Sex, drugs and children’s choir?
Obscure… fitting title for a game based on a powerful pollen that turns teenagers into mutants and spreads through sexual contact. This PS2 release is a survival-horror adventure that takes bits and pieces from Resident Evil and Silent Hill, and mixes them up with a similarly bizarre plot and cheesy dialog.
[image1]The story is based on a flower that is discovered (or manufactured) to have a black pollen which has a hallucinatory effect. Needless to say, all of the cool kids are snorting it. Thing is, once the pollen matures, it has a secondary effect… it mutates the body into a variety of horrible creatures hellbent on killing people. The tricky thing is that apparently, during gestation, the infection can spread via sexual contact… and we all know how much sexual contact there is on a college campus (especially after snorting hallucinatory black pollen). So ultimately, most of the town is populated by horrible creatures.
However, a group of six friends seem to have avoided infection (ha ha! virgins!) and are trying their best to escape this campus of doom. Fortunately, the campus is littered with weapons for self-defense. The standard arsenal is readily available… blunt objects, pistols, shotguns, a tazer, grenades, and oddly enough, a high-powered flashlight, as the creatures are repelled by bright light.
The subplot of Obscure weaves in and out of the main plot as multiple love stories unfold. I can see where the developers were coming from, bringing some life and backstory to the characters, but here, it gets cheesy: Love unfurls amidst attacking monsters. After escaping one doomed area and landing in another, there is actually a kissing scene. Yes, the characters take time to reveal their love to one another and share a loving embrace before smashing mutants with a spiked bat and setting them on fire with a flare gun.
Graphically, Obscure is pretty decent for the PS2. Character textures are smooth, and backgrounds are more or less realistic. There are some flaws, such as flashlights not lighting certain corners and a few clipping issues like walking part-way through characters or walls, but the overall presentation is good. Oh, and I need to recommend that you play this with the lights off. Not because it’s scarier that way (though the creep factor in high), but mostly because the game is set in dark woods, dark houses, dark basements, and dark mausoleums. A game this dark gets washed out by any ambient light.
[image2]One feature that makes Obscure stand out from similar survival-horror games is the two-player mode. The game can be started as a one- or two-player game, and the second character can pop in and out at any time. There are six playable characters, each with a different aptitude. One is a jock, so he’s strong and can move objects too heavy for the rest; one is an athlete and can climb and jump better than the others; one has a knack for picking locks; and yet another has a penchant for solving visual puzzles and understanding clues. Oh, and of course there’s one who is infected and can inhale large amounts of pollen to make a path safe for the others. The characters are always sent out in pairs, and there are key points where they all meet up so that you can pair them up however you like. In single player, you can switch between two characters on the fly, which is necessary at times to solve certain puzzles.
Speaking of puzzles, Obscure packs a few good ones… though they’re fairly formulaic. Each stage has a lock box that requires three keys hidden throughout the level to open, and the lock box always contains a new weapon. Sometimes, you have to make it to the end of the level before sending a certain character with a specific ability back to solve a puzzle. There are clue-based puzzles, object-based puzzles, and logistical puzzles. Overall, the variety keeps it fun. Or occasionally frustrating.
Another frustrating aspect is the A.I.. Left to their own devices, the computer-controlled members of your team can either save the day by killing an unseen enemy or block your way through a doorway or narrow passage. I had to switch characters constantly to either move them out of the way or go back and help them navigate obstacles that should have been a breeze.
[image3]Yet another annoying mechanic is the single-use save points. Never mind that in order to save your progress, you have to touch a poisonous flower on the wall. No, it’s that after touching it once, it dries up, then seems to bloom and spread, rendering it useless as a save point a second time. This can get really frustrating and repetitive, especially when the save point is a few puzzles away from a boss fight. Lose the boss fight, and you have to go through the puzzles all over again. Lame.
However, I must say that I am surprised at how engaging Obscure is. Honestly, I was expecting a half-hearted swing at a horse that’s been beaten nearly to death… and brought back as a zombie. However, the two-player aspect, the story, and the progression of puzzles kept me wanting to play despite my frustrations.
If you’re a survival-horror fan, you could do worse than to try following a teenage romance story while battling mutated creatures generated from genetically unstable hallucinogenic pollen that multiply through an infection that spreads like an STD all set to the awesome sounds of the Boston string orchestra and Children’s Choir. And if that last sentence didn’t parallel the title, then I quit.