Wednesday, February 4, 2015

VGR ObsCure II The Aftermath

VGR: ObsCure II also known as ObsCure: The Aftermath in America, or simply Oscure 2
From Hydravision Entertainment/Ignition Entertainment/Playlogic Entertainment 
Played on PC
Also available on PS2, Wii and PSP

Type Survival horror
Year 2007

ObsCure is back! You know... That fun obscure little survival horror game from a little while back? - pun intended.

Thanks to a modest but decent enough success to warrant a sequel, a second ObsCure was greenlighted in 2007. Simply called ObsCure II in most of the world, but somehow retitled ObsCure The Aftermath in the US only.

This follow-up to the sadly underrated decent 2004 survival horror title ObsCure was once more developed by the small independent French studio Hydravision Entertainment, published this time by Ignition Entertainment in North America and by Playlogic Entertainment in most other regions.

The game was once more developed for PC, and ported to a few consoles such as PlayStation 2 and the Nintendo Wii (the Xbox port was apparently scrapped for some reason..).

The story takes place about two years after the events of the first ObsCure.

All the survivors from the plant creatures of the first game have now been infected by these spores and they need to take a treatment every day to prevent their bodies from being infected by this mutation.

The once sweet Shannon is now a much darker sadder person. And her jock brother Kenny is taking it worse than her. Both are going to this nearby school of Fallcreek University. Meanwhile Stan (still clearly inspired by Josh Hartnett from The Faculty) is now working as a pizza delivery boy.

There's a new drug that has been spreading all over the campus, apparently made from these strange black flowers growing nearby. The flowers are all over the frat house. This thing gives its users some nightmare-ysh hallucinations and the effects can be shared through intercourse (and I'm not making this up!).

We are introduced to this skater dude Corey. The only things he loves as much as his girlfriend Mei is his car. Speaking of Mei she's the resident tech-geek expert. They're late to a fraternity party... That is when the first mutations happen all over the University campus! During this big party the Leafmore High survivors find themselves having to face these new monsters spreading all over the school! Everyone doing these drugs is turned into these huge monsters. Mei fears for her twin sister Jun's safety. They meet another survivor, a teacher Richard James, from biology. He's studying these mysterious black spores and will end up helping our heroes through "most" of the story.

It seems like these black spores have spread to the nearby Hospital where they were hoping to find a safe haven, but it's already contaminated as well. Mei rushes to find Jun with this exchange study Sven, but despite what you might be able to do or not (there's an entirely skipeable secret playable Jun segment), she is killed by some monsters nonetheless!

Corey meets with Shannon and her brother Kenny. Kenny is injured. He's going through withdrawals and lets those things turn him into this giant monster, the defacto-Nemesis figure of this game. A much more dangerous and powerful creature compared to the rest encountered, due to his past connection with the mutation during the events at Leafmore High...

From there on the story gets worse. Really worse.

Mutant Kenny kills Mei... Corey is devastated. Since Shannon called him, Stan meets with the rest of the group. They try to escape and crash off a cliff in the forest. Kenny's still after them!

Stan and Shannon grow closer. Amy and Sven find this mysterious disfigured man living in the woods- The rest of the gang regroup and find Sven in an old abandoned house.. but they arrive too late! They find out this "person" turns out to be the son of Leonard Friedman, the main enemy from the first ObsCure, Jebediah Friedman. A sad inhuman man-child responsible for spreading the infection through the woods to Fallcreek. So they do the worst thing they could they beat him up to a pulp and savagely kill this irresponsible creature. (Sheesh, that was one of the most violent scenes in this game.. and it's not over just yet!) This Jebediah was living off around the ruins of the school from the first game! They find the remains of Friedman, still in his mutated tree form and destroy him once and for good.

They return to M. James and are about to leave this awful nightmare in an ambulance... End Credits. But WAIT! It's not over yet!

Following this first ending credits sequence, there's more game left! Time to go through most of the levels one more time in quick run-through more difficult and directly implement in the story!

