ObsCure: Final Thoughts

By Shamus
on Sep 19, 2008
Filed under:
Game Reviews
Setting

Schools.  They don’t make ’em like they used to.  Staircases are like rollercoasters: The fancy metal ones just don’t have the charm of their wooden ancestors.  Note the textured wallpaper in the upper right. The level designers did their homework for this game.
Schools. They don’t make ’em like they used to. Staircases are like rollercoasters: The fancy metal ones just don’t have the charm of their wooden ancestors. Note the textured wallpaper in the upper right. The level designers did their homework for this game.
I know in my last post I promised that I’d talk about the good parts of the game. As I looked over my notes I realized that the only thing I had in the “good” column was the setting. I’m not suggesting that it’s worth your while to endure the clunky combat and tepid story just so you can walk around looking at the buildings, but it really seems to be working for me.

The school of Leafmore High is wonderfully realized. There is something deliciously bleak about antique institutional buildings. With their former ornate glory reduced to scuffed woodwork and peeling paint, those buildings take on a hunted quality even in broad daylight. At night their dim, jaundiced lighting and flaky electrical systems can spook you well before the monsters crawl out of the woodwork. I spent a couple of my pre-highschool years in buildings from roughly the same time period, and they were every bit as hollow and dreary as Leafmore High.

The place looks and feels authentic, and exploring the halls and rooms of the school is the best part of the game. The layout even makes some sense, which is almost unprecedented in an exploration-based game like this.

The game adheres to the ancient traditions: You start off locked in a small section of the school, and as you progress you gain access to more of the facility.

Being a PS2 / XBox port, this game is not cutting-edge graphically. This is in no way a crime. In fact, I think they do really well with what they’ve got here. On the PC, the loading screens are an eye-blink, the game runs smooth, and the scenery is rich in texture and atmosphere.

Fear

obscure4.jpg
This is not a very scary game. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The game cleaves to the gameplay set down by the classic Resident Evil titles of yore. It doesn’t work at all for me, but those games have their fans, and this game is apparently aimed in their direction.

Regular missteps undermine the suspense. Every time I began to synchronize with the world and feel a mild sense of unease, I’d find another save disc and start worrying about when I should be saving. Or I’d encounter some control-scheme difficulty that would yank me out of Leafmore High and put me back at my computer.

The game starts off on the wrong foot by revealing the largest foe during the tutorial. You get a good look at the thing as it stands there menacing you and sort of running in place. It’s five minutes into the game you’ve already seen the worst it has to offer. The story would have been better served by hinting at the thing, showing it in shadow, and showing us reaction shots rather than the beast itself. Once the game proper has begun, the first little critters it trots out for you to fight seem sort of tame compared to the behemoth in the tutorial.

Lots of fights are abrupt ambushes instead of being telegraphed. This dials down the dread factor quite a bit. The tension in games like this comes from the anticipation of a coming fight, not from being in one. What we have here is only slightly better than the much-maligned Doom 3 monster closets.

Combat

It really sucks trying to fight around the desks and clutter in these rooms. Gameplay annoyance or authenticity? You decide.
It really sucks trying to fight around the desks and clutter in these rooms. Gameplay annoyance or authenticity? You decide.
In the past I’ve criticized survival horror games that make the main character too much of a heroic badass and end up nerfing the fear. I’ve also complained about games with stiff, clunky combat. Maybe this seems like a contradiction, but I do think it’s possible to play an everyman (or woman) who can swing a baseball bat without stumbling around like a fool. Your character doesn’t need to be John Rambo for the game to be fun, but he also doesn’t need to handle like a mud-bound shopping cart.

This game lands on the “shopping cart” end of the spectrum, with your character being painfully inept with melee weapons. It gets better once you get your hands on a gun, although the gun seems to lack stopping power. Perhaps I was missing something, but I wasn’t ever sure if I was doing well or not. I’m getting hurt in every fight. Is it supposed to be like this?

