australia for quite some time now) and wanted to make sure people were aware that a lot of times, the underground Survival Horror games are vastly superior to the mainstream Capcom and Konami ones.

The question is, did Obscure live up to my expectations?

Let’s Review

1. Story

The game starts off with a very typical Movie montage opening, which lets you know right off the bat Hydravision is trying to make a B-Movie Teen Slasher pic into a video game. You’ve got your indie rock blaring as you see a few guys screwing around playing hoops in the gym when each main character gets a big close up and their name written across the screen. You start playing the game as Kenny, the big dumb jock of the playable characters. He keeps hanging out in the gym after everyone else, and then when he finishes up and heads towards the locker room, his bag is stolen. Kenny takes off in hot pursuit and ends up foolishly following his stolen possessions down a creepy cellar into an underground labyrinth. And you find yourself going “You stupid twat! Shouldn’t your spidey-sense be tingling about now?” Just like you always do with those Friday the 13th or Halloween movies.

I won’t spoil what happens, but I will promise you Obscure give you the best opening of any horror game ever made. Yes, better than Clock Tower 2 (Clock Tower 1 in the US) and Eternal Darkness. If you’re a fan of this genre at all, you owe it to yourself to get this game just for that beginning.

And the game gets better from there. In all you have access to five playable characters, each with their own special skill and distinct personality. The plot never tries to be some pretentious mystery that never quite explains itself because in reality the writers didn’t really know what they were doing and so left massive plot holes and claimed it was on purpose. You know, like SOME Survival Horror games.

What unfolds is a story about a school the five playable students attend and their attempt to unravel it and defeat the monsters lurking within. But the good thing is that these kids aren’t necessarily willing to do so. They’re basically forced to fight the monsters/figure out what is going on to survive. These aren’t heroes, they’re scared teenagers who just wanted to warn other people on campus that there are disgusting monsters running around on campus with a taste for human flesh. And then they’re stuck.

Obscure is very faithful to the film genre it is trying to emulate, and even though I would hesitate to call any of the characters likeable personality wise, they are believable and to me, that’s what is important. We have the Big Dumb Jock, the White Ghetto wanna-be yo yo yo bling bling guy, the A/V nerd, the Dominant Bitchy girl, and the quiet mousey girl. They all fit the genre and it’s hard to imagine any of them being friends in real life, but then Horror Movies jam back ethnic and cultural stereotypes together into a melting pot of death, and we’re judging this story on how faithful it is to the B-Movie genre. And it goes above and beyond.

Finally, there are multiple endings with each one triggered on what level of difficultly you play on and how many of your characters survive to the very end. That’s a very nice way to do things and a lot less annoying than the “Oops, you forget this one item way back when or didn’t hit the shiny red candy like button when you had the chance so this ending is unavailable to you” like a lot of Horror Games do. Now, your ending is based solely on your skill and talent as a gamer and you don’t need a FAQ or Strategy Guide to figure them out.

What we’ve got here is an amazing plot for a B-Movie/Slasher horror type film. And again, this is the mood Hydravision was trying to relay. Is it the greatest story ever told in gaming? Of course not. But it’s a perfect fit for the genre and I thoroughly enjoyed it for that aspect.

Story Rating: 8/10

2. Graphics

Usual story from me. I’m going to rave about the backgrounds, set design, and scenery but nit pick about the character models. Kenny is outstanding and you can actually see his musculature, but the others are rather drab and move/look more like automatons than humans. The monsters are bizarre and original, but they never scare me. But then only two games have ever creeped me out: Hell Night and Clock Tower, and if you ever play them, you’ll understand why. Fatal Frame was sublime in his creepiness, but it wasn’t goose bump raising or profanity inducing.

Yeah, if you’re looking to be scared by Obscure’s visuals, you won’t be. But there’s something ominous about a green/gray/black pulsating and oozing door that the graphic artists have made come alive. Or seeing the glass of a vending machine shatter and tinkle to the ground after clubbing it with a baseball bat.

I have to really empathize how amazing and REAL the background world is. The classrooms are spot on. The outside really looks like you’re out walking on a school grounds. And one thing of note that so many games seem to mess up, Obscure does twilight right. This may need a bit of explanation, but this is exactly what I mean. They get dusk spot on. The lighting the mood, the flickering and changing and lighting to a blecky orange-red and go “Hey look. Sun’s going down! Booga booga booga!” Just something I wanted to commend them on, along with all the other lighting/mirroring aspects of the game. Very well done indeed.

Aside from a few character modeling flaws, the game looks amazing and I far prefer it graphically than to anything other than Fatal Frame and eternal Darkness. It just amazes me how far graphics have come from just a generation of gaming ago, and even more surprised this is a budget title.

Graphics Rating: 7/10

3. Sound

The soundtrack to Obscure fits the game perfectly. You’ve got some indy rock which just screams “Teen Horror Film” This is intermingled with some typical “Ok gang, let’s split up and find those monsters” music, which again fits the theme of the game perfectly. It’s odd that the two different sounds that comprise the score blend so well, but horror movies do it all the time, so why not here?

