Obscure: the Aftermath (PSP)

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Obscure: the Aftermath (PSP)




A Spoiler-Free look at the PSP’s best Survival Horror Title.

Game- Obscure: The Aftermath
Genre- Survival Horror/Puzzle
System- PlayStation Portable

Review by Simon D. Ivanoff
Co-Host, the Black Market International (www.BMITV.com)




Introduction

Being a big fan of the dark, spooky season that surrounds Halloween, I always find myself spending a good amount of my Octobers with either a classic or new horror game of some sort. Back in the day, my brother and I would sit down on Halloween night and play through a Castlevania game. More recently, I would revisit the Resident Evil series, reliving the frights of Code: Veronica and RE:4.

But this year, I decided to celebrate the scary season of Halloween with the new game by Hydravision, entitled “Obscure: The Aftermath.” This is a sequel to the PS2/XBOX/PC game “Obscure” that was released as “Obscure II” for the PS2/Wii/PC back in 2007, but has just arrived on the PSP last month.

The game centers around a group of University kids (and dropouts) that are arriving to a campus party, only to realize that everybody is dead. You play the game with a partner which you can switch to at any time, or, using the online functionality, can be controlled by another player in a Left 4 Dead-esque “Jump In, Jump Out” manner.




Presentation and Sound

As a game that came out two years ago, and is now an aging port, I was expecting a bland, dull-sounding and watered-down c-list Survival Horror game akin to titles like the Wii’s “Ju-On: The Grudge: Haunted House Simulator” and last year’s revamp of “Alone In The Dark.” However, I was very pleasantly surprised to hear the sharp, almost HD-quality sound and music starting from the moment the UMD loaded up.

All of the music in this game is composed and performed by The Boston String Quartet and the Paris Opera Children’s Choir. Now, read that sentence again and think about how damn frightening a Children’s Choir can be in a horror game. Think about how frightening four dudes with Violins, Cellos and some more of the world’s creepiest-sounding instruments can add to the ambience of a game where, at every corner, something is waiting to kill you.

The sound effects are on par with the superior music as well. Whether I was listening to the sounds of navigating through my inventory screen, or of creatures breathing heavily down at the other end of the hallway, I noticed during my experience with this game that a lot of attention was paid to the essential details of sound, ambience and atmosphere.

Nothing can make a creature crashing through a window more anti-climactic than a dull, soft, stock sound effect that the developers had laying around from a PSone game. Obscure: The Aftermath makes sure that whether you are wearing headphones or just have the excellent PSP speakers on full blast, you WILL get scared to be in this world, and you WILL get scared when the game wants you to.

I should mention that the voice acting is as cheesy as it gets, but no survival horror game is complete without ridiculously dumb jocks, ditsy sorority girls and high-pitched-voiced nerds interacting with one another. The dialogue, despite its cheesiness, is absolutely hilarious, full of innuendos, and voice-acted quite decently. I may not necessarily enjoy the voices of some of the game’s characters, but they all do a great job of delivering their one-liners to ensure at least a smirk on your face, and do a great job of screaming in horror when a creature appears. But apart from the sound, one of the greatest achievements this game earns is the humor of the non-spoken writing. You can look, examine, and touch almost anything in the game, and there is always a hilarious description of what you are examining, as told by the character you currently have selected. When, playing as the Jock, Stan, in a library, I clicked on a bookshelf, and at the bottom of the screen appeared something along the lines of “Books about Biology…a good way to die of boredom.” Also, as a college dropout, I appreciated when I clicked on a University diploma that was hanging on the wall, and the description read: “A useless piece of paper.”

Humor like this kept me immersed into this world which is basically a university campus full of drunk and wild kids that are getting one-offed by some mysterious creatures. What better way to keep me in this world than by playing as characters who, every chance they get, want to express how little they care about school, life, or any type of responsibilities? It is, after all, those careless sort of adolescents to get killed off first in our favorite horror movies.




Graphics

*I should mention before I begin discussing the graphics that I played this game both on the PSP and hooked up to my 32’ LCD TV via the PSP’s component cables.*

For a game that came out over two years ago, and is now on a handheld system, I was instantly immersed into this world the second the game started. Not only because of the aforementioned superb sound quality, but because of the surprisingly sharp and detailed appearance of the characters, textures, creatures and overall atmosphere.

The character models had some serious work put into them. Whether it’s Amy’s detailed curves or Stan’s exaggerated biceps, the players in this title look impressive. Nothing would take me out of the scary experience of a game of this nature like playing as a dude with a PSone-era flat, boxy face. Obscure: The Aftermath ensures that, although nobody’s mouth actually moves when they are talking, you believe that these characters you are watching interact with one another are, indeed, in that horrible situation and in that terrifying world.

