ObsCure: The Aftermath
Hydravision Entertainment/Ignition Entertainment
Genre: Survival Horror
There are certain things that a horror movie needs to be effective, especially in the slasher genre. First, there needs to be a discernible villain or danger; something that will strike fear into the viewer when it appears or is referenced by the characters. Having a group of characters who are, for the most part, relatable and likable helps you want to root for the ‘heroes’ to survive and triumph over their circumstances. Atmosphere is another element that cannot be underestimated, whether it is terrifying because of a lack of familiarity or because it is a familiar setting that has been invaded.
Cobbling together a survival horror game is the same way. In 2005, Hydravision Entertainment released a game by the name of ObsCure, which was heavily influenced by 1990s horror films like The Faculty. It introduced co-op horror in an effective way and made for a fun experience (which you can read my review of here, if you like). Like any decent horror movie, it left the door open for the potential sequel, even if just a crack. In 2008, ObsCure: The Aftermath hit the shelves for the Playstation 2, Wii, and Windows. The next year, it hit the Playstation Portable, and in just the past few years, it arrived on Steam.
While ObsCure was a delightful horror romp with a few flaws here and there, did ObsCure: The Aftermath manage to capture the same magic that it’s progenitor created? Let me save you the trouble:
No. No it did not.
The events that occurred at Leafmore High, the setting of the original ObsCure, are a fading memory to Kenny and Shannon Matthews, sibling survivors of the horrific incident that they endured alongside their friends, Stan, Ashley, and Josh. Trying to move on with their lives, they now attend Fallcreek University while Stan, having had some trouble with the law, is now a delivery truck driver. For the most part, however, they appear to be moving on as well as they can, given the trauma induced in the original game.
Fallcreek’s students, however, have been experimenting with a new drug- a black flower that makes them hallucinate. This flower has just recently started appearing in the local flora, and when his friends offer for him to try it, Corey Wilde has a nightmarish trip involving monsters attacking him and his girlfriend, Mei. Waking up face down in a bathroom stall, he realizes it wasn’t real; just a side effect of a really strong trip.
That night, Kenny and the girl he’s interested in, Amy, attempt to break into a party they weren’t invited to, but as they break in through the window of the fraternity, screams ring out and a student rushes toward them, telling them that something awful has happened. It isn’t long before Kenny, Amy, Corey, and a cast of old and new characters are wrapped up in another series of horrifying circumstances, threatening to end their lives unless they fight to survive.
Much like the original ObsCure, you consistently control two characters as you attempt to make your way through the campus of Fallcreek University. If you’re playing solo, you can switch between the two with the push of a button. Should you have a friend who wants to play with you, though, they can tag in and help out by controlling the second character. The camera still fixates on the first player, however, so usefulness is limited on a number of occasions.
Every character still has a different special ability but this time around, they aren’t just fun quirks to differentiate the characters. They are integral to move the story along and reach vital areas, which means you are forced 90 percent of the time to bring along particular characters to progress, limiting the freedom of choice offered up by the original game. If you find a high ledge, you absolutely have to bring Corey, as he can jump, shimmy and swing himself between ledges and other perilous areas. Need a large barricade or crate moved? Kenny or hockey-playing Sven can help. Just expect that these actions will not only help you head into the next plot point, but it will also dictate your pairing for you.
A useful new feature is that after a certain point, your characters will be able to draw a substance from the remains of the creatures they defeat. If enough of this substance is drawn, it becomes a curative, which acts like a first aid kit and heals a large amount of a character’s damage, which is helpfully notated on screen when you attempt to change weapons or items by a small portrait covered red in relativity to how hurt they are. As this game can get a bit tough, every little bit of help is welcome.
The Good, The Bad, and…
I am going to start this by attempting to outline at least one good thing in this game. I distinctly remember the multiplayer being a good time when I played through this on the Playstation 2. Thankfully, the PSP port also offers the option to play multiplayer over WLAN, though I didn’t get the chance to check it out. Hydravision knew that this was a feature that was a big draw for the original game, and bringing it back for the second was the best move they made going into a sequel, hands down.
Aftermath also plays really smoothly and has a few tense moments brought on by sudden enemy appearances and some puzzles that require quick reflexes. Of note, a sequence where your characters are fleeing a major enemy into an elevator. Once they enter, the player is faced with a fuse matching challenge to close the door before the adversary reaches them. While the tense moments are few and far between- the game tends to try for ineffective jump scares or overwhelming monster presence over timed challenges or close call escapes- the ones that exist are the most memorable moments of the game.
With those merits out of the way, however, the game is an absolute mess regarding content. The new characters are almost entirely unlikable stereotypes and the stilted dialogue only reinforces this every time they interact. Amy is constantly called “blondie” to the point that even her boyfriend delivers the line “take care of my blond girl for me” when she splits off to help another character with a task. Mei’s gaming is constantly referred to, as is Sven and his Norwegian descent (because, y’know, he constantly refers to Thor and his ancestors). The uneven voice acting does nothing to help this feel any less awkward with solid performances turned in by half of the cast and the other half of the cast offering some rough performances reminiscent of Resident Evil some years before. Even the bios of the characters range from sparse to vile. I’d be hard pressed to find a cast of characters I could care less about.
The game also demolishes what made the original ObsCure so special. In the original game, if a character met their end, the story continued on. It felt like a horror movie, and while it was inconvenient to lose a teen, you could progress the story at amped up stakes. In Aftermath, if a character is killed, it’s game over. You need to start from the last save point- where are sparse, as well- so instead of risking two characters, you have two walking potential game overs (one of which you can’t even control). The wonder of choosing your own party is gone, as the character talents are now necessary to proceed. Any established player choice that the character was allowed to exercise in the previous entry of the series is alluded to here but not delivered.
