Something is not quite right at Leafmore High. Awful screams are being heard. Students are disappearing. Teachers may suspect something but do nothing. Other students, obviously suffering from MTV attention span disorder, don't seem to notice either. Then, after basketball practice one night, Kenny Matthews goes missing. His sister Shannon and her friends, who have nothing better to do on a school night, lock themselves in the school and try to discover what is truly happening at Leafmore (Oh, and try to find Kenny too!). Obviously the S.T.A.R.S. team was already on assignment elsewhere and that's why we are left with O.C. rejects as substitutes for real Survival Horror heros.
Let me state for the record that Obscure does nothing wrong. It is a quality title, sold at a bargain price, that offers solid gameplay, beautifully rendered and intricately realistic graphics, a very mature audio score, a completely competent game engine that loads quickly and a map feature that is quite useful. Obscure simply doesn't innovate enough for anyone who's been to Raccoon City or Silent Hill to care. The one new feature that it does bring to the table is co-op play, and while it is quite clever, it may not be enough for survival horror fans to warrant a visit to Leafmore.
Survival horror games generally follow the following principle: a lone human is forced to battle hordes of generally un-dead zombie-type creatures in the hopes of I) saving the world, II) rescuing a loved one or III) finding the root of Dr. Phil's popularity and putting an end to it once and for all. While several of these games, most notably the Resident Evil series, have given us multiple characters to play through the game with, never have we been given multiple characters to use at the same time. And herein lies the first of Obscure's distinctions. A lone human against hordes of tongue-swinging saliva-spewing un-dead zombie-types is one thing, but having two characters against a few smallish poor-excuse-for-a-monster-type-monsters really doesn't require as many "survival" skills and doesn't really constitute anything very "horrific".
The gameplay follows the traditional third person survival horror mechanics. A thumbstick moves your character around in 3D (no more early Resident Evil" mummy controls" here). The right trigger locks you into an enemy or lifts your gun/flashlight to the ready while the left trigger enables you to "boost" the beam of your flashlight, allowing you to dispel the black halo surrounding certain creatures (making them easier to finish off with a bat or bullets). The A button is used to swing your bat, shoot various guns or use different objects. The X and B buttons control object and weapon inventories while the Y button enables each character's special aptitude.
Another feature that Hydravision attempted to incorporate into Obscure was special aptitudes for each of its cookie-cutter 90210 characters. These range from having the sexually repressed nerdy girl give out clues about the next step, the Jasmine Guy (in full-on Whitley Gilbert mode) character double-shooting weapons, the Josh Hartnett wannabee (with the god-awful skater dude voice) able to pick locks quicker than the other characters, the creepy newspaper geek telling you when you've forgotten to pick up an item in a particular room and the missing boy, Kenny, Hulking up; running faster, hitting harder and being more resilient. The special aptitudes of the controlled character can be accessed using the Y button, but your partner's aptitudes can also be used by using the d-pad. All in all, these are helpful, sometimes even a little too much.
The map is also quite useful, always indicating which doors can be accessed and the next location of interest. But this spoon feeding soon takes its toll. The game is too easy and too short. The puzzles are practically nonexistent, the bullets are plentiful, and you are never left seriously stranded wondering what to do next. In fact, when you have exhausted the things to do at a particular location (Admin Building, Sick Bay, Amphitheater, Dining Hall, Dorm, Library, etc) a helpful little menu will pop up and ask you if you'd like to return to the "gathering point" where your other friends are waiting. This is a nice feature, but sometimes you'd like to wander around a building and explore it fully and surmise for yourself that there is nothing of interest left.
While playing the game alone, you can give commands to your A.I. controlled partner and for the most part, he or she will do their best to follow you and assist in any attacks. The game truly shines when you decide to go through it with a friend. This may take away what little amount of suspense the game had, but it is actually quite fun and well handled. Consider it a party game. The camera makes the concession of following the "main" character around, and so while it is possible to get the "secondary" character lost or stuck in a bevy of crates or desks, an arrow will always point to the position off-screen where he/she is. At this point, a simple press of a button and the focus changes to the alternate character for a quick geographical readjustment. Very clever.
Either way you decide to play through the game however, you will find very little story of interest, little to no scares at all (it will make you long for those days of rabid dogs crashing through windows and lickers roaming the ceilings of police stations), a play-through length of approximately six hours, few unique creatures and hardly any boss fights. While the game does start out slow, it does pick up when night hits Leafmore and the flashlight becomes a necessity. How Doom 3's marines couldn't figure out how to tape flashlights to their weapons, I'll never know. But Shaggy, Daphne and Velma all seem to know how to do it! Ah, to hell with those marines anyway...
A word to concerned citizens: You can use bats and guns to break just about every window pane, vending machine and glass trophy case within this game. For the most part, these will contain health power-ups or ammo for your various guns. It's a shame when schools carry this much ammunition in plain open view. Someone at this school must've known what was really going on. And they wanted to help the children. You see, it's all about the children. That's the only way I can justify this complete lack of responsibility on the teachers' and custodial staff's part. Guns don't kill un-dead creatures; ammo does. C'mon people, we need to stick together on this one! (End rant about the completely inappropriate placement of small and large caliber ammunition).
One aspect of Obscure that is beyond reproach is its graphics. From the in-game cut-scenes to the CG movies found throughout (video tapes, etc) and the actual game engine, these graphics are truly spectacular. The attention to every small intricate detail is amazing. The school feels quite real and it's a pleasure to stop from time to time and take a look at the way nothing feels forced and how everything has its place (yes, except the ammo). Almost every location features some sort of tiny animation that brings to life each place. And since the game can be played with so many combinations of characters, the in-game cut-scenes are a marvel to behold as well.
The audio on the other hand is a little more of a mixed bag. The game's musical score is commendable and fits the game perfectly. The voice acting, while a little campy is generally good. Some characters will just grate on your nerves quickly (the skater dude) and so you will either avoid using them or make sure they are killed off early on. The game also features some strange howling and what I can only assume are "spooky" noises, but these start to get old very quickly when nothing materializes from them. The soundtrack also features Sum 41 and Span, how cool is that?
In the end, your enjoyment of Obscure will greatly depend on your expectations. If you are looking for the next Resident Evil outing or something akin to Fatal Frame or Silent Hill, you may be disappointed. True survival horror, this is not. But if you are looking for a "spooky after-school adventure" that you can play with a friend, then by all means, give Obscure a try. Finishing the game unlocks extra costumes and modes of play as well, and so, if you are a fan, there are quite a few treats in store for you. For the bargain price, and knowing what to expect from it, you could do far worse than Obscure. If anything, play it for the perfectly rendered levels and the few thrills it has to offer.