The voice acting is decent, but nothing above and beyond what we’re used to. They all sound like teenagers and they do a pretty good job of fitting their stereotypical character, but then as they same the same things over and over again you will quickly get irritated with them. Especially the characters going “I think there’s a lock I can pick in here” or “There’s nothing of value here.” Man, it gets irritating, if only because it gets repetitive, but it’s not a condemnation of the actors in question.

The sound effects are quite good as well. The grunting of monsters, the sound a door makes as it slowly creeks open, the shattering of glass as a window is struck by a bat to let light in to destroy some foul beasties. It’s all here. And it’s all quite good.

Sound-wise, Hydravision made an excellent game in terms of everything. There’s a good chunk of voice acting in the game thanks to cut scenes and occasionally people will speak the same lines again and again when you give them specific commands, but I still can’t find anything wrong with it or anything worth nitpicking other than I wish there was more random diversity .

Sound Rating: 7/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Could it be? A Surival Horror game with excellent controls? After Alone in the Dark, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and all their sequels, Survival Horror had become synonymous with “Exceptionally Crappy Gameplay.” Resident Evil 4 was a big step towards improving this aspect, and Obscure takes it a step further.

Actually moving, exploring, maneuvering, and so on is amazingly simple and nigh flawless in Obscure. It’s amazing this control scheme hasn’t been used before and I thank Hydravision repeatedly for giving me a game that doesn’t play like some horrible torture.

Let’s break these down for you. We’ve got the A button which is your standard shoot/use/take button. The B button is clicked if you want to change an item in your inventory and then you use a control stick to cycle through your items. The Y button lets you use your character’s special ability. Kenny runs real fast, Ashley has a special attack for each weapon, Josh lets you know if there’s any secrets or hidden objects in the room, Shannon gives you hints when you are stuck, and Stan picks locks really quickly.

The L trigger activates your Flashlight and the boost for it. The longer you hold the L trigger down, the brighter the flash will be while holding it, but you can’t hold it for too long or you’ll overload it. The Right trigger aims your weapon, and if you find some tape you can actually tape the flash light to your gun to have both out at once and to help you aim. Nice touch that I really found amusing and fun.

Finally the D pad lets you give you computer controlled partner commands, like stay, follow me and so on.

The only thing I find bad is the collision detection. It’s very hard to hit monsters in the game with the non firearms. However, your computer controlled partner doesn’t seem to have this problem. He or she hits things very well. And you might as well give them a gun as soon as possible, as they never seem to miss. It’s like having a professional hitman as your partner. I find the best combo to be playing as Stan and have Ashley as your partner. She’s the best with the gun as it is and when combined with the AI’s nevermiss programming, you’ve got some excellent backup.

Two Player co-op mode is EVEN BETTER than playing the game on your own. When it’s just you, you’re a lot more serious about playing, trying to keep everyone alive, being more cautious, letting the Computer’s character cheeseball the monsters with the gun. But with a friend, the game takes on a whole new style. You’re a little more reckless, you have a lot more fun, and the conversations between the two of you are hilarious: “Run you stupid bastard! I can’t go any farther until you’re over here and the monsters be a comin’!” It is a great deal of fun and totally changes the atmosphere in which you are playing. Great great stuff.

It’s nice to see some really tight controls built into this game and that they add to the fun instead of ruining it. If you like Survival Horror games at all, you’re going to love playing this.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 8/10

5. Replayability

Obscure is a short game. You can beat it in one night if you really want to, but definitely over a weekend. So what’s the point of playing it again? Well there are several reasons. He first is that there are multiple difficultly settings, and each one is noticeably harder then the last.

There’s also the two player mode. No other game in this genre offers you this, so you might as well take advantage of it, and trust me, you will have a ton of fun. Even friends watching you two bicker over who gets the gun or going “God damn it, don’t hit ME with the bat!” is going to be greatly amused.

There’s also tons of unlockables, from new outfits to new weapons, to documentaries and music videos. And remember those multiple endings. The TRUE ending can only be earned in hard mode, so get cracking!

This is one of those rare short games I can honestly see being replayed several times and the enjoyment just doesn’t go away. It’s a fun game that captures the mood of this genre far better than a lot of pretentious over-hyped games on the market with excellent controls and the ability to play with a friend can not be understated.

The question really comes down to whether you want a 40+ hour game you’ll only play once or a 10-15 hour game you will play several times and it will change dramatically each time you play it.

Replayability Rating: 7/10

6. Balance

The game’s difficulty has three levels. Each one seems to be that the monsters can take a little more damage and that there are health drinks and ammo available for you. Overall, I find the game easy, but it is noticeably more difficult on the highest setting.

However you can skew things in your favorite pretty easily by remembering two things: Ashley and Stan. Those are the two characters you are going to want at all times. Ashley is a gun crazy nut job and Stan is a fast lock picker and also is very good with both guns and melee weapons, The other characters are for you in the early goings on of the game, but are worth getting rid of or using as cannon fodder there after. Especially once you’ve beat the game. Then they have no real purpose.

