Version tested: PlayStation 2
There was a time when gamers with a fetish for horror could enjoy a new blood splattered title every few months. Think back two or three years and we were pretty much spoiled for choice, with two new Silent Hill games in quick succession, three Project Zero games released in just over three years, a fantastic Resident Evil renaissance, and a ton of other interesting titles vying for attention.
And it's in among the likes of Haunting Ground, Forbidden Siren, Clock Tower 3, Cold Fear, Call of Cthulhu and Condemned that you might find Hydravision's forgotten gem Obscure. Released by Ubisoft on PS2, Xbox and PC way back in 2004, it was a pretty decent stab at applying the teen horror movie formula to a gaming context. Complete with drop-in-drop-out co-op play and light-based combat, it made a pleasant change to play a Western horror game for once, after all the super-serious, arty Asian horror we'd been immersed in for years. But with a title that positively screamed 'self-fulfilling prophecy', the game slipped under the radar completely. We certainly weren't expecting a sequel.
Listen to Iron Maiden baby
But with emerging Dutch starlets Playlogic picking up the publishing duties, Hydravision has had a second chance to establish its mini-niche with another intriguing attempt at teen horror, co-op style. The game's set two years after the first one (which in itself is curious, given it's three years since the original Obscure...), with life seemingly back to normal after a mysterious plant wreaks havoc with the populace of a high school and kills almost everyone within it. But clearly that wasn't the end of it, with another bunch of teenage dirtbags finding themselves trapped in a living nightmare thanks to trendy new 'drug' that takes them on the kind of trip they wished they hadn't embarked on.
The game kicks off fairly innocuous fashion with Corey and Mei bantering about the upcoming party in a nearby college dorm. Full of typical teenage bravado, they end up a few doors down ready to ''get pissed' and 'hang out' with their 'buds'. Pretty much straight away, though, they both end up wishing they had listened to those boring old grown ups who warned them about substance experimentation. After taking what they thought was nothing more than a herb, they end up in a Silent Hill-esque void, with warped limbless torsos writhing menacingly, grainy monochrome visuals and crazed, indefinable creatures thirsting for their blood.
The next thing you know, you're back in the 'real world' with a blinding headache, back in the room where you started. Corey stumbles over to Mei's room, grabs an energy drink along the way, and finds her stricken on her bedroom floor, feeling much the same as him. Clearly something's gone very wrong somewhere. And via a process of short, sharp chapters, you discover that whatever's invaded your nightmares is, in fact, quite real, and killing everyone one by one.
Day of the Triffids
Without going into too much detail, suffice to say those 'orrible plants are at it again, and once again you have to work together with your college buddies to solve the mysteries of this unfathomable, deadly curse that's making them all too horny for their own good. As with the 2004 original, each character has their own particular speciality - which, in essence, means they can access bits of the environment that others can't. For example, Corey's acrobatic abilities make it possible to leap up to otherwise inaccessible areas, while the burly Sven can shift objects around that are too heavy for anyone else.
Others have hacking, lock picking or decrypting abilities, so many of your tasks in the game are completely reliant on selecting the right personnel for the job. To begin with, the pairings are mandatory, but as you finally meet up with other survivors you can select a duo of your own choosing. That said, it becomes evident fairly quickly who you'll need to perform your next puzzle, and the game becomes a succession of rather simple tasks when compared to your typical survival horror yarn. Switching between characters is, once again, a simple, on-the-fly process of pressing R2 to flick between them, and with a shared inventory, there's never any of the fiddly nonsense that you had with, say, Resident Evil Zero, where one character had the ammo clips. By hitting select, it's a piece of cake to swap items around, and as such, the game's set up to be slick and enjoyable.
As with the 2004 original, your warped, fleshy foes don't like the light, but the emphasis on using it as a weapon has been completely scaled back. This time, your main focus is more typical action adventure-style combat, so, there's plenty of baseball bat and hockey stick wielding, mixed with gun play and electricity-based weapons like the stun gun and the chainsaw. And although the camera is a bit bonkers at times, the auto lock-on makes it relatively straightforward to loose off a few rounds without getting tied up in knots.
That said, the game's rather hurried, linear approach doesn't help it build up a particularly threatening atmosphere. There's little point dwelling in any particular place for long. It's always abundantly clear what you're supposed to be doing, with a succession of simplistic tasks and obstacles in sparse locations that provide little interest value. The biggest challenge is having to do largish sections and survive some hairy combat-related moments - as unlike the original, you have strictly limited save points, rather than a stock of CDs to save wherever you fancied. As such, this annoying backward step makes the game needlessly frustrating at times, forcing you to repeat tasks you've cleared without any problem.
And to further depreciate its charms, the combat feels clunky, with the co-op mechanic routinely resulting in both characters hitting lumps out of one another while trying to swat enemies away. Stupidly, if one of the two character becomes incapacitated, it's Game Over - whereas last time out you could carry on if you so chose. Now, obviously last time you had a different save system, so it was simple to pick up from a recent save point, but now it's so all-or-nothing it makes the game far less enjoyable.
Technically, the game's fairly weak at this point, too. To be frank, the game engine would have struggled to impress back in 2004, but now it just looks a bit cheap. The character models might be reasonably detailed, but the rudimentary animation ruins the effect to the extent that it's instantly off-putting. Throw the cheesy music and annoying disaffected yank teen voice-overs into the mix, and the appeal starts to wane a little.
But as a big fan of the genre, I can't help but want to persist with it. I'm still mildly entertained by the story, and, on occasion, the way it riffs on Silent Hill works, and creates a sinister atmosphere that keeps you going when it displays its more annoying traits. Obscure II also deserves credit for the slick way it handles co-op play - a feature that's still completely unique and exclusive to this series. So, the question you have to ask yourself is how much of a fan of horror adventures are you? If you have to own them all, then buy it - we all need our horror fix, after all. But if you're only after the cream of the crop, then be aware that this isn't likely to be one for your Most Wanted list.
6 / 10