The game lets you tape a flashlight to a gun. Which is nice. But doing so is needlessly complex. Which is bad. But once you have a flash-light you can activate “boost” mode, which will scorch foes with the extra-bright light. Which is kind of interesting. But the boost only lasts for about five seconds, until the bulb overheats. Which makes no sense because flashlights don’t work like that.

Also: This game suffers from an acute case of console-itis on the PC. I’m sure the PS2 and XBox versions can offer a far better experience, but the PC controls are a mess, even if you have a Dual Shock clone like I do. (There are more controls than buttons. I’ll bet on the console some of these actions were bound together on a single context-driven button, but on the PC they’re separated into different buttons, even when using a console-style controller.)

Characters

I love the idea of a group of trapped teens, and I concede that having them get picked off is an original idea, even if it agitates the perfectionist in me. But the real shortcoming is that these kids just don’t go anywhere, story-wise. Again, character depth isn’t exactly one of the defining attributes of survival horror (with the exception of Silent Hill 2) but I think it should be, even moreso than other genres.

None of the kids have a meaningful arc. They’re all familiar stereotypes who have very mild interpersonal friction as you progress through the game. On the other hand, they look good and the voice acting is inexplicably competent when compared to typical survival horror games.

Two Player Mode

The unique twist of the game is that it has a two-player mode, where each player controls one of the two active characters. More than any other genre, I consider survival horror to be a solo activity, but if you want to bring someone along then this is the only game where that sort of thing is possible.

If you do want to try multiplayer, then I implore you to get one of the console versions. The PC controls are barely serviceable already, and I can’t imagine the work involved in getting all the inputs working for two different players.

Final Thoughts

If anyone should be abandoning the pointless expense of DRM, it’s indie developers.  I hope they didn’t pay a lot for whatever copy-prevention contraption they grafted onto their software.
If anyone should be abandoning the pointless expense of DRM, it’s indie developers. I hope they didn’t pay a lot for whatever copy-prevention contraption they grafted onto their software.

All of my criticisms of ObsCure stem from the game failing to break free of the template set down by earlier survival horror titles. This might be unfair, but I can’t help but look at the wonderful visuals and solid premise (teens locked in a spooky old school is a worthwhile idea in my book) and wish it had an equally rewarding game to accompany it.

Fair warning: I have it on good authority that the sequel – the predictably named ObsCure 2 – is something to be carefully avoided.

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201131 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.

From the Archives:

  1. Eric says:

    So avoid it. I could’ve told anyone that this genre isn’t good.

  2. Kel'Thuzad says:

    Alright, I have a feeling I wouldn’t like this game. Are there any games like the one you have “invented” in your mind? I’d love that kind of game.

  3. Long says:

    You should try a game called “Parasite Eve 2” for the PSone. Probably one of the best survival horror games I’ve ever played. Managed to finish it once with just the starting pistol throughout the whole game. Though, you’re mileage may vary, might not be the right setting for you.

  4. Eric says:

    Yes there is. It’s called Dino Crisis.

  5. Kevin says:

    Lena and I enjoyed Parasite Eve, though Dino-Crisis, bought on the strength of it being a Capcom (Resident Evil) game was nearly unplayable for us.

    The notion of a two-player survival horror, even if a bit sub-par, is interesting enough to send me trolling through the PS2 and XBox discount bins. Setting is usually way more important than game mechanics anyway for this type of game.

  6. Ben says:

    The guy who wrote the Obscure 2 review that you linked to also reviewed Siren here: http://www.dreamdawn.com/sh/info.php?name=Siren,Forbidden%20Siren

    You’d like it, I think.

  7. malraux says:

    Maybe this seems like a contradiction, but I do think it’s possible to play an everyman (or woman) who can swing a baseball bat without stumbling around like a fool.

    It’s a cousin to survival horror, but Eternal Darkness seemed to pull this off fairly well. A good number of the characters were average people and they could attack reasonably well.

  8. Eric says:

    I will be honest once in this discussion. Parasite Eve 2(from now on known as PE 2)wasn’t a bad game. It’s the only survival horror game I enjoyed, but that’s probably because Sqauresoft did it. I’m also going to go out on a limb and say this game wouldn’t be a SH2 type of experience, Shamus.

