Half a decade ago, a survival horror game called Obscure was released for the PS2 and Xbox. A simple takeoff on the original Resident Evil formula and 4-years ahead of the re-vamped Resident Evil series in that it was two player survival horror, Obscure was also a “teen horror” about a bunch of high school kids. It was fun because of the two player aspect, but also completely forgettable. Didn’t leave any kind of lasting impression like when the first zombie dogs smashed through the window in Resident Evil or the first hideous creature skulked out of the fog in Silent Hill.
It wasn’t until recently that I discovered there had actually been a sequel released maybe 2 years ago for the Wii and the dusty PS2, which is the system for which I purchased it. I still can’t get into the whole Wiimote experience when it comes to survival horror, not to mention that my video game partner would probably fling one of the Wiimotes through my television screen in frustration if the controls got too difficult. So this weekend, I did indeed dust off my PS2 and we played the overlooked sequel Obscure: The Aftermath.
We really could not recollect anything about the first game (luckily, it’s recapped in the sequel’s manual), but the gist of the sequel is that the survivors of the first game are now in college. You start the game off in the dorms, which means sex, drugs, and raves! Getting a “look” prompt wherever you walk and finding humorous bulletin board posts about sex and partying in the dorms is funny at first, but soon gets REALLY annoying since it adds nothing to the game—except to hit you over the head repeatedly with the simplicity of the plot being about the two moral decisions college kids should make so they do NOT turn into hideous deformed monsters. But you instinctively click on every look prompt for fear of missing some more important aspect of the game—and there just really aren’t any important aspects other than to go off and look for some scares and monster bashing fun.
The two player experience is definitely what gives this game its charm, but also makes it a hassle many times. While it should be better to have a real person controlling your partner than AI (which is the case if you play a single player game), the camera refuses to comply, especially if you both walk off to separate sections of a room to explore. Instead of keeping you both locked on the screen until you come closer together and opt to go in the same direction, the game chooses one character’s perspective, leaving the other character as nothing more than an identifying arrow graphic on the side of the screen that signifies that “your character is over here somewhere.” Now imagine having your character lost off screen in the middle of a big monster fight or boss battle, which is exactly what happens in this game. Your friend takes the spotlight in the center of the screen kicking scaly, slimy monster ass while you are just mashing buttons hoping that your character, completely in TV lala land somewhere, is actually accomplishing something.
That’s bad enough, but there are also times when the game REFUSES to switch perspective to the character that NEEDS to be able to see. Take for instance a part in which both characters have to carefully time their movement because giant fan blades are passing over the path ahead. When the first character runs across to safety, the game STAYS with that character and no matter what button you press, the game does not let you revert back to the partner still stuck on the other side of the blades. I had to blindly push my stick until my character appeared on the screen, right as a blade was sweeping by, which means bye bye health bar. At another point, a character with a jumping ability had to swing on a pipe on a wall to get across an electrified floor, but as he makes progress, the camera NEVER shows you where he is, instead staying on the character that is just waiting behind, who has no way of changing his camera angle to bring you back on screen. I had to use the “let go” command when it appeared, jiggle my stick around hoping to get a “take” prompt for the items that were supposedly on the other side of the electrified floor that I couldn’t see and didn’t want to accidentally step on, then “feel” my way back to a “jump” prompt to again grab the pipe. I ended up missing out on an item as a result because my health bar was too precious to waste on a blind scavenger hunt. At times, we actually opted to have one player drop out of the game (which you can do at any time) just so we could get past a section with the AI doing what needed to be done on its own, and then bringing player two back into the game once we were in the clear. Kinda defeats the purpose of a co-op experience.
There are some other major issues. At certain times, you must change to another character because each has different abilities that are needed at specific points in the game. The downside is, unless you’re using a walkthru, you can find yourself standing in front of the single door that takes you forward in the game, only to discover it requires the lock picking pro you left in a safe spot a while back, so you have to backtrack to get him. The game also often fails to give you any indication of how to solve a puzzle the way the cryptic files you find in Resident Evil actually hold the key to solving the puzzle if you’re patient enough to decipher them, which means you have to consult a walkthru for the answer frequently in Obscure: The Aftermath.
The biggest problem for someone as save-horny as me (the game could crash at any time!!!) is that every save in the game can be used only once (oh the humanity!), so you are forced to go forward in the game to save again. So if you save then collect a bunch of items or fight a bunch of monsters, you can’t quickly save your progress again. You have to forge ahead and hope the next save isn’t too far away and that you don’t get taken down by more monsters before you get there. The variety of creatures in this game is fairly limited and cliché, and the amount of ammunition and health is also limited, making the game frustrating at times. You can use melee weapons to conserve ammo for boss battles, but you get super damaged every time you do take on a room full of monsters with melee weapons, which means you immediately have to use up the small amount of health you have on you.
