ObsCure II PC review

Shaun picks ObsCure II off the shelf for a test run, and soon wishes he hadn't bothered...

Standing around dumbly: this happens a lot. Just be grateful they're not talking. Then the real horror begins

This is a sequel to 2004’s ObsCure, a multi-platform survival horror game that saw a disparate band of assorted high school students – possessed of improbably unique and useful skills – fight their way through hordes of spore-infected classmates to uncover the truth behind a daaark secret. Not an uncommon survival horror premise. The game’s most unique feature was the ability to play through the game co-operatively, something its sequel also boasts. Unfortunately I’m reviewing the PC version, and found myself unable to convince anyone to play it with me. Crowding around a single keyboard isn’t quite as fun as using your own control pad, after all.

The game blends survival horror game conventions with the American teen slasher movie genre, a premise that simultaneously rouses interest through the promise of something a little different, and dashes hope that of all the film genres they could have chosen they went for that one. Ugh. Still, to be fair the game’s grisly critters are slightly unusual in that as well as being all gross and fleshy, they’re gross and planty, which in some small way represents a break with tradition.

I feel like my sarcasm is a little unfair, actually, so for a moment I’ll be a bit more methodical and run through some of the reasons I found ObsCure II such a disappointing experience. First off, the dialogue regularly fails to convince; an early example of this is a wounded girl at a frat party gone awry. She bursts through a door and slams it shut behind herself, apparently fleeing for her life, before directing you to forget about her and go get yourself the gun that’s in the pool room down the corridor. That’s not really convincing as abject terror, although it is functional as clumsy signposting. But then, this is a character in a game in a genre noted for poor writing and dialogue, using a plot based on a film genre noted for poor writing and characterisation. And at least no one says “I hope that’s not Chris’s blood!”

Sorry, I slipped with the sarcasm for a moment. You can add to the poorly-considered dialogue sloppy subtitling (misspelled and missing words), poorly synchronised audio and animations (characters sometimes stop moving and stare mutely at one another whilst you can still hear someone talking), and the same voice actor plays multiple characters. Okay, it’s rarely fair to poke fun at budgetary restraints, but the game does trumpet Josh Swanson’s talents, and it’s amusingly disconcerting to watch a teenage jock and a bird-like professor in his 50s conversing with each other in the same voice. Forget the monsters – this was genuinely creepy.

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The camera is one of those despicably evil specimens that shifts schizophrenically between a fixed position in some areas, an on-rails drifting third person perspective in others, and an over-the-shoulder view for combat. None of these is particularly well-implemented, and while irritating cameras are forgivable when simply exploring it’s quite the opposite to have it twitching hither and thither in the midst of a pitched fight. Coupled with the over-effective auto-aim and the generally clumsy keyboard controls, combat is reduced to little more than tedious button-spamming. You’ll usually win, and your characters will usually take some damage: kill, rinse, repeat.

There’s yet more awfulness to be derived from in the writing, unfortunately. I hate to sound like a broken record but the writing is where ObsCure II really falls apart. The gameplay itself is not much fun, but that is also true of many survival horror titles that have achieved widespread success; a compelling story or convincing atmosphere goes a long way. Unfortunately ObsCure II also misjudges this with repeated small stupidities that shatter suspension of disbelief. For example, two characters casually postulate “a burglary” as the reason things seem a bit odd whilst surrounded by dismembered bodies and magic evil flowers.

A lot of the secondary writing – description that pops up when investigating environmental objects – is bizarrely deadpan. Examining two dead unfortunates generates “Two horribly mutilated corpses”. You’d have thought that might evoke a bit more of a response there. I’m not even asking for writing tailored to specific characters. Just something that was convincingly human would be enough.

Moving on, quite near the beginning of the game another character seems to be more concerned about someone stealing his car than about the dozen dead people and mutated killing machines he’s confronted in the past five minutes (yeah, there’s studied cool, and then there’s being blasé to the point of retarded solipsism). The characters rarely seem that bothered by what’s going on around them, and the game’s insistence on providing unconvincing youth dialogue throughout doesn’t help with the feeling that the characters are just as detached from what’s going on as you are.

What does ObsCure II get right? Well, when the characters weren’t talking, the music (which is good) and the sound effects (which are not hugely varied, but do the job) generated tension quite effectively. Admittedly I’m a pussycat with these games and it’s not hard to make me jump, but there were a few flesh-crawling moments between the inevitably stupid things your characters do and say.  And there’s a charming naivete about the game: despite its almost intrinsic mediocrity the game still seems to be quite hopeful that it’s actually not that bad.

Unfortunately, none of this is even close to enough to cover for the game’s flaws.

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Incidentally, during my research I read that, around the time of its release, ObsCure II courted some controversy due to it featuring a teen committing suicide. Apparently no other game has featured teen suicide before. I find that hard to believe but it’s not really relevant here, because I’m primarily amused at the thought of sanctimonious armchair generals demanding the game be banned, or self-censoring executives at chainstore corporate headquarters withdrawing it from circulation, all because the game features a kid capping himself. You know what? I don’t really want to spoil the game’s plot for anyone masochistic enough to have read this much of my review and to still want to play the game to completion, but I have to remark that if you ever find yourself hounded to the brink of sanity by the 20-foot tall mutated remnants of your former best friend who has recently killed your girlfriend, and you find yourself his prisoner whilst the other playable characters are waiting for the FMV to end so they can begin a climactic boss battle, you might consider the idea as well, irrespective of a work of clumsy fiction ‘suggesting’ it.