Not too long ago, I received a recommendation by NIN0 to give this game a go and write a review on it. It was released in 2004 and 2005 in Europe and North America respectively for the PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox. Normally, if someone would have told me about a game with characters named Stan, Kenny, and Mr. Garrison, I would have thought they were referring to a game based off of Comedy Central's South Park series. In this game, however, Stan, Kenny, and Mr. Garrison each have roles in a survival horror title revolving around a disturbing high school. Welcome to the mid/late 1990's malevolent world of Obscure.
The game takes place within what seems to be a normal high school, known as Leafdale High School. The story begins with the song "Still Waiting" by Sum 41 playing and we observe a few students hanging out in a gymnasium playing basketball. Students begin to leave to go home but one student, named Kenny, decides to stay and shoot a few more hoops. Once he is finished, it is dark outside and he receives a phone call on his cell phone from a girl named Shannon he is supposed to meet for a date. From here, Kenny notices his gym bag is missing and hears a door slam near him. Here, the player takes control of Kenny and leads him through various doors and eventually into a strange cellar in one of the school buildings. Down here, Kenny finds a pistol and flashlight, attaches said flashlight to the pistol using duct tape, and is forced to fight off a few monsters. He then locates a student who is very pale and seems slightly insane. The other student and Kenny try to make an escape from the cellar, however their entrance is closed by something. The game picks up the following day in which we are introduced to the other characters and they decide to stay after school to look for the recently gone-missing Kenny. This is where the game truly begins as we are left to use the characters to unravel the mystery of Leafdale High School by going through Hell itself.
The style of gameplay is one which held my attention all the way through. I would best describe it as taking Silent Hill and placing it within the boundaries of a high school. In fact, I wouldn't doubt if the school level of Silent Hill was used as an inspiration to create this game. Although the game was not critically acclaimed per se, it does deserve praise. Whilst playing, usually the player can control one of two characters with one acting as a sort of leader and the other character following along. The player essentially views the characters and environment from an almost fourth-person perspective insofar as it is a third-person perspective with a bit more height to it at times. Along with this view of the action, the player can switch control of either character with the push of a button and is able to choose which character is holding what weapon with extreme ease. A nice feature expanding the character control function is that a second player can plug in a controller and control the second character in the party. With that being said, an additional three characters (unless some of them are killed during gameplay) are available at various gathering areas throughout the game and can be swapped out with one of the two members of your party. Each character has their own special ability. For example, Stan is able to pick locks quickly, Shannon gives the player hints regarding puzzles, and Josh has a good sense of awareness and can tell the player if there is or is not something left in a room to discover. Along with the characters' abilities, however comes their all-too-stereotypical personalities.
The notion I am making is the characters' personalities and even special abilities fit well into high school horror movie stereotypical characters. For example, Kenny, being a jock is able to fight well and can sprint. Josh is an outgoing nerd, Stan is a stoner/hoodlum, Shannon is a cheerleader (however she seems tougher than the stereotype of a cheerleader) and Shannon is a brainy girl no one notices is attractive. Even though Shannon is a bit more unique of a character, after a few hours I almost found myself rooting for the monsters to kill these clichés. Despite this miniscule complaint the game succeeds in other, more crucial areas. Simply put, the visuals are good and the sound is fantastic. The character models and animatic dependencies have something going for them, especially those of the monsters. The sounds of heart-thumping and odd low-bass tones when trouble is coming make this game so nice to play. Personally, I probably flinched a good 3 times within my first hour of gameplay or so. At times, the music will become low, evil, and eerie, then all of a sudden stop. Two seconds later, the music will return along with a living nightmare crashing through a wall!
To elaborate on the gameplay, it is favorable, but with some flaws. For example, the camera positions throughout the game are very creative and help the player to see all of a room, however, the camera always follows the lead character. This may leave Player 2 lost off-screen at some occasions, which obviously is not good when trying to survive against enemies. Where the gameplay's strong point lies is within its easy menu system of selecting items and weapons between characters. One feature any horror-game fan will enjoy is the ability to attach a flashlight to the barrel of a firearm. An explanation as to how this is useful is not needed here, but it should be noted that in Obscure, light is as much as a weapon as a pistol or baseball bat is. The flashlights have a limited rechargeable boost function which can be used at points to hold a few enemies off. The best way to utilize light in the game is to break dirty windows whenever entering a room to let in sunlight (this does not work at night time). The sunlight causes the monstrosities to burn away and, in my case, it was a life-saver throughout the game. It comes in great use when trying to solve puzzles or look for objects, as even though you are hard at work, enemies can still find out where you are and your partner can only watch your back for so long. Even though the characters are able to find melee weapons and even firearms, it is best to use light and be cautious. You truly never would know what is around the corner and it is preferable to heir on the side of caution. With that being said, if players become injured, they are able to either heal themselves with energy drinks or first aid kits. Instead of gaining health upon contact with a drink or a first aid kit, players are able to carry the aforementioned items until they need them. This goes the same for compact discs which can be used to save the game; there are no checkpoints, but you choose whenever you want to save. You will find discs fairly often within the game, but health-giving items are usually another story.
Although I do like this game, there are some flaws that I could not ignore. The story's suspense seriously decreases once the player finds out what has become or not become of Kenny. From this point out, it is strictly the killing of enemies which would more likely than not begin to bore a fair amount of players. Another small problem I had with the game is the lack of diversity of enemies to fight in the first place. The whole way through the game I believe I encountered six different types of monsters of which some were repeating "boss" monsters. If more time was spent on developing a stronger latter-end plot and adding more creatures, Obscure would've probably succeeded on all fronts.
Nevertheless, Obscure is a good game. One feature that left me really appreciative of the survival-horror title is the freedom of choosing which characters to use at what time and to ultimately shape the course of the game. For example, once characters are killed by enemies, they do not respawn. When I played, Josh was reduced to a pile of gore and ashes pretty early in the game due to my negligence of him being trapped in a corner. When I discovered his remains, Stan fell to his knees and said that "he did not deserve to die like that." From here, I was able to pick up Josh's items and carry on. Going further on the strengths of Obscure, at some points where I felt like I was stuck on a puzzle or forgot where I was supposed to go, I was able to go back to the gathering area where the rest of the characters were and pick up Shannon so she could give me a hint.
To reiterate how Obscure truly succeeds, the realism of how the lighting peeks through the darkness within the game is praise-worthy, as is the eerie and ambient sound used throughout the game. Especially in the beginning moments of the game, the environments are nightmarish and give plenty of thrills and chills. Because of all of the aforementioned positive points of the game, I definitely recommend finding a copy of Obscure and reliving some high school days! If you have played Obscure or have any thoughts about it, feel free to post your thoughts below!