Review: Obscure: The Aftermath

As horror enthusiasts are probably aware, the Obscure franchise as a rule is approached with trepidation. And for good reason. It’s not exactly the creme de la creme of the land of Pyramid Head and cursed tattoos. While the original game stood on its own as an intriguing thriller, its Wii sequel tended to disappoint, as migrations to the Wii tend to do. It stands on wobbly legs as a survival horror title, stumbling more than once as it struggles to be recognized as a viable spectacle of the macabre. Now that it’s on the PSP, this is one port you may be wise to pass up, especially if you have a strong aversion to pitiful, Americanized attempts at college horror films. Because that’s what Obscure: The Aftermath is trying to be, and that’s a nightmare in itself.

You know you’re in for a strange tale when it is revealed that a virulent strain of disease that’s turning kids into monsters is, in fact, an STD. Yes, that’s right. An STD. Forget Umbrella’s dastardly deeds. This mutation can be spread simply by having sex. For these stereotypical college kids, that’s a big red warning flag. No wonder half the school’s infected. The bizarre and laughable story is sprinkled with a healthy helping of jocks, goth girls, stoners, promiscuous loons, and even that token Asian who’s a computer whiz. It’s difficult to get into a game that features such blatant typecasting, and so the experience as a whole suffers from something that could have been solved simply by thinking outside the box. Without an admirable, atmospheric storyline, the point of an atmospheric, supposedly “creepy” game is lost, just like in RPGs and any other story-driven narrative. It’s genuinely difficult to care about characters like these.

Assuming the persona of one of said college ne’er-do-wells, you’ll engage in a series of forced character-switching puzzles, dreary exploration in tight environments, and the occasional mini-game to contend with. You’ll need to pick locks. Push a few crates to make a pathway. Oh, that door’s locked — make sure to hunt the key! It all feels eerily similar to a “Silent Evil” or a “Resident Hill,” rife with lackluster monsters that need to be put out of their misery. Poor, sniveling STD monsters. But don’t worry. You aren’t in completely unfamiliar territory. The usual suspects are around to be put to use: the pistol, the baseball bat, and later on cooler and much more useful firearms.

Luckily, some particularly handy updates have been made from the Wii edition, however, such as the ability to utilize the shoulder buttons for quick inventory changes and healing items that may be consumed with a quick press of the D-pad. And you’ll need them. It isn’t particularly simple to evade attacks and you’ll often run out of bullets before a baddie hits the ground. Sure, there are plenty scattered throughout, but it never feels as though you’re doing as much damage as you should be. Forget using your fists, as it hardly ever makes a difference. Just be a big man and absorb the damage — that’s often the best way out of any altercation.

And your partner isn’t much help when it comes to battling. They’re around mainly for puzzle-solving. That’s one strike against the game – the fact that it relies on an alternating mix of two different characters throughout the entire adventure. The allure of most survival horror titles is the feeling of absolute isolation (except perhaps Silent Hill escorts and Mio and Mayu). Obscure ensures that there’s always a helping hand around to aid in different situations, whether it’s AI-controlled or another human being pulling the strings. However, in any other game this kind of cooperative play would work well, as Obscure implements the drop-in mechanic quite well. Simply leave your WLAN switch flipped on and anyone nearby searching for an open game can hop in to help you out — or completely ruin your experience, depending on what kind of player you get. Best to rely on friends to play with you.

Hopefully said friends won’t be too busy giggling at the terrible script and cast of voice actors that obviously must have been chosen from fandub hopefuls. I found myself wondering if any of the actors and actresses had ever lent their “talents” to any other projects before. It’s quite unfortunate, as the sweeping score is quite majestic and enjoyable in stark contrast to the trashy nature of the rest of the game. Fortunately, the graphics are a much-needed update. Since it’s obviously on a smaller screen,t they’re now up to par, unlike they previously were on the Wii. Environments are crisp and clean, as are the character models, even if their consciences (and bills of health) don’t follow suit. It’s remarkable that I sincerely believe it’s one of the best-looking PSP titles currently available. Go figure!

The game is rife with minor missteps, but its main offense is that it isn’t scary. It feels so much more like a straight to DVD B movie that you’d be embarrassed to show others that you own. Cheap scares, recycled gameplay, and stereotypical characters just don’t do it anymore. Neither do wonky camera controls. Still, there are some cheap thrills to be had here, especially if you happened to enjoy the original game on the PC, like I did. It’s mediocre for sure, but at the very least you get to see obnoxious frat boys succumb to gruesome deaths, and that’s always a plus in my book.

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