Thursday, October 23, 2014


Originally, this was supposed to be a top eleven of the video games that scared me the most.  They weren't all necessarily horror games, some simply had really intense moments mixed in between gun play, quiet moments, or just simply having something unexpectedly spooky appear out of nowhere.

However, I got to one game and just started writing.  I found myself giving it a lot more attention than any other game on the list.  Considering the pedigree of some of the games on that list, that's actually saying quite a lot.

So, instead, I'm doing a look at one game in particular that very few people ever played.

We're going to be talking about ObsCure for the Playstation 2.

This game flew under a lot of radars when it came out.  It was easily passed over for your Resident Evils and Silent Hills, and for good reason:

Those were better games.

But that's not to say that this game wasn't good.

Well, okay, actually, it wasn't really all that good.  It came out in 2005, the same year Resident Evil 4 came out, but it played like it had just picked up a copy of the original Resident Evil and stopped paying attention after that.  It had silly controls for combat, dated graphics, and a plot that pulled heavily from a Jordana Brewster horror movie from the '90s.  

No, not D.E.B.S.  What's wrong with you?

Five high school students find themselves trapped on campus (did you think the cast iron gates and walls were there to keep people out?) at night and discover an underground lab, a plot amongst various members of the faculty (did I mention it was inspired by The Faculty?), and mutated, monstrous versions of their classmates and faculty (the movie again!).

And against Honey Boo Boo's mother.

Now, a lot of people have said that it's really hard to do a scary co-op game, because part of it is the sensation of being alone.  However, I think ObsCure has done one of the best jobs I've ever seen, because while you can play as any of the five students, when one student dies, you then have to pick from the remaining ones.  If there's two of you, and one dies, then the tension still increases, because you're essentially watching a shared life system slowly tick down.  In a single player game, you can bring one of the other students with you so you can swap between them at important moments, but if one dies, you have to run all the way back to get another one.  

Normally, this would just be a "life system" except each life is capable of skills or abilities different from the others.  One does more melee damage.  One picks locks faster.  One gives bonuses on healing items.  One is better at using guns (strangely enough, it's the cheerleader, go figure).  One is able to stand in a room, look around, and determine if there's any thing else to do or activate to further the plot.  You lose one, and you're losing something you might need later.

The characters are all your standard high school stereotypes.  You have the jock who's the captain of the basketball team, his younger sister who dresses rather provocatively because she doesn't want people to just judge her for her brains (...I guess that's a thing?), the jock's cheerleader girlfriend, the stoner/slacker, and the school reporter.  There doesn't really need to be much depth to any of them, but the script actually seems well-written, and each one has a distinctive personality and acts with the other characters in different ways.

The game also did something that video games took several years to figure out is important: you can combine items to help yourself survive.  Now, this isn't the Dead Rising type of combining things that ends up with you wielding an oar with a running chainsaw attached to each end, but if you have a gun, a flashlight, and some duct tape, why not just tape that sucker on so you can see where you're aiming?

"Wow, suddenly I feel like I qualify for MENSA just for this."

Trust me, this was a pretty remarkable advancement considering bigger and larger profile games (Doom 3) never figured this out.

Something else the game explored that would need to wait until Alan Wake to (almost) fully develop is the idea of the monsters being afraid of light.  If you stand under bright lights, the monsters aren't as effective in combat.  Shine a flashlight on them, and they flinch or move back for a moment.  It's not a huge, game-changing addition to game play, but it was still rather new at the time, and a (better) game did come along later and almost make it a really great game play feature.

The game sadly never addresses the fact that all of the desks look like they fell out of Little House On The Prairie.
The voice acting was really well done, the graphics were...well, they're kinda weak now, but they were fine for the time (actually, no they weren't, remember Resident Evil 4 came out around this time), and while the story wasn't inspired, I did find myself taking a deep breath before I went into any of the campus buildings I hadn't entered before.  It was tempting to just stand out in the courtyard under the lights where it was safe, but then the game would never end.  I'd be stuck in perpetual night in high school, and really what could be scarier than that?

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