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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Quick review - Obscure 2: The aftermath

Anyone who reads this blog knows (and even if you're a new visitor it should quickly become obvious) that I rarely talk about new games. So reviewing one, even as a quick review, is an rarity but...I have a confession to make. I look far and wide for the worst video games ever made. This search started in an effort to find a game worse than the X-men game on the NES, which was one of the biggest disappointments of my young life. Surprisingly, I've actually been pretty successful and I'll eventually go into that in a later entry.

In any case, when searching for these steaming piles I usually narrow my search to the vintage systems, but occasionally something from one of the newer systems grabs my attention and if it's cheap enough I'll go for it. This is how the first Obscure was purchased. It's selling points were music by Sum 41 and a unique story line based on teen horror movies. You know when those are what a game sells itself with you're probably not in for anything good. It was less than $15 brand new and featured a Co-op mode so we decided to have some guilty pleasure gaming. Both fortunately and unfortunately what we got was actually a pretty decent game. The Co-op was pretty easy to handle and fun, the gameplay smooth and easy with some unique elements and the storyline, while by no means good, was passable and actually a bit engaging. The characters were pretty flat and the dialogue lacking, but those were my only major complaints with it. Overall it was a positive gaming experience.

When I heard Obscure 2: the aftermath was coming out I was excited. "WOO HOO! More co-op survival horror action!" I said to myself. I didn't buy it right away because we really didn't have the cash then. I don't usually mind waiting a bit anyway as our extensive game library keeps us from really needing to get new games often. The longer I waited to buy it the more terrible things I heard about the game so I decided to wait until it was at around the $10 mark before picking it. Just last week I scored us a copy for the PS2 for a whopping $6 including shipping. I thought to myself, "surely this game can't be worth such a paltry price." Then I tried actually playing it.

Obscure 2: the aftermath takes place 2 years after the incidents at Leafmore high. With two of the three returning characters attending classes at Fallcreek college, Shannon (who looks NOTHING like her original design) and Kenny. With the third returning friend, Stan , now working as a delivery driver in the area. All three sound and act almost nothing like they did in the first game, Stan is the most recognizable, but that's not saying much. We're also introduced to several new faces with their own unique talents and histories, you'll get the most familiar with Mei, Corey, Sven and Amy though you do get a few other teamates as well.

The controls are simple enough but not terribly responsive. I thought the aiming with L1 and shooting with R1 controls for the weapons was kind of annoying. I think the original aim with the shoulder button and shoot/strike with x made a lot More sense, but in time I got used to it could deal with it. The much bigger issues were the slow weapon reload time, occasional command delays, not being able to heal via the menu screen and the lack of map.

Graphically it's a mixture of good and bad. The environments are pretty nice looking and detailed, not as crisp and clean as the original, but that added an element of realism. The human character sprites during gameplay were passable, not too blocky,but not terribly clear or fluid. Though we did note all the special effort taken to ensure the girls gave an exaggerated hip sway when they walked so clearly the art team knew what sort of things were the most important. The monsters sprites fared better, being much more detailed with fluid movements. The cutscenes looked a lot worse than gameplay and featured some pretty poor sprite interactions. My major complaint though is the multiple instances of terrible clipping. In just about every area all sorts of environmental objects flicker and shine when they shouldn't and worse yet, it's very easy to get your character completely trapped on a piece of debris with little hope of recovery. For example: I once got stuck standing next to the professor, apparently his aura was holding me hostage because when I tried to move I only ran in place and turned in circles. His aura also apparently rendered me invincible, if immobile, as when Jen tried to hit me with a melee weapon in the hopes of setting me free it passed right through me*. I expect some clipping issues with any video game, but these issues got worse and worse until they became extremely distracting.

*note that you can usually hit your teammates with melee weapons knocking them around and making them spurt blood though it doesn't actually hurt them. Given how annoying they are, it's on of the few times you can truly feel fulfilled while playing this game.

Sound wise it's also a mix. Background noises, doors footsteps and things like that were nothing special, but nothing notably horrible either. Outside of a few gates that sounded like interior doors when locked I had no real complaints. Character voices on the other hand were completely awful. Some of it was just from the intentionally cheesy, but very poorly written dialogue (which mostly consists of crude jokes and innuendos), but most of it was just poor delivery. I get the concept of making a B movie video game, but at least the B queens could scream, these actors and actresses can't even master that, let alone any appropriate timing or feeling. Musically the game is actually on, it even excels in this field. Most of the score is appropriate, it's well written, beautiful and haunting . The cues could be better and you get a small dose of pop-rock crap, but overall I think the music was the best part of the game.

Game play wise the game starts off much like the first game, a cutscene followed by some short gameplay where you're just incredibly lost and confused. As things progress you add to your team and find new people with new talents that you need to use in specific situations. However unlike the last Obscure game where there were only a few instances where a specific character HAD to be used, this game is constantly forcing you to use specific characters so if you're using the wrong party you have to walk all the way back and choose the correct ones. There's no convienent "meeting point" button this time, to speed up the process for you either. However, you're often stuck with a specific pair of characters anyway, so you don't get the chance to pick incorrectly most of the time.

You progress through the game trying to figure what's happening to your friends and what it has to do with the sinister black flowers, which double as a party drug, blossoming everywhere.
Basically that translates into beating down monsters and hoping you don't die in the process, which is easier said than done. Most of the monsters in this game, even the one you see most often are tough and strong doing a lot of damage to you and not taking a lot in return. Given that you're better off saving your bullets for boss fights or the larger monsters you see later on, you'll be going at them with melee weapons. So, you're probably going to be taking a lot of damage. Though take note that ammo is only a little less common than healing items, most of which barely make a dent in your injuries. It's also worth mentioning that a change in this game from the last is that there isn't anymore innovation with tape and flashlights. In fact, light, while it's heavily implied that it will help you in the same way it did before, rarely does.

As the game progresses you see how much this new horror really relates to that hellish night at Leafmore while shallow meaningless and short lived romances blossom among your teammates. The storyline tries to stretch into the first game in a sensible way, but completely falls short of the mark. It then ends rather abruptly with no real explanations. However for a bit of a twist after you watch the credits roll the first time (and you DO have to let them go completely) you're rewarded with about 30 minutes of more gameplay and a bit more story. This culminates in an extremely annoying boss battle for which you rewarded with....another ending with even less explanation and the credits again! Exciting right? After the credits roll the second time you go back to the title screen. No "the end", no stats on how well you did, no new game+, no secret costumes, just the title screen. It's incredibly fulfilling, yet somehow fitting for this game. The whole thing was a huge disappointment, a good idea that just never made it.

If this weren't a quick review there are all sorts of other detailed complaints I could make, for example: the stupid saving system, the lack of item information and the poor planning of the puzzles, poor subtitling, and well I could go on like that for another paragraph without even touching on why those things are bad. Instead, I'm going just end it like this: If you're like me and take some sort of sick joy out of awful games, I suggest you pick this up immediately as it is most definitely one of the worst games on the PS2, right up there with Pryzm: The Dark Unicorn and Dark Angel: The Vampire Apocalypse. If you're looking for an enjoyable co-op survival horror experience run as far as you can in the other direction and pick up the first obscure or RE5 instead.


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