Turns out Amy was now visibly pregnant with some mutant offspring.. Yeah, apparently she was raped by Kenny at some point after his mutation. Yuck. Really, Hydravision? Couldn't you have said, like, that they had sex prior to the events of the game since that Kenny was already contaminated anyway. Ugh... Let's just continue anyway...

Stan, Shannon, Amy and Corey escape. Corey escapes with Amy, but mutant!Kenny's right after them. Stan and Shannon are left behind and are forced to go through the frat house party and the school one more time. They arrive too late, Corey kills himself (since rape was apparently not enough. Come on, ObsCure 2! Suicide too?!). They're forced to kill Kenny once and for good in the football field. An helicopter arrives with Richard, he grabs Amy and makes a run for it... only for it to explode in the air letting all that black spores covering the nearby region once again.

Stan and Shannon kiss and get ready to put a stop for good for this infection this time.

It's... a pretty bad story for sure. It's not even fun and cheesy like the first game. While I can understand all the gore and general dark tone of the game, here it all just feels so cheap and awkward. Did we need to involve rape in this?

The gameplay follows the same pretty classic generic mechanic of the genre.

You control a pair of characters, you can switch back and forth whenever you want. You have to manage your limited supply of health, weapons and ammunition.

The weapons range from a few short range stuff like baseball bats and golf clubs to a decent set of guns, rifles, shotguns and other special weapons like a crossbow or a stun gun. Each coming with a limited ammo you can barely find around.

The game still allows to control your character via a camera behind your character and a few fixed angles in a few places. But since the game is all in 3D unlike games of old, you're always able to get it back to have a better look around the environments.

The only real feature from the first game to make a come back is ObsCure's unique drop-in system, which is rare for the genre. Other games tried to implement various controllable characters to more or less success, like Resident Evil Zero, but only ObsCure really did it well. And the fact you can switch back and forth whenever you want, and have another player take control immediately is always a great thing to have.

Like the first game each character has its own unique ability. But where it only helped you a little in the first game, it takes a much bigger important this time since it truly adds unique capabilities to each character. The game simply forces you to play through the story segments with a set of specific character, unlike the more free open first game. Each character needed to solve a particular situation. It makes the entire game a much more linear experience, and also means nobody can die this time (that is an instant Game Over screen!). Of the three returning characters from the first game, the now much darker Shannon with her Goth personality can absorb the darkness, Stan ended up in prison and is now able to pick locks, and finally Kenny for the little you get to play as him is the strong one of the group, able to move stuff around. The rest of the gang counts on Corey's acrobatics who can climb around and jump to higher places, Mei can hacks locks (her sister Jun doesn't get to do much), Sven is another strong character that basically takes over Kenny's once you won't get to play him again, and finally despite her charming looks Amy is the smart one who's used to solve puzzles and riddles, she's the only one able to decrypt stuff you find.

For some reason, most of this game does not take place at school, like the first game. Which is a shame really, since it was easily the best and most memorable and unique aspect of the first game! It helped this franchise stand apart from the countless other Resident Evil and Silent Hill clones out there (along its co-op feature).

ObsCure 2 also doesn't rely as much on its "teen movie" feel like the original, the only last remaining element from it is in its cast of stereotypical protagonists. The game wasn't as much influenced by horror films this time. It could have been much better with an over-the-top cheesy tone. Instead it takes some direct cues from Silent Hill (and even seems to takes its entire introduction from it actually). More Texas Chainsaw Massacre than The Faculty this time.

There's a few visible inspirations here and there in the game, such as our Josh Hartnett-inspired protagonist from the first game, and even Corey seems to be apparently based on Jay Baruchel from Undeclared

Hydravision ditched the B-movie/teen movie/horror flick vibe from the previous episode to try a more mature much darker and sadder tone, which turns for the worse I'd say. The real problem with that is that the game's trying to take itself too seriously. It's like its almost embarrassed to look back at the previous episode. They did that by adding a lot more melodrama to the mean spirited story and using rape as a plot device... Which does the opposite to make this episode feel much more immature than its prequel actually. In the end all we are left with is a very forgettable confusing and confused story.