  9. Vao Ki says:

    I agree that the idea was sound, too bad they failed to deliver.

    On another note, the idea of a survival horror game with a multiplayer option is intriguing. As you said, I would want to play it on a console.

    Used in another survival horror game, multiplayer could allow for a partial failure, for if 1 player was KO’d the team would not die, allowing the other player to reach a medical kit, etc. to revive their fallen comrade.

    I’m still waiting for a really good MMO in this genre. Retaining the atmosphere would be the biggest issue though.

  10. Eric says:

    I’ve heard the aliens vs predator mmo was pretty much that game your looking for.

  11. Vao Ki says:

    I may have to check that out. Thanks!

  12. lebkin says:

    You continually bring up Silent Hill 2 as your standard. How much of its appeal was related to its time and place, and how much would it be worth visiting now? In particular, I am curious concerning controls and save points. I don’t want to play a game that will just frustrate with mechanics. I am sure the story will hold up fine, and I’m not concerned about graphics. I am interested in giving it a a try, since I don’t play many survival horror games. So if I’m going to play one, I might as well start with the “Shamus Young Gold Standard.”

  13. Neil D says:

    It might be a neat idea (assuming it hasn’t already been done) to have a game where you find a flashlight, but it’s one of those ones powered by winding a crank, or shaking it. Over time the light would get dimmer and dimmer and you would have to left-click/right-click in rapid succession for a period of time to recharge. Using this mechanism you would still be able to recharge while moving, though it would be more difficult, and if you were actively in a fight it would be all but impossible — which all seems fairly reasonable.

    You’d have to balance the duration and recharge times well to keep it from becoming annoying, but it would be a realistic way of implementing a limited lighting mechanism (as opposed to, say, having your flashlight powered from the same energy pool that allows you to sprint).

  14. Factoid says:

    Survival Horror just never really works for me. The only one that ever scared me was the original Alone in the Dark, but I was too young to appreciate it.

    I’ve tried a few since then. Never cared for Resident Evil…even Silent Hill 2 didn’t work for me. I got about 20 minutes into the game…decided it was boring, slow and not scary and haven’t played it since. Keep meaning to give it another chance.

    I am looking forward to Dead Space, though. I’m a sucker for any game set in space. It sounds like an interesting premise too. You’re like the space-guy version of the Maytag repairman sent to fix a broken down spaceship and things go badly from there. Chances of space-zombies are probably pretty high, though I’m not indulging in too many spoilers…makes games more enjoyable.

    Case in point: The Force Unleashed. It’s gotten fairly mixed reviews, but I went in with nothing other than playing the demo and I’m loving the hell out of it. I had zero expectations. It IS proving to be annoyingly short though. I only have 2 levels left, but I have a lot of unlocking left to do for all the bonuses and achievements, so I’ll probably play through it 2 or 3 times at least.

  15. Shamus says:

    Lebkin: I tried to answer your question. Five paragraphs later I realized my lunch hour was over. I think I’ll just turn it into a post for later.

  16. Eric says:

    Excuses, excuses Shamus.

  17. The Lone Duck says:

    My favorite psuedo-horror game was Eternal Darkness for the Gamecube. It was your standard Cthulu-esque story, and many times, your character died at the end of the chapter, and you would pick up with another character. I don’t consider it survival horror, because things like ammo, health, and saves weren’t rationed out harshly. Obviously, all games require you to survive; it seems like titles labeled “survival” seem to have an extra layer of difficulty/frustration around simple tasks. I think I would like a good horror game, as long as it has good controls and plot. Nice art would be good too. I’m hoping that upcoming title Heavy Rain will be good. It’s doubtful that my ideal Harvest Moon survival horror game idea will see fruition. But you never know. 10 years ago, I never thought they’d make a fighting game with all the Nintendo characters.

  18. Deoxy says:

    10 years ago, I never thought they’d make a fighting game with all the Nintendo characters.