Want to know my other issues with the game? While I’ll go into it further in the next paragraph, to spare any potential players spoilers- the plot. The plot is nearly non-existent with very tenuous plot threads connecting it to the first game. While the original game took a strong influence from The Faculty, this game takes from a host of horror movies from the 1990s and early 2000s, along with classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. On the surface, the problem is that the game doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be- a monster movie, a slasher film, a teen thriller; unlike it’s older sibling, Aftermath does a terrible job of balancing the genres. What it does do well, however, is with the actual horror scenes and character deaths. At its core, the game knows it’s a gorefest.
Plot, and Therefore Spoilers
Let’s start with the connection between ObsCure and Aftermath. First, the game appears to assume that Shannon, Kenny, and Stan were the only ones to make it out of Leafmore High. There is not so much as a mention of awkward cameraman, Josh, or tough-as-nails cheerleader, Ashley. While I’ll go into this in a separate article, it is strongly rumored that the two of them were supposed to appear in a game bridging the events of the first and second game. It’s still a little strange to not hear their friends mention them at all, though upon further research, it sounds like there is a video or some other item that explains their fate toward the end of Aftermath. In any case, what has become of our survivors since then? Well, the experiments from Freidman, the mastermind behind the Leafmore incident, have left them all affected in negative ways. Stan seems to be the most ‘well-adjusted’, taking medications to ward off the effects of the experiments. Kenny is also taking medications, though he seems to be succumbing worse than the others, most likely due to his being abducted from the get-go of the original game. Shannon is the most interesting of the three. Her body has adapted to the experiments, giving her the power to absorb the ‘darkness’ to remove it from a given area. This introduces a strange kind of supernatural tone to the universe already set up, but she does become the ‘main character’ by most accounts because of it. Honestly, the three variations on how the experiments and the darkness are being handled is probably the most interesting part of the game.
What is happening at Fallcreek University then? With the rise of this strange flower drug that has been taking over campus, one would assume that someone would have noticed things getting a little too strange sooner- and honestly, if the rumors are right, the game that was never developed filling in gaps between ObsCure and Aftermath would have at least explained some of the sudden misfortunes plaguing the campus. As there is no confirmation in the lore as to how these happened, though, this section may have a lot of loose ends and strange assumptions. I may have to ask you to bear with me.
Really, the game seems to revolve around a greater organization that Friedman was a part of that has been posing as a fraternity on campus and attempting to create an ‘offspring’ from someone infected. It is revealed through a file in the game that the drug spreading across campus appears to heighten sexual activity in those who use it. Paired with the fact that one of the villains- a mutated Kenny who has lost control of his darkness- impregnates Amy (yes, it’s as vile and ill-handled as most of the plot of this game) and she is taken in by special agents toward the end of the game because of this. Given that there has already been an offspring of this kind between Friedman and Elisabeth Wickson, the nurse from Leafmore in ObsCure, this almost seems more likely. Given that their son appears to be a bit of a failed experiment, as he appears in the form of Jedidiah Friedman, a chainsaw wielding maniac who cultivates his father to help spread the flowers that are being ingested by the Fallcreek student body, this point seems to be strengthened. A lot of what the game presents on who is truly interested in this phenomenon concerns lies in Richard James, the professor who helps the group and seems to know a bit more about the Mortifilia- the flowers that the plot circles around- than he lets on.
Sadly, not much of this is expounded upon. The ‘fraternity’ seems to be much larger than it at first seems, and the ending leaves things open to the idea that the impregnated Amy, taken away on a helicopter by Richard to be researched, gave birth to some terrible creature through an explosion of black smoke. It seems like Hydravision was setting up a lot to be explained later, and in the midst of doing so much- exploring the Mortifilia, the Friedmans, the effect of the drugs on the school (which all seem like they should be related, and yet feel completely disjointed)- they threw as many plot points as they could in without tying much up. It all sound very interesting, but without a sequel, there’s very little payoff and as a result, the game feels like it is lacking in direction and plot in general.
Visually, Aftermath feels like an early generation Playstation 2 entry. Some of the cutscenes are well crafted, but the overall look of the game is a little shoddy, specifically in the supporting cast- and by supporting cast, I mean everyone but Shannon, Stan, and Corey. The rest of the characters feel a little less sculpted in movement and model. The environments are well-crafted enough, though, and the game really seems to shine in its monster menagerie and the beginning and ending clips. Other than that, the graphics aren’t anything to write home about.
When it comes to the music and sound in the game, though, it is on point. I’ve already said enough about the voice acting without being insulting- and I would like to imagine this has more to do with direction than the voice actors themselves. The music ranges from the alt-rock that populated a number of horror films of the target time to gorgeous chorale arrangements. If I take one positive thing away from playing this game, it would be the soundtrack, hands down.
I absolutely adore the original ObsCure, to reiterate. If ObsCure: The Aftermath had billed itself as a satire, it could be an amazing game. Not only does it take itself too seriously, but it feels like it tries too hard for shock and effect, and it sacrifices too many of the fun elements of the first game. There are a few quality points to the game, namely in its soundtrack and that it’s a quick and dirty horror game that took me a few hours to forge through.
Unfortunately, with an unlikable cast and a near indistinguishable plot aside from ‘survive unfortunate circumstances’, the game isn’t broken but it’s pretty low on the survival horror totem pole, especially compared to the previous game. When I attempted to play this on Steam, it was also near impossible to control without some hard reworking of the mouse sensitivity and some other settings, though that may have just been me. I wanted to like this game. I really did. In the end, though, it just hit too many of the wrong notes for me to suggest it to fans of the original or any serious survival horror fan in good conscience.