Obscure: The Aftermath, A PSP review

Obscure Packshot
When I heard I had to review a survival horror game I was skeptical. I’m not a huge fan of the genre, and the only ones I’ve ever really seen through to the then are Resident Evil 4 and 5, both of which are the least survival horror in the series. Obscure: The Aftermath, available for the PS2, Wii, PC, and just recently the PSP, which this review covers, is a survival horror game in the most traditional sense.

Much of the story echos that of your traditional college-based horror movie. Something has happened on campus that has killed most of the students, with a handful surviving while trying to solve this issue. Characters from the first game are here, although not playing the first one I am left with no knowledge of who these familiar faces are until they clearly state it. This continuing storyline makes for a fairly perplexing experience for a player not familiar with the series, but doesn’t detract much from the game.

What the game does fail to do in respects to the genre is create a thoroughly terrifying experience. The game’s atmosphere is like The Facility, which the first game was supposed to be influenced by, rather than Silent Hill. A survival horror game should be terrifying to me, and when a shooter like Dead Space or F.E.A.R. do that better than a survival horror game then I have to question the game’s direction. However, in that same category the game feels entirely like a college horror movie, with the story, the characters, and use of a false end credits before the final boss.

A primary issue with the story is that characters appear, disappear, and reappear randomly with little rhyme or reason. I found myself often questioning where these people came from, who they were, or why I cared. This disjointed story, especially when there are so many characters that the game cycles through, makes it hard to actually grow attached to them, leaving you largely unaffected emotionally if they live or die.

The game’s controls, for the most part, work despite being a port from systems with arguably more complex controllers. With exception of the d-pad being the camera, all of the buttons fall in place and respond well. Having to maneuver the camera while you walk around proves often difficult as your thumb is focused on this small nub, largely unable to do much about what you’re looking at. That being said, the camera works great considering the genre and it’s past filled with shoddy and uncooperative camera placement.

The game has a unique feature in that each of the playable characters have their own class of sorts, of which two characters share the same class. Each class their own unique ability, which are required to progress further in the game. Some are pretty simple, like being able to hang and shimmy from a ledge, or push heavy objects, others start mini-games. A simple word game for hacking, a puzzle game, some strange timing mini-game, and a lock picking mini-game. Of the classes the lock picking is perhaps the most entertaining, presenting a unique experience that isn’t so focused on speed as it is in other games.

To my understanding the original game’s big draw was the combination of items, which seems to be completely absent in this game. Most of the items you get in the game are simple weapons and healing items. Baseball bat, golf club, shotgun, pistol, much of your standard affair. A few items you usually don’t see, but aren’t out of the norm, are stuff like a electric chainsaw, flash bang and dynamite. The stranger, but perhaps more interesting weapons are unlocked by finding hidden keys that open up chests around the game, giving you access to things like a stun-gun, or a super power flashlight.

The weapon controls handle well. Hold a shoulder button, the game auto targets an enemy, fire or swing away. No fidgety aiming, but it does take away from some of the challenge when the game does half the work for you but is understandable considering the platform. The most frustrating part is hitting your A.I. or other player controlled ally with a projectile or the bad side of a bat. It can happens often, and leaves you feeling silly for beating up your teammate rather than the grotesque abomination attacking you.

With a traditional survival horror game much of the draw is the puzzles, of which there are quite a few of. They aren’t exceptionally complex, or take a great deal of time to accomplish, but are the highpoint in the game. The mini-games from select character classes, and the more unique puzzles nearer to the end make for some really enjoyable experiences. Although, because these puzzles aren’t exceptionally difficult, the game is short. It took me 10 hours at most, which is perhaps being a little too liberal, to beat the game from start to finish,

The graphics, for a PSP game, are on par with what I would expect. The models are well made, but are used for much of everything, even in some of the cut-scenes where it becomes apparent that no one has any mouth animation. The pre-rendered cut-scenes are poorly done compared to the in-game rendered models. The biggest issue is that the small screen can make finding some small items, or reading hints for puzzles difficult at times.

Obscure: The Aftermath, despite it’s poor story, inability to horrify, and slightly difficult camera is still a solid game. While not a prime example of a survival horror game, the good graphics, entertaining puzzles and mini-games and good controllers make up for it. The game is short, but at the $29.99 US price tag it’s not as hard of an impact. The game didn’t make me a fan of the genre, but surprised me, despite going into it half-glass empty.

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