When exploring a large and complex maze like a University Campus for hours on end, the place simply needs to look good. I am glad to say that after spending several hours traversing the rooftops, hidden underground laboratories, classrooms, dorm rooms and gymnasiums, this looks like a straight-up recreation of a real Ivy-League University Campus. Not only are there sharp, detailed textures in the walls, ground, sofas, trees and other scenery, but the objects you interact with, the doors you go through, and the windows that shatter to scare the hell out of you all look great, and keep you immersed in the experience.

In terms of graphics, what is more important in a survival horror game than the creatures you are surviving from themselves? Without spoiling any plot points, the first creature you encounter is too big to even fit on your PSP screen, and every disgusting inch of it’s monstrous body is full of slime, veins and blood- something that screams of an intricately designed beast. The creatures in this game easily rival those of Resident Evil: Code Veronica, which, if you’ve played that classic game, know that this is quite a bold statement.



Overall, this game looks great, and very rarely does it remind you that you are playing a video game, let alone one on a handheld device.


Gameplay
-The Camera

With all of the accolades that I am giving this title for its sound, graphics and the player’s immersion into this terrifying situation, the experience is slightly damaged by the way you move around and interact with the world, and the way the camera follows your character throughout it.

It goes without saying that, since this is a PSP game, there is no right analog stick to fine-tune your camera like we are used to doing in this generation of third-person experiences. This is not always a problem because, like the pre-RE:4 Resident Evil series, many scenes in the game feature a fixed camera on a certain angle of the room and/or area, showing you everything that you need to actually see and interact with. Unfortunately, since this game takes place in a large, sprawling University Campus, you spend a lot of time going down narrow corridors and exploring small dorm rooms- two situations where a fixed camera would work perfectly, but the game decides to conveniently NOT USE. When fighting a creature in a small room with a camera that is centered and zoomed in on your character, things can get pretty frustrating. Thankfully, this is not too common, but can be a turn off during your first hour of playtime. Not to worry, though, for the most part, the camera behaves well, and allows you to enjoy your surroundings without fighting the angle at which you are viewing them.



-How It Controls

Obscure: The Aftermath controls exactly how this type of game should- Not tank-like movement similar to the first Resident Evil games, but free-movement with the left Analog Stick. Also, the typical combat controls of “Hold the R button and hit a face button to attack” is implemented into this game, with a different weapon or item mapped to each face button. Holding the L button allows you to manage your items (instead of potions or mana, you have energy drinks to keep you alive).

In terms of combat, the collision detection seemed off at first, but that is only because you start with nothing but baseball bats and golf clubs. Using blunt objects like this can also lead to you beating the crap out of your partner if the A.I. decides to get in the way, and possibly killing them in the process. When using a firearm and the game’s excellent lock-on system, you will ALWAYS hit your enemy.




-Character Management

If you have ever played Maniac Mansion or any other game where you can play as several different characters, all with different abilities, all able to do different things within the confines of the game’s setting, you will feel right at home with this title. Using this formula in a genuinely fun way, the game allows you to have a partner that may be able to hack doors open, climb to high surfaces and pull you up, or pull heavy objects. Who you bring is your choice. This gives the game more of a non-linear feel, as you can use your own methods to traverse through the campus grounds in the manners that you choose.



Overall

Playing Obscure: The Aftermath this Halloween season has been extremely fun, full of scares, and a nostalgic ride back to the early days of when survival horror was more about atmosphere and ambience rather than massive numbers of zombies running directly at you for hours on end.

I did not go too deep into the game’s story for fear of spoiling a valuable plot point or two, but I will say that it kept in me in the game, and it kept me playing hour after hour to see what happens to not only the characters, but the creatures.

This was the first PSP game in 2009 that I spent more than 10 hours playing, and I sincerely enjoyed every moment of it. Very rarely did I die or get stuck in the game without figuring out why soon after, and very rarely did I have the desire to stop playing, as I wanted to keep progressing through the game to get the next character, get another weapon, and see another insane new creature.

Obscure: The Aftermath is one of the most polished, well produced PSP games of 2009, and I hope the series continues on the handheld! I had a great time with it, I got some use out of my dusty PSP, and it helped me celebrate Halloween 2009 in the proper manner. Pick this game up if you want to be a part of the most frightening and immersive handheld experience of the year!



FINAL SCORE: 4 out of 5 Michelas!

V8SuperCars
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