Obscure: The Aftermath is the sequel to the 2006 release Obscure, a game notable for its, at the time, unique approach to co-op in a horror game. The game has been ported from the PS2 and finds a new home on the PSP. Not much has been lost in the translation with the end result being a standard entry in a genre underrepresented on the platform. This budget title offers some nice puzzling and exploration elements, despite not being as terrifying as you would hope.
The game’s protagonists are a motley crew of energetic college students who are just looking to party at the story’s inception. The entire student body of the Fallcreek campus has begun inhaling hallucinogenic flowers for the purpose of experimentation. This leads to one of the main characters, Corey, having a nightmarish hallucination that he inevitably realizes is actually occurring. Suddenly, what was once a lively school of partying young scholars becomes a breeding ground for undead and mutated creatures. The goal is to traverse the haunted compound while simultaneously solving the mystery behind the outbreak and leading your characters to safety. The direction of the story tie in quite nicely with the events of the first game but holds up well on its own for any newcomers to the series.
Cooperative play is emphasized strongly in Obscure. For most of the game you will have two characters to control. This design choice was made with multiplayer in mind, but adept AI assumes the role of the character you are not currently using when you play alone. As with most horror titles in the classical sense, gameplay boils down to a blend of combat, puzzle solving, and exploration. Of the three, combat is definitely the weakest component. Both firearms and melee weapons are available. Once equipped to your character a weapon can only be used with the 'R' button held down and the 'X' button to attack. The automatic lock on is a big source of contention when it comes to combat. Often times you will inflict damage on a teammate when melee attacking because the camera so ardently tries to follow the enemy. Add on top of this that fighting enemies is frequently boring and unsatisfying; meaning a vital part of the experience feels like deadweight early on.
The puzzling bits fare far better. Puzzles in Obscure: The Aftermath come in wide varieties. Each character has unique skills that can be used to get around obstacles. For instance Mei is adroit when it comes to hacking, and Amy has a keen sense of inspection. These make way for context based minigames; like piecing together old newspaper clippings or breaking through electronic locks by deciphering the names of famous academics for passcodes. There is also a lock picking minigame reminiscent of just about every other lock picking minigame we’ve seen in gaming. Other puzzles are environmentally based. These smartly designed brain busters range from altering tombstones to match hidden inscriptions in old photographs to properly preparing a recipe for dynamite.
Exploration is a mixed bag of highs and lows. On one hand the environments are well detailed and feature distinct in-game locations. Even though we have been in abandoned hospitals, graveyards, and even creepy libraries before; the incorporation of each locale seems natural. The downside is that many necessary items are littered throughout these places, so unless you have an unbelievable amount of foresight and search every nook and cranny for objects you will end up backtracking quite a bit. This applies to the times where you may have to choose between characters as well. For instance you may reach a doorway with Corey and Stan and then realize its only accessible with Shannon. This means you have to go all the way back to Shannon, and in some cases may have to back out and load the save file to get what you need.
Playing through Obscure: The Aftermath I never got a real sense of being scared, and I doubt most gamers would either. It tries to set the atmosphere with dark corridors, creepy music, and eerie cut-scenes, but none of it exactly hit’s the mark. Blood and gore are in good supply, but not once did a moment shock me or gross me out enough to set this apart from any other horror game available. The creatures you square of with consist of crying harpies, giant spiders, corpulent masses of blood and muscle, and other amorphous monsters of the mutated variety. A few boss battles round out the list of enemies.
Presentation is commendable for a port of a budget title. The graphics are really nice and pull you into the experience. Unfortunately, the game loads more often than its console counterpart. The quality of the cut-scenes don’t hold up in comparison. The music features professional orchestral scores and choir pieces. Voiceovers are generally satisfactory but at times can sink to levels of mediocrity that would make the original Resident Evil voice actors proud.
The big advantage of playing Obscure: The Aftermath on the PSP over the PS2 is that playing with a friend is no longer constrained to one screen. Through ad hoc multiplayer, you and a friend can team up and tackle the terrors together. The cooperative segments work a lot smoother this way so long as you communicate sufficiently. For the most part the multiplayer should work flawlessly, but this is assuming you can find anyone to play with in the first place.
Value wise, Obscure: The Aftermath doesn’t have much going for it. Firstly, it costs 10 dollars more than it did when it launched on consoles last year. The game is broken up into 25 chapters that should take 10-15 minutes to clear. That figure increases upon factoring how much backtracking you may end up doing. Once you beat the game there is absolutely no reason to even think about it again, let alone replay it. That isn’t to say it is not relatively enjoyable the first time around. If you can stomach the combat issues, along with the suspiciously increased price point, Obscure: The Aftermath is a reasonable selection in a small crowd of PSP horror games.