Obscure: The Aftermath PSP Review
Given the popularity of teen slasher films and survival horror videogames, it's surprising the two don't collide more often. Where are the games based on the Scream or Final Destination franchises? Seems like a money-making no-brainer, yet most horror games take the riskier route, creating entirely new, untested properties. Obscure, a little known title from 2005, actually did capitalize on the teens-being-terrorized craze, and saw some success with the formula. Its sequel, Obscure: The Aftermath, which originally appeared on the Wii and PS2 last year, now comes to the PSP with a similar take on the genre.
This time the stalked protagonists are college twenty-somethings who, when not having the crap scared out of them by beasties and mutants, crack jokes about sex, drinking and other favorite frat house past times. It makes for an odd mix of traditional horror scares and cheese-ball dialogue that somehow works. And honestly, I'm not certain if the bad voice acting is supposed to be serious or an authentic attempt to capture the same silly vibe that keeps us going back to the cineplex for guilty pleasure entertainment. Regardless of the intention, I continuously found myself enjoying the sharp contrast between genuine scares and the characters' totally inappropriate responses to them.
A quick example of this sees a young couple frantically searching for a gun to fight the monsters that have just mutilated their fellow students. When the female finally manages to crack the code on a safe, and retrieve a pistol, her jock boyfriend quips “I guess I won't get to shoot my load, tonight.” That's got to be intentionally bad, right? Lines like this flow through the entire game and, for me, help capture the same stupid-fun style utilized in countless slasher flicks. That said, others might find the cheesy deliveries more of a detriment than a complement to the horror vibe, so enter at your own risk.
Aside from separating itself with horror movie appeal, the Obscure series adds co-op to the survival horror mix—nearly four years ahead of Resident Evil 5. Granted, these games play far more like traditional key-collecting, puzzle-solving, room-exploring adventures than RE's recent run-and-gun reboot. But other series, such as Silent Hill, could learn from Obscure's co-op lesson. Playing locally with another PSP-owning friend definitely adds to the experience, as monster-thwarting and puzzle-cracking is, as a rule, handled better with double the brains and guns.
However, If you prefer the scares afforded by solitary play, you'll still reap the benefits of having multiple characters on-screen. Choosing a team of two from a half dozen or so protagonists, you'll explore the creepy college town, switching characters on the fly as needed. In fact, you'll be required to do so, as different characters possess unique skills. So, for example, you may need the burly jock to move a heavy object into place so the brainy chick can climb on it to decipher a clue that's out of reach. It's an interesting dynamic that almost manages to make survival horror tropes feel fresh again.
Of course, no matter how many scared students you're controlling, it won't change the fact you'll be spending lots of time backtracking through dark rooms and cluttered corridors, hunting for codes and keys and, of course, attempting to open doors that are “locked from the other side.” When you're not tackling the usual genre chores, you'll be blasting gooey creeps with a variety of melee and ranged weapons. The action, complemented by solid PSP player and camera controls, offers a nice mix of straightforward baddie slaying and more subtle monster-around-corner moments. Overall, the puzzle, action, and exploration-focused gameplay, while a little too familiar, is well-paced.
Visually, Obscure looks great on the PSP's wide display. There's lots of spine-tingling atmosphere, and enough blood, fog and cool lighting tricks to give Silent Hill a run for its scares. There are, however, some noticeable hiccups coming in and out of cutscenes. The soundtrack is appropriately eerie, though, and should manage to set your nerves on edge when you're not chuckling at the so-bad-its-good dialog.
The game's biggest flaw is that the gameplay, despite the multi-character approach, feels dated. You won't be doing much of anything new in Obscure, you'll just have multiple characters to help solve the puzzles and kill the monsters you've seen in so many other survival horror games. Still, the teen slasher-flick concept works well enough, and the option to play through the entire campaign cooperatively is an especially nice feature on the PSP. But again, the voice acting will be hit or miss for most gamers. You'll either eat up the cheesiness like a big tub of movie theater popcorn slathered in butter substitute, or you'll cringe every time one of your beer-loving, hormone-raging characters opens their yapper.