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Obscure: The Aftermath - PS2 - Review

In a college town at a fraternity party, young men and women are getting wasted on whatever they can find. The irony of their actions is that by the end of the night, “wasted” will be the only word that can describe their fate. Strange mutations, brought on by a flower these hardworking students have been brewing like tea, is capable of unleashing a power so vicious it’ll make their heads spin – and not in the way they had hoped.

Obscure: The Aftermath, the sequel to one of the few popular horror games not titled Resident Evil or Silent Hill, has once again taken its inspiration from the Capcom and Konami hits. The story is all its own, with eerie scenarios, an immersive soundtrack, and a fair amount of spooky sound effects.

 

Radiohead to Big Ugly Monster: “But I’m a creep!”

No Radiohead, you’re not. But these guys, with their fluid-spewing bodies, tentacle shapes and blood-soaked skin, most certainly are. They don’t know any better. It’s tough being a monster in the city – you get picked on in school, and there’s no way they’ll ever let you go to college. So you bust your way in, making life a living hell for our heroes. Actually, heroes isn’t quite the best classification. These guys and gals are fighting to save their friends and themselves. They had no intention of taking on the enemy to prevent a bigger war from unraveling. That’s just icing on the gruesome cake.

High-end visuals are an essential part of every survival/horror game. How can you convey a spooky scenario realistically if the graphics are weak? If you can detach yourself from the new generation, The Aftermath is a pretty good looking game. It’s not on par with Silent Hill 2, 3 or 4 – those games took the lead in moody and realistic lighting, textures, and backdrops. But that doesn’t mean this game isn’t high-end.

Every interior is stacked with real-world touches. When the world is calm, your dorm room is layered with multiple floors to explore, different aesthetics and layouts for most of the rooms, and a couple of objects to interact with (plus several you can’t touch). When evil approaches and the world goes crazy, the environment is replaced by bloody and deteriorated environments, the kind you’d find in the original Silent Hill for PSone, but with much more detail. Of course, with all this beauty, you’re bound to eventually wonder what this game would have looked like on PlayStation 3.

 

Let’s Go Kill and Collect Something

The gameplay side of Obscure: The Aftermath tends to follow one narrow path. First you’ll have to find a way through the environment, which may involve the moving of boxes or other objects to climb on, the destruction or removal of barricades, and so on. Along the way you’ll encounter a monster or two – take them out because running won’t do much good. Next up: collect an item. This may be as simple as a key to unlock a door, or a ripped piece of paper with a secret lock combination.

Whoa, more monsters! Fire!

Once those are taken care of, you’ll probably come to another obstacle or puzzle situation. The game has spread its scenarios across six students, two of which can be controlled simultaneously. One is under your command at all times, the other follows you under the control of AI. You can switch between those two characters by tapping the R2 button.

 

The whole point of having multiple characters is to add variety. But each guy pretends to be tough, and each girl is afraid at one time or other. Personalities aside, you’ll have to use each of them to finish the game. As bad luck would have it, Corey is the only person that can jump high enough to grab a ledge. Mei is the only one with a hacking device that can manipulate electronic locks (triggering puzzles where you’ll have to unscramble the names of famous people, such as “Picasso” and “Freud”). Amy has the magical ability to unearth hidden messages. The list goes on from there, with supporting characters appearing at different times to advance the story.

While I appreciate the variety, I didn’t care for the result. In some instances, all the characters were accessible from one central location. You can’t walk away with more than two, which means you may have to come back if you picked the wrong team.

Monster encounters are a step up from the first game, as are the camera angles, which are dramatic when free-roaming and fairly well structured when controlled by the player. Unlike Resident Evil, which purposely limits the ammo you receive, Obscure seems to provide additional ammo whenever it’s needed most. You will have to beat some monsters with a hockey stick or baseball bat. But if a hefty monster is on the way, chances are a bullet clip is in the area. As your arsenal expands, so will the types of ammo you receive, and the frequency at which it’s delivered.

These elements are quite a mix. Obscure knows how to be intense and exciting. But it doesn’t always know how to keep that feeling intact. In many cases, the game jumps ship and forces a character change just when something cool has happened. Obscure has a nice idea going with the shadow monsters, who block your path and cannot be eliminated without a bright beam of light. At the same time, you may be laughing – not jumping out of your seat – when the whiny voice actors recite one of their cheesy lines. Yes, movies have done worse, especially those with zombies. But while some games are 100% Grade A cheese, there are real, believable moments in Obscure. There just aren’t enough of them.

 

Creepy and Intriguing

…But not quite scary. Survival/horror games have had the same effect as horror films: traditional pop-out-and-say-boo techniques can’t frighten those who have already seen it. I used to feel on edge while playing Silent Hill. It was the only game I’ve ever played where I had to take breaks – not because I was bored, but because the game was just too bothersome to finish in one sitting. That kind of magic only happens once, hence the evolution of Resident Evil and new horror styles like Dead Rising.

All this taken into account, you probably won’t jump out of your skin playing Obscure. If the fright-factor is the only reason you play these games, The Aftermath may not cut it. But if you love the elements of horror as a whole – the idea of something bigger and more powerful than mankind threatening your world – this game will surely satisfy that craving.

Review Scoring Details for Obscure: The Aftermath

Gameplay: 7.7
Very much a pre-Resident Evil 4 experience. In this case, that gives Obscure the edge as a niche. While most other horror titles are upping their speed, adding new weapons and changing the camera perspective to compete with RE4, this Obscure sequel is a throwback to yesterday’s horror. Which, as it turns out, is still a viable and worthy type of gameplay.

Graphics: 7.9
It’s been a while since I’ve said, “This may be the last good-looking game on PS2.” Thankfully, I was wrong the last time I said it, and I hope I’m wrong this time as well. Either way, your eyes will be impressed by Obscure’s evil-enveloped world. If you can, play it on an older (square, not wide) TV – it wasn’t built for progressive scan.

Sound: 7.0
The voice acting is 90% cheesy, but the music is very well done. It’s a different sound, one that’s more subtle and operatic. Keep your speakers cranked – even if the voices encourage you to do otherwise.

Difficulty: Medium
Some of the battles are tough, and the puzzles can be confusing if you don’t know where to look. But if you’ve played through Silent Hill, this game will seem easy.

Concept: 7.8
Great story, horrific scenarios, creepy sound effects, and some cool camera angles.

Multiplayer: 7.0
Survival/horror…with a friend!? Obscure: The Aftermath allows a second player to drop in and out of the game at any time (your friend controls the second character in place of the AI). The implementation is not perfect, and playing with a friend makes the game seem less eerie. But I like this idea. Developers need to explore this with other horror games on PS3 and Xbox 360.

Overall: 7.7
Obscure: The Aftermath isn’t survival/horror reinvented. It isn’t survival/horror perfection. But like the retro RPGs, which serve their purpose by reiterating SNES gameplay and graphics that feel older, The Aftermath serves the survival/horror fan by giving them one last romp with the style that defined PSone and PS2.

Good

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