|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.|
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.
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.
|It really sucks trying to fight around the desks and clutter in these rooms. Gameplay annoyance or authenticity? You decide.|
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.)
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.
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.
|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.
Could Have Been Great
Here are four games that could have been much better with just a little more work.
Quakecon 2011 Keynote Annotated
An interesting but technically dense talk about gaming technology. I translate it for the non-coders.
Do It Again, Stupid
One of the highest-rated games of all time has some of the least interesting gameplay.
The Best of 2013
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2013.
Let's ruin everyone's fun by listing all the ways in which zombies can't work, couldn't happen, and don't make sense.