Obscure: The Aftermath Review
Survival/horror fans are usually left waiting for the next Resident Evil or Silent Hill installment, although Atari is treating us to a promising next-gen title, Alone in the Dark this year. The genre doesn’t have a whole lot of games under its flag, but if you know where to look, you can locate some solid, appropriately creepy adventures. In the past, we’ve had games like Fatal Frame and Siren that would qualify as excellent choices if the games were budget priced, and here’s another one: Obscure: The Aftermath. This sequel isn’t technically perfect, but it does a lot of things right, and above all else, it nails the atmosphere cold. It won’t take long to finish the terrifying quest, but then again, it’ll only cost you $20, and better yet, it’s great for co-op gameplay. That’s right, this is one survival/horror effort that promotes the use of two players at once, primarily because there are almost always two characters running around at the same time. Lots of positives, here!
The graphics are one of those positives, as The Aftermath looks great for a late-generation PS2 game. There’s good character and environment detail, just about every area is dark and forbidding, and the overall presentation is mostly free from those vulgar “jaggies.” Sometimes, like many games in the genre, the background is too dark, but hey, that’s one of the reasons why the characters carry flashlights. The cut-scenes aren’t too impressive, but we’re not about to be anal when it comes to the non-interactive portions of this game. Contrary to what the graphic freaks may believe, this remains an interactive hobby at its core, and the gameplay graphics in this particular production are both appealing and accomplished. It was a little difficult to evaluate the enemies, just because they often moved quickly in the darkness and we rarely got a great look at them. But we do know they scared the crap out of us the first time we saw them, and that’s all you really need to know, right?
The sound excels thanks to excellent music and sound effects but suffers due to mediocre voice acting. Now, we’re well aware that some of Aftermath is almost satirical, in that it can be interpreted as a tongue-in-cheek nod to teenage slasher flicks. And of course, those movies had horrible acting. But as fitting as it may be, that voice acting still got on our nerves, and we winced as often as we laughed. Thankfully, the soundtrack really is fantastic – it’s actually some of the best you’ll hear in this genre – and the basic adventuring and combat effects definitely fit the bill. As is typically the case with games like these, it’s the little things that matter: the far-off screaming of an unfortunate victim, the haunting moan of a disembodied spirit, the scraping and growling of something horrendously nasty just out of sight, the creak of a rusty grate, etc, etc, etc. Add in the music, which seems to step up at just the right times with urgent, driving beats or classically composed, sweeping melodies to accentuate the situation, and that adds even more in the way of atmosphere. In this case, the good easily overrides the bad.
When we played this, we realized that the days of the clunky survival/horror gameplay mechanics were long gone. Perhaps it started when Capcom gave us that innovative over-the-shoulder view in Resident Evil 4, but we’ve started to notice that a lot of scary titles are adopting more of a third-person action control scheme. In Obscure: The Aftermath, the mechanics are simple and straightforward: you move with the left analog, control the camera with the right analog, prepare to attack with the equipped weapon with the L1 button and execute the attack with the R1 button. The only addition to this simple formula is the ability to switch between the two characters on screen at any given time during your adventure, by using the R2 button. Once you collect more weapons, you can then assign them to each of the four directional buttons on the gamepad, and the action and reloading buttons are the X and Circle buttons respectively. Just about anybody will take to this like a fish to water, and each control is effective and responsive.
However, while things do move rapidly, we wish we had more evasive maneuvers at our disposal to coincide with that fluid movement. We can move about easily enough even when prepping the equipped weapon for attack (although we do move slower in that state), but there’s little else we can really do. Many of the enemies we encounter are actually very fast, and it would’ve been extremely helpful to have been able to block or dodge/roll. Something like that would’ve amplified the action experience of the game and allowed us to feel more confident in particularly dangerous scenarios. But at the same time, each character does have a particular skill that you will have to utilize at certain points throughout the game. For example, while the guys usually excel in something active (Strength, Acrobatics, etc.), the girls are good at the more cerebral stuff, like Decrypting and Hacking. Sure, it’s a little sexist, but it adds another dimension to the story-driven quest and keeps things fresh.
It’s a lot of fun to play with two players, but playing by your lonesome is almost as entertaining due to the co-op requirements. Being able to switch between characters whenever you wish streamlines the process, although the camera sits a little too close for comfort when trying to gain your bearings. The camera is one of those free/fixed things that allows you to move the camera freely…but only in certain areas. In other areas, you either have limited or no camera movement, and the default view sits too low and too far behind the roving couple. It can cause major problems during intense encounters, too, and things only get worse when you’re trying to switch to the other character when being attacked. The game does attempt to settle things down when you hold the L1 button to go into preparation mode, because it fixes directly behind the character in question and lets you aim appropriately. This works well, but when running around and exploring, that camera gets in the way more often than not.
But besides that, we really don’t have any major complaints. The co-op system works rather well (even though we found it to be a bit slow and stilted at times), the speed is worthy of both a third-person shooter and a survival/horror game, and above all else, the atmosphere gives the entire experience a huge boost. The storyline is kinda boring, though, and the pacing leaves a little something to be desired. The voice acting is just plain bad and we often felt completely overmatched when fighting the nasties that inhabit most every level of the game. Still, Obscure: The Aftermath is well worth playing for any fan of the genre, especially because it’s only twenty bucks. It’s also a good option if you want to play with a friend; just don’t expect something that’s refined and polished within an inch of its entertainment life. There are plenty of little flaws here and there that are quite visible, but it doesn’t completely erase the atmospheric appeal and general fun factor. And that’s a good note to end a review on.
6/26/2008 Ben Dutka