Obscure II Hands-On Preview
Hydravision frightened us with a near-finished build of its survival horror sequel.
It's easy to make a link between Obscure's title and its relatively poor sales performance, but developer Hydravision had enough faith in the concept of the original to produce a sequel. While the first game wasn't that bad, its release did not benefit from great timing because it arrived just after Capcom had revolutionised the survival horror genre with Resident Evil 4. By sticking to the conventions that the original Resident Evil had laid out in 1996, Obscure couldn't help but look retrograde in comparison. Hydravision did bring a couple of new ideas to the table though; it opted for a more teen-oriented story than the usual zombie schlock and added a cooperative story mode to boot. Unsurprisingly, these devices are also the focus for Obscure II, which is set for release on the PC and PlayStation 2 in the third quarter of 2007, as well as the Wii in the fourth quarter. We were hand delivered preview code for the PS2 and PC versions and wasted no time delving in to see how it's shaping up.
Whereas the previous Obscure was set at Leafmore High School, its successor ages the protagonists slightly and sends them to Fallcreek University. If Resident Evil is the game equivalent of a George A. Romero flick, then Obscure II has much more in common with a teen horror movie, such as The Faculty. In fact, with a story about a mysterious plant turning the students into strange monsters, Obscure II draws clear inspiration from the Robert Rodriguez cult classic. The same college humour will be familiar to fans of this particular movie genre, but from what we've seen of the game so far, it looks like none of the gore or horror has been tamed for a teenage audience.
The game starts out by giving you control of a male character in his dormitory along with his girlfriend. You can inspect objects, make remarks about how much action your bed has seen, and generally wander the halls looking to get to a party. Upon arrival, you'll see that your fellow students are passing around a bowl of mysterious flowers that have recently been found on campus, and apparently, the entire faculty has been using the leaves to make tea. After smelling the leaves, you and your girlfriend pass out then awake in a field outside. Strange noises and screaming only add to your sense of confusion once you awake.
It transpires that this mysterious plant is attractive to students because of its arousing properties. The only downside to the plant is that it also turns students into some particularly nasty monsters. The game throws you into combat scenarios right from the start; one character is handed a baseball bat and the other is given the much more useful shotgun. The combat system is fairly intuitive; you'll use the L1 button to target enemies and the R1 button to strike or fire at them. You can also use the left thumbstick to manually aim weapons, although a basic auto-aim system helps make this a little easier in the heat of battle.
You can switch between characters at will in the single-player mode, but another player can join at any time and jump into the second character's shoes. Because you'll be sharing the play time with other players and characters, you'll also need to share your resources. The inventory screen allows you to see all your weapons and items in one place so that you can allocate them between characters. You can also use the four directions on the D pad to quickly select weapons in-game, which means that you don't have to keep visiting the inventory screen when the action heats up. One of the complaints made about the first game was that both players had to stay in the same room together, but Obscure II rectifies this by allowing them to move around at will. The system works by giving one player control of the camera, taking it from the other player when required so that completing certain puzzles and sections can be done more quickly. Sometimes the game will automatically switch you between players, but the R2 button can always be used to manually move control between players.
Progression in Obscure II is dependant upon taking advantage of different character abilities. For example, the jock character can move heavy objects to help tackle an obstacle or drag large pillars to solve one of the game's more traditional puzzles. But the smaller female character that he's paired up with is a little bit more intelligent. She is also more agile and can break locks. The developers hope that this interaction will help justify the cooperative play style of the game and motivate two players to work together as they progress.
Graphically, Obscure II has a polished look and some particularly impressive lighting effects. The game does not explain why the characters carry torches after waking up outside, but it mixes up some nice visual styles right from the off. It's intentionally dark and grainy early on, but as you get back into the residence halls, the light pours through the windows to add nicely to the overall atmosphere. The voice acting is only temporary at this stage, but there will be plenty of full-motion video sequences to drive the game forward, as well as in-game dialogue for all of the six main characters. Following criticism of the first game's length, the story mode has been doubled from seven hours to about 15 hours, with obvious replay value to be had by playing through the game both in single-player and cooperative mode.
While Obscure II looks set to please fans of the first game, it expands on the strengths rather than addresses some of its numerous weaknesses. The basic premise is very similar to the first game, while the gameplay is in the same vein as classic Resident Evil games from the '90s. There's definitely some talent behind the game thanks to many of the team's involvement in the Alone in the Dark series, but we worry if the cooperative mode and teen-horror angle will be enough to draw people to its somewhat staid gameplay. We'll find out when the game is released later this year.
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