Genre: Horror Action Adventure
Growing up with a lot of horror in my life has not left me incredibly discerning in some aspects. I love slasher movies, which are probably the most repetitious types of horror you can reference, but when it comes to horror video games, I tend to savor each of them, whether they are quality pieces of entertainment or not. Much like with slasher movies, I feel like if you are enjoying yourself and getting a little creeped out? Horror games are doing their job.
Coming across ObsCure, a title I had no reference for when I saw it coming in new for twenty bucks, was an interesting bit of kismet and has led to some fun times. As is the case with games that strike your fancy but seem to come out of nowhere, I was a little hesitant to spend the money at first, even if it was cheaper than the usual new releases, but I have fond memories of playing this game with my friends. With it having released on Steam for the PC somewhat recently, I’ve had the chance to check it out again to see if it lived up to those fond memories of yesteryear.
ObsCure feels like a strange mix of “The Faculty” and any given slasher movie with a twist of Lovecraft in it. The game opens on a group of students at a high school, one of whom stays late and, though a series of events that make up the introduction, goes missing. The next day, the group stays after the school is locked up to find their missing friend, and they all wind up in a grotesque nightmare that will test their ability to survive the night.
The cast is made up of five teenagers overall, and each fills in a stereotype: Kenny, the jock, is the character that prompts the entire excursion, having gone missing. His younger sister, Shannon, heads up the group, and while she’s smart, she tries to hide it to fit in. Among the rest of the cast is Stan, Kenny’s best friend and underachieving troublemaker, Josh, the aspiring filmmaker who wants to get the scoop on what is going on at Leafmore High, and Ashley, Kenny’s current girlfriend. Each character has their own special ability- Shannon can give hints to puzzles and heals more if she uses med kits on other characters, Stan can pick locks faster than the others, and breaking the stereotypes, Ashley is a brawler who can heave an extra heavy melee attack.
As the cast assembles, some of the more interesting aspects of the game pop up. You will always travel in a pair, controlling one character while another follows along, helping battle any adversaries you may run into and able to be switched to in a pinch. The game, unlike most survival horror games, can be played with two players at a time. While this can be fun, the camera will only center on the first player, giving the second player “Tails Syndrome” and the ability to run off camera into danger, if they aren’t careful. Still, my friend and I, back in the day, had a blast switching off as the ‘main character’ and playing through the game together.
Also of note is that none of those abilities that were mentioned above are vital to getting through the game. This gives the player the freedom to play as whatever character they fancy, but these abilities also aren’t vital because if a teenager dies, it is up to the remaining four to finish the task and escape the school. You can make it through the game with all five characters alive and well or with one sole survivor, scraping their way through the conclusion. This adds a levels of tension reminiscent to Sweet Home, where sometimes, running is your best option to survive.
The game is not terribly complex, boiling down to a series of ‘go here, get this item/talk to this person to access the next place/go there’ almost ad nauseum. There are a few pitfalls that are clever. For instance, after a major fight where you have to use an elevator to reach the roof to access it, you then have to climb back to where the elevator was and climb down into the now revealed shaft. Warning signs read that the lock needs to be initiated if students are going to go into the basement this way, and if you don’t put that lock on, the
elevator will come crashing down on one of your students. End of game. You’re down a body. While these interesting points are few and far between, the game feels very linear, even with the notes and other story bits strewn throughout that you can pick up.
Claustrophobic exploration aside, the game has a few other technical issues that come up, but it is more a product of editing and translation than coding or programming. Cutscenes occasionally stop short and dialogue winds up either being repetitive and stilted or overlaps, making subtitles a necessity while playing if you want to catch everything being said. It also becomes apparent that the translation of the text in the game- Hydravision (now Mighty Rocket Games) is a company out of France- was somewhat spotty, as some words and sayings are misused. This does not detract from the game in any major way, but a couple of times, I had to re-read a text to get exactly what it was trying to get across.
For an ‘independent game’, and let’s be honest that it is pretty much what it is, the game is tightly put together and good fun overall. There are enough fun mechanics are play to make the game feel fresh. The ‘creatures’ that you face are vulnerable to light, so doing things like taping flashlights to guns for extra damage and knocking out windows with a baseball bat to let the light stream into a room are common ways to get a leg up on the forces trying to kill your characters. There are weapons galore, but the amount of ammunition for the firearms always feels like it isn’t enough, and it adds to the horror aspect, much like the early Silent Hill and Resident Evil games. The game’s atmosphere is spot on, as well, and every encounter that you walk away from feels like an achievement.
The game is not incredibly forgiving, and it may take a few swings at it to keep all your kids alive and well.
Pianos, strings, and choirs make up a vast majority of the music that plays throughout the
game. Everything feels very cinematic, and it sounds crystal clear and resonant, adding volumes to each sequence. Sounds effects range from sounds of creatures roaming nearby to screams being heard in a distant hallway. The voice acting, even with some of the strange writing, is full of well known talent and is better than the average horror game, which was even more surprising.
Visually, the game is great in almost every way, as well. Main character models look good and move naturally, and the game plays a lot of with darkness and light, so there is a lot of ambient lighting used to a positive effect to maximize the horror feel. The enemies are grotesque and well modeled, and the environments are crisp in their rendering. The only place where the game feels like it falters visually is with some of the supporting cast, who look a little flat and slightly less detailed than the main cast. The cutscenes are gorgeous as well, however, and everything looks great in those, supporting or otherwise.
Even on a thorough playthrough, the game rings in at about five hours or so, which may explain the low price tag in most places. I will admit to having some difficulties with the controls upon the replay on Steam. On the flip side of that, however, I grew up a console gamer, so those of you who gravitate toward PC keyboard controls- the game does not use a controller without some thorough configuration, it seems- may be a bit more comfortable with how the game handles. There is no online co-op to speak of, either, so multiplayer may be easier to achieve on console than on the computer, as well.
The end result of replaying ObsCure is that it makes an interesting single player experience and a damn fun two player game. It does enough to keep the player interested, and it clearly qualifies as a hidden gem, reaching cult status at this point. For those of you looking for a unique and somewhat quirky survival horror experience, you can do much worse than ObsCure. If you can’t find it on Playstation 2 or Xbox, the game will only set you back a few dollars on Steam and tends to be on sale regularly, so it is easy to pick up and check out for yourself. It is not perfect, but it is well worth the price of admission at this point.