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Score: 80%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: DreamCatcher Interactive
Developer: Microids
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Survival Horror/ Adventure/ Action

Graphics & Sound:
Being a fan of the horror movie genre, Obscure seemed like a game right up my dark, dank alley, especially when you consider its tag-line of “the first action game created in the style of teen-horror movies.” Unfortunately, this odd blend of survival horror and adventure genres left a few things to be desired.

But I’ll get to those parts later, because one of the departments this game did not lack in was visuals. Obscure was filled with creepy, dark alcoves that I knew had some sort of little baddie lurking inside of it. I was constantly running from open window to open window hoping nothing would jump out at me while my characters breathed heavy with their lack of health. The character models (both the people and the creatures) are extremely detailed. Each model’s realism is reenforced by the little mannerisms put out either by the voice-actor or the subtleties of the animations. The creatures range from small, deformed two-legged, dog-like beasts to giant mutated spiders and everything in between.

Obscure’s music also does a lot to enhance the game’s dark and secretive feel. The music just adds to the oppression emitting from the very walls of the old school, which makes sense since most of the music is done by the Sum 41 and Span. The sound effects, on the other hand, sound fairly dull, and seem to leave something to be desired. The voice acting falls somewhere in between the music and the sound effects. Though the characters seem to convey some emotion while talking to one another, the conversations appear blocky and cut short.

Remember that 1998 movie, “The Faculty” with Elijah Wood (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy) and Robert Patrick (“T2: Judgment Day,” “The X-Files”), where the kids are running around the school after-hours, killing creatures left and right? Take that concept, mix it with Silent Hill, add a lot of problem-solving, and put it in Sunnydale. Then you have Obscure.

You control up to five different kids who find themselves locked in their school after-hours, just after one of their friends disappeared. It is the mission of this group to find out what happened to him. But apparently Leafmore High School isn’t what it seems... especially at night. After dark, creatures start roaming the halls and classrooms. These creatures are deformed, mutated, evil-looking monsters that carry the darkness around with them (literally). As you explore the various buildings of the school, you run into patches of black fog – somewhere in that fog lays the monster(s) that’s creating it. The best weapon you can use against these things is light. If you can break open a window or lead it into the light, the fog dissipates and it makes the creature vulnerable.

You also find clues to what exactly is going on in this school. As you go through old newspapers or other scraps of information, you realize that your friend wasn’t the first person to mysteriously disappear from Leafmore High. Each room and hallway is filled with items you need to find out exactly who is behind all of these problems. But how do you find them all? Each of the five characters has their own “special ability,” each modeled after one of the teen movie (be-it horror or otherwise) stereotypical characters. You have the school newspaper/yearbook kid who notices little clues easier, your “brainiac” who can give you suggestions on what to do next, and the strong-girl who has powerful attacks. The other characters include the poser who can pick locks really quick and the jock who can run fast.

Each kid has his/her strengths and weaknesses. Once one of them dies though, that’s it. They and their benefits are gone. In the end, all you need to do is get one from your team to survive. Another interesting aspect is that even though you can control five characters, there can be only two in your party at any given time: your character and the one following you. This is both good and bad. If you encounter some major enemy and those two characters die, you take control over someone in the remaining group and trek your way to that monster to finish it off – unless they were your last living group members. Thankfully, when you reach the place where a comrade fell, you can pick up all of their weapons in one fell swoop.

One thing I really didn’t like about Obscure was its save method. Instead of giving you preset save points or the ability to save anytime, Obscure has a weird hybrid. Throughout the game, you find CDs. If you have a CD, you can save your game anywhere you want to. But these discs are rare and typically come only after you have made it past some painful part of the game. In theory, it works like Resident Evil’s tape/typewriter system, just without the typewriter. I found this to be a problem because in games where there was some save point, I could generally assume it was safe. You don’t have that kind of security in Obscure. Instead, the game has no problem with you saving while being attacked or otherwise engaged.

Obscure also features a drop in/drop out two-player system. If, and when, you have a second character following you around, a buddy can pick up the second controller and help you out. This is great when going up against some of the bigger creatures because the A.I. for the characters while in battle is less than stellar.

Obscure is hard – plain and simple. Even the easiest difficulty setting is a pain to go through. The puzzles typically aren’t that difficult, but when you go up against one of the larger baddies, you fight for your collective lives. Both health and ammunition (as well as new weapons) are sparse, and when all you have is your bat/metal pipe/blunt instrument, you are basically dead. Couple that with the fact that most of these big baddies are in dark areas where you can’t break open a window or otherwise shine some light on them, it isn’t hard to see why Obscure can be a pain to get through. I would say that your best bet is to run past or away from enemies, although a lot of times that isn’t possible and you have to face them if you want to progress in the game.

Game Mechanics:
Ah, the controls... Obscure’s controls can seem easy when flipping through the book, but I found myself stumbling over my fingers throughout most of the game.

You aim your weapon with the R1 button. While using it, the X button cycles through the enemies (while you are locked on) with the Triangle. You switch between the two characters in your party by pressing the Circle button (which is horribly close to the fire button, I might add). The Square button activates the character’s special abilities – running fast, looking for clues, picking locks, etc.

You cycle through and select your weapon using the R2 button, while the L2 button does the same thing for your basic inventory items (energy drinks, discs, tape, etc). If and when you find the flashlight, you can combine it with your guns to always shine a light at your enemy. By holding down the L1 button, you can give your light a boost and make it get brighter (don’t ask me how, it just does). But make sure you don’t overheat it or the flashlight will be out for a little while.

The D-pad is used to give commands to the character you have following you. If you are in a fight, tapping the Up button gets your supporting character to assist you. The Left and Right buttons tell the character to stay and follow respectively, while you can use the Down button to swap weapons.

Does Obscure fit the teen-horror movie feel? Yes it does. It takes a lot of the elements found in the more modern day horrors (from the 90's on) and fits them nicely into a survival horror/action/adventure game. But beware, Obscure is not purely a survival horror or an action/adventure game; it is a mix of the two. When you aren’t running from or attacking enemies, you’re looking for clues and solving (fairly simple) puzzles.

I found the game to be a challenge, but don’t really see myself looking to play it again. Based on the talks I’ve had with survival horror lovers, the same holds true for them. Does this game have a place? Yes, I think it does. But I think it belongs on the shelves of those people who are really into both genres, not just one. If you are one of those rare people, then Obscure is for you.

-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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