Obscure Xbox Review
Some nice FMV graces the intro and cut scenes of the game, though none of it is particularly awe-inspiring. Similarly, the character models are functional enough but no visual candy. The game’s bestiary is somewhat bland and uninteresting, leaving the environments the game’s only graphical saving grace. While these again aren’t spectacular, they are atmospheric and show a lot of attention to detail, from classrooms to dingy service corridors.
Obscure is undoubtedly the teen slasher movie of the Survival Horror world; when school chum Kenny mysteriously goes missing one night at Leafmore High, Josh, Shannon, Stan and Ashley take it upon themselves to investigate. Rather than call the cops, as any cinematically-aware teen would do (don’t they know what happens to highschoolers that get involved in mysterious happenings?), they hide in a classroom until lock-in… but all too late they realise how deep they have plunged, and what horrors await them when the sun goes down…
You can choose which of the kids you want to control, and each has their own special skills; Josh, who is something of a nitpicking nerd, is able to detect if there is anything in a room worth investigating, while tough-girl Ashley can perform defensive moves when she is surrounded by enemies. While none of these abilities is integral to the game, they do add an element of personalisation to the way that the game pans out. As well as your own selected character, you may choose one other teen to accompany you throughout the game. The remainder of your team will wait in a designated meeting spot; switching characters is simply a matter of talking to the person that you would like to control. Unique to this game is the two-player option; a second player can enter the fray at any point by pressing start, and will take over control of your accomplice. Team mates can use items and swap weapons if they stand close enough together, which instils a sense of team-work to the game-play. Unfortunately, if a character’s health is depleted at any point, they are removed permanently from the game. If all characters are killed, then its game over for our intrepid detectives. Luckily, if you are playing a 2-player game, your surviving partner may raid your body for any weapons that you happened to have been carrying – survival of the fittest and all that.
Weapons in the game range are poached from the classics; steel poles and guns are the fare of the day. However, the strength of your projectile weapons may be boosted by taping a torch to it; as your enemies are sensitive to light, finding a torch and a roll of tape can even up the odds against the gruesome hordes. As well as lighting up the corridors and partially-dissuading your foes, you are able to “boost” the light for a short while before it over heats, which is usually enough to make an enemy turn tail in terror. However, this technique is very short-lived, and requires time to recharge, meaning that its important to save it for important occasions. However, help is at hand; using a melee weapon, you can smash almost anything made of the glass in the game…while this makes for many monitor-destroying sprees, it also means that you can crack windows and allow natural light to flood in and vanquish your enemies; that is, until night falls… As well as weapons, various healing items can be found in the form of health packs and healing drinks (there’s something unsettlingly satisfying about smashing open a school drinks machine to raid it), and standard puzzle-solving items, such as rusty keys and compass arrows.
An interesting feature in this title is the use of more “realistic” puzzle solving physics; while most Survival-Horror games will see muscular heroes searching out keys for rickety old doors, Obscure allows the players alternative ways through. Lock-picking is an integral skill, particularly considering that it may take several moments to open a door using this method; similarly, smashing glass panels in the doors so that the handles can be reached on the other side is a well-used technique.
There are a few niggling issues with the gameplay, however. Occasionally the difficulty of the game, even in the easier modes, is just a little too high; there seems to be a distinct lack of bullets and healing tonics, and just a couple of blows from an enemy will almost deplete your health. Combine this with the fact that many enemies attack in hordes and have “black auras” that protect them unless dispersed with your pathetic flashlight, and you get an idea of how irritating this becomes. It is also near impossible to evade enemies with any frequency; they move more quickly and are stronger than all your cohorts. The fact that you cannot resurrect any of your team also begins to annoy as you approach the end of the game with only one character left; suffice to say, running out of healing items at this point will require restarting the whole game.
The item menus could do with a little tweaking as well; an active selection menu appears at the side of the screen, meaning that you cant pause the game while you use items or change weapons. While this undoubtedly bumps up the urgency of the game, its annoying as hell when you have to cycle through about 3 different sections to find the item that you want to use – by which time you’re often dead.
While all-in-all there are no glaring issues with the game, there just really isn’t enough to make it stand out; it will make you jump, no doubt, and everything works well enough…just there’s nothing really to make you sit up and take notice. The two-player works relatively well, with options to switch the camera angle to focus on whichever character is needed at the touch of a button, but single players may find this a bit of a chore.
Thankfully, the acting in the game isn’t as dire as some of the actual teen slasher movies; everyone is serviceable in their roles. The music of the game is relatively understated when it is used at all; instead, silence is used to effectively create atmosphere and tension. This is countered by typical teen-angst strains by bands such as Sum 41, which do a good job of creating a movie-like feel to the game. Similarly, some great jump-out-of-your seat sudden sound effects have been applied, which make for a relatively enjoyable (if a bit shallow) experience.
Sadly, this is the games biggest fault; the main mission boasts only around 6 hours of actual game time. Thankfully, there are several reasons to replay; different cut scenes can be revealed depending on how you play the game, and who managed to survive the horror. Similarly, the two player option may offer enough incentive to come back for another bash – just so long as the difficulty doesn’t pose a problem.
An enjoyable if unspectacular new entry to the Survival Horror genre. If you can play it with a friend and enjoy your SH games, then by all means pick it up at its reduced release price; if you will play it alone, then be warned; you will most likely not get your moneys worth out of the title. While it may never oust Silent Hill or Resident Evil from the top of the most-popular horror game chart, it’s still well worth a look; if only all new franchises could show the same amount of effort as this.