Obscure: The Aftermath Review (PSP)

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Obscure: The Aftermath Publisher: Playlogic
Developer: Hydravision Entertainment

Platforms: Wii, PlayStation 2, PSP and PC
Reviewed on PSP

The students at Fallcreek University have a problem. A problem that goes well beyond the promiscuous sex and rampant recreational drug use that permeates the dorms. Undergraduate life has recently been swept away by a new drug of choice – the pollen of a mysterious black flower.

On the same night as the frat party of the year, that addiction turns out to be more sinister than a buzz and a wicked hangover. The campus is suddenly overrun by nightmarish monsters... monsters that appear to be transformed undergrads.

Kyle Ackerman

In Obscure: The Aftermath, when a freshman crashes a hot frat party, it's less of a big deal that he's a frosh, and more of a problem that he's a 500-lb monster with malleable flesh and a hunger for co-eds that's more influenced by his stomach than his nether regions. Billed as a survival/horror game, Obscure: The Aftermath is actually more of an adventure game with a clunky combat interface styled after a teen horror flick.

Obscure: The AftermathThe original Obscure followed the horrible events two years earlier at Leafmore High, where the principal's experiments unleashed horrific monsters on the students. Now, some of those students have made it to college, where eerily similar events, linked to suspicious black flowers, are once again transpiring.

Obscure: The Aftermath's journey to the PSP has been a long one. Released on a variety of platforms over the last few years, the game works better on the PSP than it did last year on the PlayStation 2. The controls had to be tweaked somewhat to account for the loss of the second analog stick, but the end result is no clunkier than previous releases, and sometimes more streamlined. The only downside to the PSP version of the game is that it costs $10 more than it did when it was released on the PlayStation 2. The graphics seem crisper, making it look better on the small screen than on a TV, and in many ways the interface is more straightforward.

Turn! For God's Sake Turn!

Obscure: The AftermathObscure: The Aftermath is dark. Intentionally so. On the PSP, this becomes absolutely unworkable in even a low level of ambient light. Seriously, I found that I couldn't play parts of this game during the day, even if I sat under a sheet. If I'd felt in control of the game's characters, that wouldn't be so bad, but between the difficult camera angles, other characters getting in the way, and the controls, it was difficult to get a flashlight pointed in the right direction, let alone actually search the environment for small keys and hints. The camera is set up to give you dramatic angles when you first enter an area, but after even the tiniest movement, it often moves to an impossible angle that makes all action awkward.

The game is primarily about puzzle-solving – either finding the right items or keys to move on to the next challenge. But there are monsters to fight, sculpted from the flesh of Fallcreek High's libidinous students. Unfortunately, combat is so unwieldy that these scenes are inconveniences rather than entertainment, making this an adventure game with painful combat rather than a "survival/horror" game.

Obscure: The AftermathThe transition to the PSP is something of a wash in this respect. Sometimes the attempts to assist the player in a fight are such a hindrance that it was impossible to control my actions. Other times, I was able to automatically shoot down oncoming beasts. Typically, combat is a matter of attrition rather than coordination. As long as you have the health to absorb enough damage to hammer on the shoulder buttons, you'll prevail. It's made more frustrating by the fact that the coolest weapons like the (battery powered?!?) chainsaw are almost impossible to use effectively in a fight.

This is further aggravated by an antiquated approach to game saves. Each level typically has a single flower that you can touch to save the game. The game never really builds up enough suspense, so rather than further building suspense, this save mechanism just led to tooth-grinding replays on those rare occasions when I died.

Don't Worry... They're All Tools

The adventure portion of the game comes down to figuring out which character is the right tool for the job. Each has different skills. For example, the burly jock can move heavy objects, while the gymnast can jump and hang from ledges. One girl can hack electronics, while the blond (with the huge chest and g-string) has the unique skill of reassembling pieces of paper that have been turned into at least six smaller pieces and left together in convenient piles. Most of the puzzles are simple, and tend to be more of a struggle against the controls (such as moving boxes) than an effort to solve a conundrum.

Obscure: The AftermathHacking is probably the hardest puzzle of all, and it's just not a challenge. Apparently, every password in town is the name of a famous person, so hacking computers is like playing hangman with a limited pool of letters – guess the name correctly and the door opens or the computer reveals its secrets. There are some optional items, such as weapons, but they appear to matter little in terms of actual play.

Previous console versions of the game allowed two players to play cooperatively on the same console, but that obviously doesn't work for the PSP. To preserve the same mechanic, Players with a working wireless connection can jump into other players' games, or have another player join theirs as the second player. It sounds good, and solves the problem in previous versions of screen real estate, but I never actually managed to match with another player.

When an "M" Rating Doesn't Mean Mature

If you aren't playing Obscure: The Aftermath for the visuals, the combat or the puzzles, why are you playing? For the story, of course! It's just that the story isn't particularly strong, either, even for a teen horror film. Perhaps it worked better in the original French, but the writing is just plain dismal. It's as if you assigned a middle-schooler to write a slasher flick set at a college, and told him he could use as many boobies as he wanted. There's not nudity (the game didn't go for the "AO" rating), but there's a surfeit of juvenile, cheap, sexual innuendo.

Obscure: The Aftermath is trying to bring classic survival/horror-style play into the kind of setting that would befit a teenage horror flick. But with lackluster writing and technical issues, the game doesn't achieve Nightmare on Elm Street status and ends up being more like The Faculty. Obscure: The Aftermath will help pass the time if you are looking for a portable horror experience. But not as quickly as you might hope.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on October 24, 2009 4:40 PM.

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