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Reviewed: Obscure
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: May 11th, 2005
Page: 2

Obscure's premise is the basic premise for most survival horror games; a group of humans, stuck alone in a limited space crawling with monsters, trying to get out. The setting for Obscure is Leafmore High School, which just so happens to have been founded by two brothers who were scientists researching a plant that they thought would give them immortality.

The catch? It mutates horribly on contact with light.

All heck - and the experiments kept caged up below the school - has broken loose. Students are being killed, going missing, weird growths are taking over... the works. As horror movies and/or games go, it's not a bad premise even if it seems eerily familiar.

The game features a cast of five possible characters, each of which has a "special ability" of sorts. Kenny, who'll be missing for most of the game, has the ability to run fast, and is decently powerful with melee weaponry. Stan is an accomplished lockpick. Josh can tell whether there's anything in a room left to investigate (you'll find him the most useful of the bunch). Shannon always remembers the current goal, and Ashley's "special attack" means she's never really disarmed. Picking and choosing which teammate to use isn't as useful, unfortunately, as it might think; the whole game can be completed with just two characters if necessary, and the game can be completed even if a few of them die.

The enemies in the game come in limited variety - there are small crawlies, zombified humans, ceiling-crawling stranglers, Nemesis-style brutes, ogre-looking hulks, and a few gigantic creatures that look superficially like queen ants and "attack" by sending forth voracious maggots. All of these creatures put forth an "aura" of darkness, making them hard to see until enticed into sunlight or exposed by bright light.

Weaponry is equally limited; there are melee weapons (pipes, baseball bats), pistols, shotguns, and the occasional flash grenade. The big innovation is that flashlights can be duct-taped onto pistols and shotguns, and once affixed have an "overdrive" feature that suffuses enemies in bright light. Since all of the monsters are vulnerable to light, the flashlights become more or less essential, and players are advised to use not just the most powerful gun, but the one to which they've equipped the best (e.g. least quick to overheat) light. Healing items are limited to "energy drinks" (minor) and first-aid kits (major), and their conservation is key to surviving the game; if you're out of healing and one of the crew is badly injured, switching out for a fresh member isn't a bad idea.

Like all survival horror games, there's plenty of scripted attacks, and plenty of stuff coming through windows and/or walls. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is true that the game has almost no exploration factor; once a section is opened, it's meant to be cleaned out, and a new section opened. Reaching the end of the game is almost entirely based on finding the "key" to the next section, usually handed off by a faculty member who's been running around investigating the place. Puzzles are also very simple, involving very little more than bringing the appropriate item to the right place in order to move on.

Where Obscure will get you most is in the atmospherics. The graphics are gruesomely done (in a good way), perfectly portraying a broken-down high school with its glory years long gone; as pieces are broken up by the rampaging monsters and old, close-off areas are revealed, the game gets scarier and scarier. The audio is just brilliant, especially if you've got 5.1 surround sound. Banging noises and screams come from nowhere and everywhere, latin chanting shows up at the oddest moments, and the monsters sound as hideous as they look. Like all good horror games and movies, when played in seclusion (that is, in the dark, without a lot of outside noise) it has a good chance of producing some very real scares. The background noise is actually disorienting enough that the Mascots refused to be in the room while I played the game.

The real improvement Obscure makes on the genre, and one that makes it worth picking up, is that it's got the two-player mode. In this mode, rather than controlling a friend via AI commands, a second player picks up a controller and plays along. View switching is easily done, but more often than not players will want to stick together for force of arms. Two-player mode also helps prevent a certain awkwardness in the AI concerning melee weapons; in combat or out, AI-controlled friends have a tendency to stand a little too close to the player and get hit (and damaged) by the backswing.

Overall, it's a fun game; at the value price of $20, it's well worth picking up or at least renting.

Added:  Thursday, May 12, 2005
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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