Obscure
Developer: Hydravision Entertainment
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1-2
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Obscure is a new survival horror game by French developer Hydravision Entertainment. Looking at their website, it appears this is their first title, and currently the game appears quite low key, and not many people have heard of it. This is a shame, as it really is a superb title and deserves to be shouted about. The story goes like this:

An American school full of too-pretty-to-be-real teenagers (think of the movie Scream here) accompanied by a Sum 41 soundtrack are enjoying life as any too-pretty-to-be-real-Sum 41-listening teenager would do in America, but one evening something weird happens and young basketball player called Kenny goes missing. Heís shooting some hoops after school, when he gets a call from his girlfriend on his mobile phone asking where heís at and what time he is coming over tonight. They finish the conversation and young Kenny realizes someone has just stolen his bag from the changing rooms. He follows the indistinct figure out of the building, through a gate, down a garden path (which he comments on not knowing about previously) and into the basement of an old house. He picks up a torch and then finds a gun, and off he goes. Soon enough you are treated to a cut scene with Kennyís friend, sister and girlfriend wondering where he got to last night, so after school they set out to find him. The game proper begins in the empty school.

Obscure is a team-based survival horror title - from the initial three characters (there are five in total who you meet up with later in the game) you choose a lead character, then a secondary character to follow you around. You choose them by simply walking up to them and pressing ĎXí. Each character has different skills, and one has a very handy ability - when you press Ďsquareí he will tell you if there is anything else to look for or do in the room youíre in. This saves many moments of running along a wall repetitively pressing X to see if there is anything to activate or pickup. Another characterís skill is that she will tell whatís best to do next, so if you get stuck in the game, you can go and ask her and she will point you in the right direction. Getting stuck and having to do the same thing repeatedly are some gamersí pet hates about the survival horror genre, so Obscure instantly improves on other games in this area.

You can command your secondary character to help you out (by using the D-pad), or hold back, and you can quick-select their weapons by pressing down on the D-pad on your controller. However, if you prefer you can plug a second controller into your PS2 and have your friend control the character instead. So you have a proper full-on co-operative mode in the game - very neat! If you are playing solo, you can swap between the two characters at any time by pressing the circle button. If one of your characters dies, they stay dead and one of the other characters will then come and join you - all the weapons are automatically carried across for you.

The inventory system in Obscure is really well done, and is similar to Metal Gear Solid where pressing ĎL2í brings up a list on the left side of the screen of all your items and health, and pressing ĎR2í brings your weapons up on the right side of the screen. Between the two current characters, you share your ammo, health and items, but the weapons you pick up are only viewable in each playerís individual inventory. You can swap weapons around at any time, and give health to either player within the inventory menus. I really like the system they use, however I would have preferred it if the inventory paused the game like MGS so itís not such a panic to select new guns or get new health when under attack. The menus are quick and easy to navigate though, so itís only a small gripe. You can also carry everything you find in the game, unlike Resident Evil and its painfully limited inventories. You can only check your characterís health within the pause menu, and itís shown by how bloody the photo of them is. It works ok, but I think a small on-screen pop-up gauge would perhaps work better.

Iíd like to commend the game save feature as I think it works really well. Along the way you pick up CD-Rs, and with them you can save at any point in the game, wherever you like. Every time you save you use one CD-R, and there is always enough so you arenít caught short. I found this really handy - I could save near a potentially hard area and eliminate loads of backtracking.

The enemies, which are quite disturbing and make some of the scariest noises I have ever heard in a game, only seem to be scared of one thing; bright light. So the first thing to do (after grabbing a gun of course) is to find a torch. These prove to be as valuable as firearms in the game, because if you shine the light at the enemies and press L1 to increase the brightness temporarily, they will back off and start to melt away. At this point, puncture them with a few bullets and theyíll soon go down. Your torch has a temperature gauge, and once the bulb has reached maximum heat, its monster-melting days are over until itís cooled down. You will come across more powerful torches later in the game, which can boost (shine brighter) for longer periods of time. As your torch is classed as a weapon, you canít hold a gun and a torch at the same time, so you have to go on the hunt for some sticky tape. Once you have found it, you can tape your torch to the top of your weapon and always have both available. Youíll need them too.

Obscure is a pretty game with lots of detail in the buildings and objects. Most of things such as chairs, bottles and boxes can be moved by walking into them, which is a nice feature. When enemies attack, the area around them such as floors and ceilings gets covered in a black scaly skin layer which looks really good Ė itís the sort of thing nightmares are made out, itís evil stuff. The lens flare effect you get from the torches is very impressive too, but does appear to cause occasional slow down when two characters are running towards the screen both carrying torches. Animations and character models arenít quite up to the standard of Silent Hill or Resident Evil Outbreak, but they are solid and convincing enough. The enemies are fairly well modelled too, but a bit more variety would have been nice. It would also have been good to see more boss fights in the game too, as there is one boss-type character that you come across three times, and itís the same model each time. The final boss, however, is completely different to anything else in the gameÖ. Which is nice.

Hydravision have gone for a camera system that is a cross between Resident Evil and Silent Hill. The camera will follow you around in a third-person perspective, but itís often not directly behind you, so you might be running into the camera, or to the left of it for example. There are also static cameras in the game, which donít hinder progress and certainly add suspense to the game. Unlike a lot of games with fixed cameras, you can almost always see what youíre shooting at, so the game does a good job of allowing you to see everything you need to.

I really enjoyed Obscure, it has all the important ingredients to make a great survival horror game, and it also addresses issues that appear in other games in the genre and improves on them. It has a good, solid story, a nice variety in characters (with good voice acting), and the different areas you play through are all interesting, some look very impressive indeed (the gardens especially, with very highly detailed trees, leaves, lighting and shadows). Obscure is very short though; I finished it first time through with all characters alive in just a sniff under five hours. There is a fair amount to unlock, with a new mode available after completion, and playing it through with different characters will give you different cut scenes, and will be slightly different through the use of their abilities. Add this to the fact some places are selling it for around £25, and you have a game that is very deserving of a place in your collection.


Best Bits

- A really decent survival horror game that isnít Resi or Silent Hill.
- The two-player co-op mode.
- A sensible inventory system that works.
- Sounds superb (especially in Dolby Pro Logic II).
Worst Bits

- Itís quite a short game.
- More varied boss fights would have been welcome.
- A better way of seeing the state of your characterís health would be nice.

by: DC

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