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game: Obscure
three star
posted by: Laurie Taylor
publisher: DreamCatcher
developer: Hydravision
ESRB rating: M (Mature)
date posted: 12:00 AM Sat May 21st, 2005
last revision: 12:00 AM Sat May 21st, 2005

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Players who happen upon Hydravision's Obscure will be pleasantly surprised. Obscure's bargain price (new for $20) and bizarre concept as a high school survival horror game make it at first seem like a questionable idea. The inclusion of the popular band Sum 41 in the opening cinematic also sounds like something from bad teen television with its musical guest stars (as on shows like Beverly Hills 90210 and Smallville). After playing Obscure for a bit though, the game is quite well designed in terms of game narrative, game play, game sound, music, and even minor innovations on the typical survival horror model. Horror gaming fans will be pleasantly surprised, other gamers will also find a decent action game and decent introduction to or overview of horror games, and those interested in gaming will find the constant homages and pastiching of horror elements to be particularly noteworthy.

Obscure is a clone of the typical survival horror model in that it relies on locked doors, puzzle solving, item collection, and fast monsters. The game is set in Leafmore High School, which just happens to have gardens, basements, an infirmary, a mansion, and old unused dorms as part of the campus. This is a typical safe world gone mad, like the hospital and school in Silent Hill, the police station in Resident Evil, and the mansion in Eternal Darkness.

Perhaps the best and worst of Obscure are embodied in its character usage. The characters themselves are generic, but can be played in interesting ways. The game begins with Kenny, a stereotypical jock, going missing and his friends deciding to search the school after the school day ends. The investigative team begins with Ashley, who's Kenny's girlfriend; Shannon, who's Kenny's sister; and Josh, who's Kenny's friend. Soon after the game begins, Kenny's best friend Stan is added to the team. Each of the characters excels in a particular area,Shannon is smarter and can offer hints with puzzles, Stan is faster at picking locks, Ashley is a better fighter,and the skills are part of their generic personalities. These differences aren't crucial in the overall game because all of the players are competent enough, but they come in handy in certain situations. Similarly, the dialogue for cut scenes and for game play does change (even if only slightly) based on which character is in use at the time. While the lack of individual character personality tends to be a problem, the characters can be controlled in creative ways. Obscure's play dynamics allow for normal and co-op modes where one player controls two characters, one player controls only one of the characters, or two players each play as one of the two characters. Some of this is reminiscent of the play for Resident Evil Outbreak or the teamwork aspect in Resident: 0, but it manages to put its own unique spin on team and partner playing. This includes allowing the player to let several members of the team die without ending the game,an added bonus given that some of the characters tend to be on the annoying side. Despite the generic personalities, there are enough characters that players can discard those they most dislike and still probably find a couple or few that they find interesting.

Other additions to the typical horror gaming mix include very minor innovations in terms of weapon types and their uses like bats to break glass windows and cabinets, and light grenades like those in the Blade movies. The game world of the high school is also immaculately rendered with objects that cannot be carried or used, but that can still move to make the game space seem more active. The game also offers loads of interesting optional materials like being able to speak into the mic in the Auditorium and being able to read ˜Puck' as the poster for the upcoming school play. Taken individually, any one of these aspects is not particularly interesting, yet they add up to a quality gaming experience.

Multiple difficulty levels aid the gaming experience because gamers unaccustomed to horror conventions can use the easier levels and veteran players can set the difficulty higher for a more intense gaming experience. Horror games are often seen as frustrating because of their difficulty level. Obscure continues in the horror game tradition with fast monsters that sometimes respawn, and are somewhat difficult to fight. Given the number of monsters and the dark lighting, Obscure could be prohibitive for those unfamiliar with horror gaming conventions, but it does offer an easy level so those new to survival horror can ease themselves into the game. Further, seasoned horror game players may want to take advantage of the easier levels for replay as subtle changes occur when different characters are in use during similar situations.

On its face, Obscure could seem to be nothing more than a compilation of existing games.  Digging more deeply though, Obscure is more like a Frankenstein monster that is made of parts of a number of other horror games to emerge as its own unique entity. This is because Obscure actually manages to compile all of these elements into a cohesive game while also including references to the earlier horror games. In effect, Obscure is to horror games what Scream is to horror films. It may be silly or repetitive at times, but it's an excellent synthesis of earlier horror game components; complete with a dream-like introduction that starts Eternal Darkness, the double staircase like that from Resident Evil, the use of flashlights as in Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare, monsters that look like something from any horror game, and team play dynamics like that of Resident Evil Outbreak. The game is still relatively short, but add to this Obscure's solid sound effects, music, and graphics and Obscure is a great game at a bargain price.