Scary games are a tricky genre to develop. In 1981, 3D Monster Maze did it really well - a healthy mixture of visuals (for the time) and tense to outright cack-pants terrifying. It remains a worthwhile experience today. Silent Hill however, isn't such an accomplished piece of videogame making. Sure itss well loved, critics dig it, it has sold loads and is an established franchise, but its way way too scary, so much so that I can't actually play any of them alone. In fact, number 2 and 3 rendered me a mere observer as my girlfriend made her way through the game - occasionally I'd bark orders, tell her to mind the monster, etc. That said, mostly, I was waiting for her to get bored and turn it off so I could relax again. It can't be denied that Silent Hill does what it does well, and a scary game that doesn't scare you contradicts and makes for a weaker experience (obviously there's exceptions to any rule, Resident Evil 4 wasn't scary, but remained superb). Obscure II, sequel to its namesake, is average in all the above, like its namesake.
It is average because of its over reliance on what has come before it to be frightening. It splices Silent Hill and Resident Evil and sets it in a pulp American High School scene. This setting, for the most part, works very well. Developer Hydrovision, have created a parody to 'high school' life giving you control of jocks, nerds, cheerleaders, etc., in turn as the narrative progresses. For the first five minutes you're left to wander around, talking to people, reading notes on dormitory doors and notice boards. It sets the scene well and you feel as if you're part of a wider community. It's a shame that you're denied this freedom for longer as the game turns 'evil' soon after Obscure II begins. Despite being well aware that Obscure is a survival horror title, the turn in pace leaves you a little disorientated and disinterested. More time should have been given to getting to know you're protagonists and the environment around them.
Apparently some evil professor developed some plants that emit pollen that, once inhaled, mutates the body and mind of the host. Not a massive leap from Resi's excellent T Virus idea, but perhaps forgivable. What isn't as easily forgotten is the blatant rip off of Silent Hill's 'two worlds'. This saw the environment around you turn from normal into a hellish monster-ridden underworld. Obscure does exactly the same thing, but masks the method by passing the experience as a dream experienced by one of the protagonists (I think even Silent Hill did this at some stage). There's also an effects soundtrack teeming with screams and crashes that are almost identical to Konami's games.
There's also balancing issues. Puzzles loyal to the genre are in abundance, but the difficulty of some early on leave you at a dead end, frantically smashing X around every object in the room in the hope of a clue, or in case you've missed something, isn't amazing fun.
Despite these issues there is a decent experience to be had. There's an accomplished storyline, a well made combat system (again massively similar to past efforts) and a tidy script. In a detour from the usual, Obscure II (like the first game) gives you control over a number of characters. Each has his/her abilities and you need to harness those to succeed in certain puzzles. However, at first, you're often left to ponder as only a mild nod is given in 'teaching you' who's abilities are most suited to each task, eventually you'll pick up what's what and which abilities are required so progress becomes clear. These abilities are not massively impressive (big guy can move objects that others can't, etc.) and borrow heavily from squad-based games. Despite the strong narrative, the linear feel to proceedings stalls the building of tension. Some of the battles do strike the nerves but in between it's all a bit...timid. The soundtrack (so familiar to fans of Silent Hill) fails to really help matters as the setting betrays the theme. The old chestnut of spaced save points does add importance and tension to battles, but it's a frustration we shouldn't be subjected to. Indeed, it is ultimately a cheap way of making a game more challenging.
Obscure II, at times, is a good little game. Its scary in places and is worth your while if you have the patience to put up with the dodgy save system. However it is so heavily influenced by the games that have come before it that it's hard to recommend above any of them. The genre is already saturated and I doubt this will make a massive impact. There's other games that do it better and are more consistent in their methods. Silent Hill is consistently creepy, Resident Evil is absolutely action packed, while Obscure is undeniably unsure of itself.
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