However there are two things working against you too. The first is that it is very hard to hit anything in this game (but not for your computer controlled partner with a gun), and the second is your partner’s weapons and attacks can hurt you. And sometimes that’ll hurt you more than anything else. Annoying when it’s just you playing and the compute lets three slugs into your skull, hilarious when you club your friend down with a bat in the heat of battle.

Overall the game is very easy to learn and the Difficulty has a nice bell curve to it. There’s very few “boss” characters in the game, and that might disappoint some, but at the same time others might enjoy the fact that it makes those battles all the more important.

The game is decently balanced and although it can be a little too easy sometimes, your best friend or partner might be the real problem for you in the game if you don’t pay attention.

Balance Rating: 6/10

7. Originality

Holy crap. Has it really been well over a decade since the last two player Survival Horror game? And the last game in the teen horror aspect of this genre was Illbleed for the Sega Dreamcast I believe, a game I had been salivating over and then hated every second that I had to play it. Man, what a stinker.

Obscure gives us both things horror fans have been lusting after for a long time and they gave it to us in a far better format than they have ever been done before.

With a plot that will remind you of everything from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” to “The Faculty” to whatever movie you want me to use that has teenagers being hacked up by Things That Should Not Be, you’ll find yourself amused by all the little twists put to the genre.

It’s hard to believe it took so many years for the Survival Horror genre to evolve to this. But I’m very glad it did, and feel a lot of people are going to play this and Resident Evil 4, and end up preferring this on an overall level. If only because it’s so different from what’s come before it.

Originality Rating: 7/10

8. Addictiveness

It’s very hard to put this game down. It seems to fly by and you have fun not only bashing monsters with a baseball bat with nails in it, but you also find yourself really enjoying the visuals and reading the little in jokes. The short length of the game really helps to make it even more addicting because so much happens so quickly, it sucks you in and you just don’t want to put the controller down.

And in multiplayer mode it’s even more fun, because now you can fool around with your best friend and do crazy stuff like let Josh die horribly because you just don’t like him or have some dry cool action wit banter taking place between the two of you. It not only makes the game even more fun, but it convinces you to play it with more friends or to get back together and play the game over and over again with the same friend.

Remember Contra and Double Dragon, where you’d be the tar out of those games several dozen times over and play them again and again not because you didn’t have anything else to play, but because they were that damn fun? That’s Obscure.

Great game to get sucked into.

Addictiveness Rating: 8/10

9. Appeal Factor

This is going to be a game that appeals to a lot of people. In fact, I can’t think of anyone that wouldn’t have fun with this. If you have a short attention span, Obscure is for you! People that like horror games or 3D action will have a lot of fun with this. Even people who generally aren’t into the genre are going to at least enjoy this game as a rental. I am amazingly picky and anal retentive when it comes to any “scary” or “horror” game, and I loved this.

It’s a budget title which means it is affordable and anyone expecting this game to be like MOST budget titles will be pleasantly surprised by how excellent this game is. And word of mouth will certainly help this game as well.

The only down side is going to be the fact there’s a low print run on this game and it seems to be hard to find. It really was one of those games you had to preorder to get or else you’re going to have to beg your local gaming store to get one in for you.

This game is certainly destined to be a sleeper hit/cult favorite as it was overseas and years from now it’ll probably be one of those games you have to snag on Ebay or some other auction site for more than it originally cost. Go find it! NOW!

Appeal Factor: 8/10

10. Miscellaneous

Obscure is $19.99, it has double digits in terms of hours of entertainment, there are a ton of unlockables and you can have two humans kicking monster booty at once. And that last bit above all else is what makes the game worth paying attention too. Obscure has set a new precedent for Survival Horror. It’s added a new bar to the ladder which right now it can honestly say it’s at the top of, if only because no one else has done this.

I am really happy to see people take some sort of innovation to this genre, albeit something I feel should have been done on the last generation of consoles. I am very happy with the result and glad to see Hydravision stretched this genre to its current creative limits.

Now if Obscure 2 can be a 4 player game that can be played via Xbox live, it’ll be the best Survival Horror game ever made.

Oh wait. Resident Evil Survivor tried that via the PS2 and it was one of the worst games made for that system. Maybe not.

Still we’ve got a wonderful game here in Obscure, especially for the price and innovation.

Miscellaneous Rating: 10/10


Story: 8/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 7/10
Controls & Gameplay: 8/10
Replayability: 7/10
Balance: 6 /10
Originality: 7/10
Addictiveness: 8/10
Appeal Factor: 8/10
Miscellaneous: 10/10

Overall Score: 76/100

Short Attention Span Summary
Last year, the Suffering destroyed every other Survival Horror game. This year, it appears like there’s actually going to be some competition for that crown between RE4, the upcoming Haunting ground, and Obscure. But Obscure cost more than 50 percent LESS than Resident Evil, and is more innovative and allows for two player simultaneous actions. And those things combine all help Obscure get my vote as the frontrunner.

If you can find this game, I strongly suggest picking it up, if only because you might not get that chance again a month or two from now.



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