The Horrors of College
With a self-descriptive name like Obscure, it probably isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine that not many people are familiar with the series. For anyone who may have missed the first title’s release in 2005, Obscure was a survival horror title in the vein of a Resident Evil or Alone in the Dark. It focused on a group of high school students trying to survive an outbreak of horrors created from biological experimentation. It was an interesting title which had some fabulous ideas, such as co-op play and a cast of characters with specific skills that could die at any time and the game would still progress without them. While the sequel to this title has been around for around a year now on the PS2, Wii, and PC, it has finally made its way into the portable space on the PSP.
Obscure: The Aftermath (OTA) picks up roughly two years after the events of the original Obscure. Things initially seem to have returned to normal until it becomes apparent that most of the students of a local college are experimenting with ingesting a plant that has mysteriously cropped up all over the campus. As one would imagine, consuming randomly discovered odd plants isn’t really a fantastic idea to begin with but instead of just resulting in widespread illness, everything starts to turn into a living nightmare full of angry, hulking, fleshy ghouls. Perhaps the best way to describe OTA is Saved by the Bell: The College Years mixed with Silent Hill, although I’m not sure which part of that equation is supposed to be more frightening.
Much like the original Obscure, you’ll have your choice of controlling a host of different characters that all have their own unique abilities. Some of these skills include being able to push heavy objects, hack computers and doors, spot clues and derive meaning from seemingly meaningless things, and the ability to jump and grasp high ledges. Unfortunately, unlike in the original, each character’s ability is completely unique and necessary during the course of the game and as such, each character must survive in order to proceed. This seems like a step backward for the series and results in a couple of irritating problems.
The first issue springs up once you are given your choice of characters. At any given point in OTA, you’ll have a party of two characters and can freely switch between them. During some levels, you’ll be resigned to use two specific characters whose abilities are suited to the tasks you’ll need to complete. However, you’ll also reach points where you get to choose which two characters to move forward with, and if you happen to choose incorrectly, you’ll run into roadblocks. For example, if you didn’t bring the character who can push large objects and you need that ability to solve a puzzle, you’ll have to backtrack to wherever the other characters are hiding out in order to progress.
Another frustration comes from the game’s archaic save system, which is not unlike the typewriters found in Resident Evil, although they don’t require you to use items to activate them. Instead of having checkpoints, players must find dark plants growing on walls in order to save. This wouldn’t necessarily be that much of a detriment if you didn’t restart from your last save whenever either of your characters is killed. Keeping yourself alive isn’t always the easiest of tasks but worrying about whatever the A.I.-controlled character is doing during combat can quickly get asinine. In fact, trying to keep the A.I. character close by to protect them can actually cause even more problems than it solves, as you will often inflict damage upon them with your own attacks.
Besides this issue, the combat works well for the most part. Players will find a good variety of melee and ranged weapons during their travels to help defeat all manner of horrific beasts. With a shared inventory, it is also a fairly simple affair to equip each character with the weapons that would be the most beneficial as well as ensuring that bullets are always on tap for whoever needs them. As with most survival horror titles, OTA’s camera can feel a little unwieldy during combat, but fortunately, a simple and effective lock-on feature keeps taking down baddies somewhat less painful.
Surprisingly, even though this game is a survival horror title, a genre normally thought to consist solely of a solitary experience, on a portable system, OTA offers players the chance to play cooperatively through the adventure. While playing through by yourself, as long as your PSP’s WLAN switch is turned on, a second player can join in and control your second character. This can certainly help moving through the experience, since you’ll no longer need to try to babysit an A.I.-controlled teammate but also detracts somewhat from the feelings of isolation that would otherwise be more apparent.
Perhaps where OTA is at its best is in the presentation department. For a PSP title, the graphics look incredibly sharp. The game’s six main characters all look exceptional and have unique animations that help them feel different from one another. The environments, especially once things start getting creepy, all look solid and surprisingly have quite a bit of detail even on the small screen. OTA’s mood is also heightened a great deal by the fairly spooky and well done audio. The soundtrack is exactly what you’d want from a game of this type and can be off-putting – in a good way. However, the voiced over dialogue is disconcerting, sounding mostly like it was being read by some sort of High School Musical robots, which I suppose is horrifying in its own way.
So if you’re itching for a decent survival horror game on the go and can deal with the “teen slasher film” feel and storyline, OTA is a pretty good choice. The series may not be as well known as Resident Evil or Silent Hill, but it still provides a healthy amount of scares and plays at least as well as the earlier entries in those series. Likewise, the fact that the game gives you the option of playing co-op is also an incredible feat, especially on the PSP where that feature is commonly underused. In the end, OTA may not blow your socks off, but it is definitely worth a play-through for fans of the genre.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.1 Graphics
This is a great looking PSP game with detailed characters, enemies, and environments. 3.2 Control
Trying to move the camera with the D-pad and your character with the analog stick is problematic, but a lock on feature helps out somewhat. 3.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
A great soundtrack clashes somewhat with slightly robotic and very unbelievable voice acting. 3.4 Play Value
You won’t really find anything new here, but OTA is definitely a solid survival horror experience on the PSP. 3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.