If you can overlook some of these glaring problems, the game does have some positive game mechanics as well. First of all, you can fire a weapon WHILE you’re moving—a hugely important feature that not even the hugely action-oriented Resident Evil 4 or 5 bothered to implement. Your inventory of non-weapon items is also just a quick key away. If you’re good with using multiple controller buttons simultaneously, you can actually HEAL yourself while in the middle of a boss battle without having to bring up the official items menu that essentially pauses the game. In fact, you don’t have a choice, since you can’t USE health items while in the items menu. Weird. The official items menu is only good for switching weapons with your partner or changing weapons, which is a very user-friendly feature. Plus, you have four quick keys on the controller specifically for favorite weapons you want to grab on the fly. Of course, between non-weapon quick key graphics on screen, weapon quick key-graphics on screen, and action prompts on screen like “take,” “look,” and “open,” the screen can get pretty dang full and crowded.
There are also some exciting co-op moments that make it feel like you’re really in a movie and working together. For instance, you at one point climb up to the second level of a library, and as you reach down to pull your partner up, monsters burst into the room below! If you pull her up fast enough, you can avoid a fight, but if you don’t, you have to jump down and help her. Also, during a boat rowing sequence across a lake, one of you has to paddle while the other fights off flying monsters to make sure you both stay alive.
The game also doesn’t offer difficulty settings, but you can get through it without much of a problem, even if there are a couple of stumbling blocks along the way. We reached the end credits of the game in one day—but almost didn’t finish the game. Why? Again, if you don’t have a walkthru on hand, you would never know this, but you fight a fairly easy boss and all of a sudden the game’s credits begin to roll and you’re like, “WOW! We rock!!!” However, you can’t skip past the credits to return to the main menu, and for good reason. Once they end, you have almost another two hours of game playing left! Can you imagine how many gamers simply turned the game off after completing the faux final boss??? Well, I guess not many since this game is so not popular and probably didn’t get much play by anyone.
But anyway, when you finally do reach the official final boss, it doesn’t matter how much you conserved ammo or health earlier in the game. Why? Because after the faux ending, you continue the game having lost ALL your items. You spend a bit of time running in terror with no way to defend yourself before picking up a few lame weapons and just enough health items to get you through to the end of the game. Then, RIGHT before the final boss, you find a satchel filled with health and weapons to use to fight him! Which means you go into the final boss with no advantage or disadvantage, regardless of how well or poorly you played earlier parts of the game. Who ever heard of a preset inventory to fight a final boss? And how much does that suck for not so-good gamers who find they can’t defeat the final boss with only the items they are given?
Of course, the sex and drugs plot makes the game entertaining in a cheesy way, but it is simply a means to delivering a ridiculously lame plot. This game will most definitely be as forgettable as the first in that regard, but what won’t be forgettable are some of the infuriating game mechanics I’ve already spoken of—not to mention the most annoying of all…the lock pick situation. Yeah, I’ve got to nitpick about the lock pick. The lock picking parts are @#~!%$* infuriating!!! Okay, let me calm down and rephrase. The lock picking parts seriously slow down the momentum because they can take quite a while to accomplish. You simply have a screen graphic of a lock and a pick, and you have to insert the pick into the various gaps in the lock and move them up and down to try to get all the gaps to line up so you have a direct line to the unlock mechanism. It’s tedious and causes serious blurring of your eyes. One of the most obnoxious “let’s piss off the game players” moments the developers programmed into the game has you working on picking a lock RIGHT before a boss battle. Now, there’s a save right before the lock, BUT, once you’ve picked the lock, instead of having an open prompt for the door, you are automatically thrown into the room with the boss!!! In other words, if you don’t save BEFORE picking the lock, you simply forfeit your opportunity to save before the boss battle…which would mean being sent back to an earlier save if you die during the battle!!! BUT, saving before picking the lock that leads to the boss battle means…die in the boss battle and you have to, of course, reload your save…right BEFORE the lock pick. Which means picking the lock ALL OVER again. ARGH!!!! And it’s not like you can actually memorize the pattern of the lock pick. You really have to re-figure it out every time. So annoying.
Finally, the game totally sets things up for a second sequel, but let’s consider. The first game was on Xbox and PS2 and wasn’t a hugely successful game. The sequel was on the Wii and the essentially defunct PS2, and was more obscure than the original. So are they really going to develop a THIRD game, and for which consoles? Since this has always been a budget title series, I guess they could slap something together for the Wii now that the series has carried over to that platform. And I would play it, despite the weaknesses. Sure, it’s not the intense two player experience Resident Evil 5 is, but it definitely captures the key element that this generation’s survival horror games lack…and that would be the HORROR.