    Super Smash Brothers came out in 1999… so, technically, you might be correct, but some of us had already heard of it by then (or really, really close to then).

    So you might want to use 15 years, just to be sure. :-)

  19. Nilus says:

    I think the problem is that a lot of people played the Resident Evil sequels years after the first one came out. When RE1 came out it was revolutionary. The Camera angles were a pain and combat controls sucked but this was still in the early stages of 3-D gaming. It was a great game to play at night in a dark room. Everyone I know who played it nearly crapped there pants the first time the dogs jumped out at you through the windows. The problem is later RE upped the graphics but never really fixed the game play. Although I really like RE 4 on game cube.

    I here the Silent Hill games are great but they just don’t sound interesting to me. My friend once said there are two type of Survival horror players. People who love Silent Hill and people who like Resident Evil. I think I am an RE guy. I like playing SWAT team members who kill Bioengineered Zombies.

  20. JKjoker says:

    i liked the way parasite eve handled the combat, you didnt need to be a dualshock god to hit monsters and ive always liked character development (often forgotten for these kinds of games, games like stalker would have been sooo much better with some char development…) but i guess nobody would use that kind of system today since “it breaks immersion”, i hope this trend of hating turn based gameplay dies someday

  21. MikeSSJ says:

    I for one enjoyed Obscure quite a bit, but then again, I was playing it multiplayer on PS2, which made it ALOT easier to get everyone through the game without dying.

    And about Obscure 2 – if you liked Obscure 1, you’ll like the second one, as well, because it’s basically more of the same with only minor changes:

    You are not alowed to die anymore, for example, because every single character is important to the story. However, combat has become somewhat easier.
    But then again, I played the second game in multiplayer mode as well, and there were two boss-fights I just don’t want to imagine having to tackle with an AI-partner because teamwork is essential in them, and the AI is bound to screw up >_>

    Anyway – if you liked the first game for what it was, you’re almost guaranteed to like the second one, as well.

  22. Smileyfax says:

    “I don’t want to play a game that will just frustrate with mechanics.”

    That gives me the image of fighting off hordes of men wearing grease-stained overalls, telling you that your brake pads need replacement and that the cost will be more than what the estimate said.

  23. Danath says:

    Obscure 2s beginning is FANTASTIC… but it goes rapidly downhill from there, I found the intro to be generally scary but as you progress it becomes less so, im not a reviewer so I cant properly voice my opinion.

  24. Grammar Snob says:

    OK, I can’t help myself. Shamus, it’s “Xbox,” not “XBox.”

  25. MRL says:

    Random question, Shamus: have you ever sampled the “Fatal Frame” series? I don’t know if there are PC versions of the games, but the PS2 version of Fatal Frame 2 frankly scared the bejesus out of me, even more effectively than SH2 did.

  26. Vao Ki says:

    @SmileyFax:

    Hordes of mechanics? Scary!

  27. Steve says:

    I know it’s fairly unpopular, but I really enjoyed Dino Crisis… it suffers from a lot of the problems Shamus mentions (the controls are horrible, combat is a nightmare), but just managing to make it to one of those forcefields with a raptor on your tail? Priceless.

  28. lebkin says:

    Shamus: I truly expected nothing short of a full indepth answer to my question. Feel free to take your time. I look forward to a good SH2 post.

  29. Eric says:

    Excuses, excuses lebkin

  30. Jamey says:

    You know, I think they missed a grand opportunity here, to have each of the four characters have a very interesting story that unfolds *based on which characters are alive at various points* giving the game (with it’s almost forced character death) some built in replay value.

  31. Drew says:

    Shamus, I think you might appreciate (if you’ve never read it) the introduction from Orson Scott Card’s “Maps in a Mirror”, where he discusses the different types of fear. I think you and he are in complete agreement on the issue, as am I. Luckily, google books makes looking at this introduction online possible, so I’ll link it here:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=FLNCovxKl7IC&pg=PP1&ots=a1lcukRqEp&sig=6uA2JOiuvhVkV0Po2oOO6D1G01Q&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result#PPA3,M1

    Enjoy.

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