"All the kids are planning to hit up some exclusive frat party, but first — it's time to partake of the new awesome college party drug. Some mysterious new flower's pollen, if inhaled, bestows a really good buzz and some wacky hallucinations. In fact, they're so wacky that Corey and Mei find themselves in a creeped-out locale ripped right out of any number of hellish Silent Hill locations. After enduring a few experiences nightmarish enough to convince just about anyone besides me that drugs are bad, Corey wakes up a bathroom with the hangover to end all hangovers."
The further I got into Obscure: The Aftermath, the more confused I became. Was this a quality game reminiscent of those classic Resident Evil and Silent Hill titles of years gone by -- while adding a few new twists to their tried-and-true formulas? Or was it a cheaply-designed knock-off more likely to elicit cursing from players instead of fond memories about those games? The thing about Ignition Entertainment's new foray into the world of survival horror is that it's so wildly inconsistent my feelings rapidly would pinball between love and disdain.
This is the sequel to 2004 release Obscure, which featured five teenagers attempting to get to the bottom of a bizarre mystery involving their high school's principal and his brother doing some sort of evil biological experimentation on people. A bit older and wiser and infinitely more traumatized, three of those kids return for this game, which takes place at lovely Fallcreek University. While being exposed to whatever junk the evil brothers were using to experiment on folks apparently had no ill effect on goth poseur Shannon, her jock brother, Kenny, and local no-goodnik Stan both have to take medicine to avoid bad stuff happening to them.
To keep his mind off his troubles, Kenny's made a host of new friends at Fallcreek. The game begins with two of them, Corey and his girlfriend, Mei, finding their way through a dorm to get to the room belonging to Norwegian party-dude Sven. All the kids are planning to hit up some exclusive frat party, but first -- it's time to partake of the new awesome college party drug. Some mysterious new flower's pollen, if inhaled, bestows a really good buzz and some wacky hallucinations. In fact, they're so wacky that Corey and Mei find themselves in a creeped-out locale ripped right out of any number of hellish Silent Hill locations. After enduring a few experiences nightmarish enough to convince just about anyone besides me that drugs are bad, Corey wakes up a bathroom with the hangover to end all hangovers. Finding Mei, she's in about the same state. Fortunately, a few sips of an energy drink cure that problem and they're off to the frat party.
Meanwhile, Kenny and hot chick Amy have already gotten there, but, as said before, this is an EXCLUSIVE party and they're not on the list. Not letting minor things like a bat-wielding bouncer deter them, the two sneak into the house via the rear balcony. About this time, a number of those magic flowers suddenly blossom and emit a LOT of pollen into the house, which has a very bizarre effect on the party people. Instead of having a rockin' great time, Kenny and Amy (as well as Corey and Mei, eventually) find themselves in a bloodbath where they have to fight for their lives against horribly mutated frat boys and other monsters. Apparently the new drug of choice at Fallcreek has a few less-than-desirable side effects. Now, it's up to the kids to not only survive all the bizarre goings-on, but also figure out exactly what's going on at Fallcreek.
As you might have guessed, the recent glut of teen-oriented horror films inspired Obscure: The Aftermath's plot. This is the heart of many of this game's greatest and worse moments. While there are plenty of the standard "shock-n-scare" moments that survival horror games use to freak out players, as well as some gory scenes, this game doesn't take itself all that seriously, which is refreshing. Comical messages are posted on the bulletin boards scattered throughout dorms and characters constantly are bantering with each others -- sometimes in hilarious fashion. The game goes too far with this, though, as you'll watch a character experience a tragic and traumatic event, only to hear him or her cracking jokes with a buddy minutes later like nothing out-of-the-ordinary had happened.
Another cool thing is that this game has a large cast of characters. All together, there are eight kids you may control at certain times, each with their own special abilities. Kenny and Sven are strong dudes, so they can move heavy objects, while Amy's great at solving puzzles and Stan's less-than-ideal background has made him proficient at picking locks. The large cast of characters adds to the impact of this game, when you realize the bulk of the body count will come from these kids. Unlike many survival horror games, Obscure: The Aftermath does a great job of making things truly suspenseful, as you won't know who'll live and who'll perish, which leads to a couple of genuinely shocking moments. Unfortunately, those moments get diluted by some horribly-rendered cutscenes. The game itself looks and sounds fine, but the animated parts look like they'd be more at home on the original PlayStation Resident Evil than on a PS2 game.
In another cool twist on the usual survival horror formula, you control two characters at a time. Player one will control one kid, while either the computer or a second player can play as the other. This adds a bit of depth to some of the puzzles, as it often takes the teamwork of two characters to get through certain rooms. And the extra person helps out a lot during many battles, as I noticed my computer-controlled partner seemed to get the drop on monsters before I'd even discerned exactly where they were. Once again, though, there are problems with this formula. With computer-controlled teammates, you ONLY want to give them melee weapons or those powered by an easily-rechargeable battery. Ammo for guns is fairly scarce in this game and the computer A.I. will run through your limited stash of bullets in no time at all. More of an issue is how, in close quarters, maneuvering your character around your partner can be a real pain. I died a few times before beating the game's first boss -- mainly because the battle took place in a fairly claustrophobic location. I had to constantly move because the baddie aggressively pelted me with waves of black pollen, which led to me taking many hits due to getting hung up on my partner who'd also be frantically scrambling around the tiny battle arena.
Regardless of those flaws, Obscure: The Aftermath would still earn a high recommendation from me except for one major detail -- this game has the least replay value of any survival horror title I've ever played. There are no cool goodies to unlock upon beating the game and the quest itself is short and linear. After finding out who lives and who dies (as well as seeing how certain characters perish), there really is no reason to ever play this one again, as much of what made this game fun and different for me was the simple fact that anything could happen to anyone at anytime. Take that element of suspense away and this is a short, pedestrian game.
Still, I'd have to at least mildly recommend this one to fans of the survival horror genre. It's an inexpensive pick-up and some of the puzzles are fun to do. Cracking codes on digital locks with Mei was enjoyable, as was manually picking regular ones with Stan. And the pure shock value of having some character that's been with you most of the game suddenly get killed does give this game something that most similar ones don't have. Obscure: The Aftermath is no masterpiece, but is definitely worth playing on a rainy day, even if it likely will be relegated to a shoebox in the back of your closet almost immediately after you've beaten it.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (April 22, 2008)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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