The game is such a mess... Despite the solid work on the part of Hydravision - this is still a great looking game with pretty decent gameplay - it just seems to fail on so many fronts...

The graphics are pretty good and have a big part in contributing to the great atmosphere. The game also has a great art direction and environments (despite the lack of school - which makes a great return at the end of the game at least). The CGi cutscenes somehow look pretty cheap in comparison to the in-game models and the awful plot ruins most of the experience.

The other issues I have with it is how much they missed the great ideas the first ObsCure had, such as the original and fun light mechanic, the ability to use these different characters as additional "lives", the open nature of the game. It was a fun experience with a great tongue-in-cheek approach

The score is composed again by French composer Olivier Derivière from the first ObsCure game (and Remember Me in 2013). The music is probably the best aspect of this entire game. He took the direction of the first game to new horizons! It's really fantastic. He uses a lot of choirs to create these really creepy and fascinating cues (which you can download at his official website).

The big changes made to ObsCure doesn't allow selecting your own characters this time. A few times you will get the illustion to be able to take the character of your choosing whenever they smeet up, but you actually don't really since you will still need a specific duo of characters to progress and solve the puzzles found in the environment. That is also why no one can die this time. They put a lot more focus on the (bland) storyline to the detriment of the player.

The other sadly missing feature is the whole light mechanic from the first game, where you could break these windows or use a flashlight to weaken the monsters. Apart from a brief allusion to it in the gymnasium, here it is completely gone.

As such ObsCure 2 feels like a much more classic survival horror game, ditching most of what made it original in the first place.

The game is a bit more difficult this time, there are some tricky situations. You only need to always carefully manage your bullets and health (it's no different from any other game of the genre).

They've also broken the segments down, forcing you to play through the same environments with different characters as they catch up to the rest of the group during the story (sometimes having you revisit the same places three times!). Thankfully your inventory is always transformed over whenever you change characters. Which is a good thing.

All this because they probably wanted to make the game artificially longer and a more diverse gameplay. With plenty of fighting, climbing, solving puzzles, etc. Sometimes while a character's doing an action that requires some patience they will get attacked by enemies and the other will have to cover for you (it doesn't always work with the otherwise decent AI).

There's also a few QTEs this time around, some forgettable scenes which was the norm at the time. Whenever finishing a boss or performing a simple task like opening a door with two levers. The last boss even involves managing to lock-pick and whatnot while fighting the boss.

To add to the replay value, there's an entirely optional quest to save Jun... for a while, since the story can't change and she still has to die nevertheless. There's also the addition of these new weapon boxes which kinda take you "out" of the story. You can find these big boxes requiring 3 keys in each new area, usually hidden around. If you miss or fail to open these boxes, the keys will be carried over for the next box. It goes from simple additional firepower, weapon upgrades, secret bonus guns to  hidden documents. It's a much longer game all in all, it easily goes over one additional final hour after you witness the credits roll a first time.

The save system itself is kind of a return to old survival horror games mechanics, making you manage your limited saves. These big black flower than can only be used once to save.  -- last boss forcing manage all this fighting lock-picking, etc.

Overall, the original ObsCure was a fun little survival horror game, if anything. Specially thanks to some interesting gameplay mechanics and the use of co-op. Using the light to face your enemies was a great idea (often experimented in the genre, rarely well executed). And this sequel is a much more cynical, serious, classic and more linear follow-up.

Leaving the whole campy self-referential premise from the first game, which was mostly based on the film The Faculty, to attempt turning the series into a real horror story closer to the likes of Silent Hill.

As decent as it is technically speaking, I wouldn't exactly recommend it if you were a fan of the first one. In fact, I would say this is pretty much the exact opposite of the first ObsCure game. Try It if you're a fan of the genre looking for something you haven't played yet or if you are a completionist like me.

The best part of the game is easily the music, the graphics and the decent controls. The art style and work put into these settings are really nice.

But the more serious tone really ruins it. The original took some inspiration from the Silent Hill series to build its world progression, creature design and gameplay experience (with a fun Faculty-inspired tone). The second once simply steals the entire nightmarish prologue sequence from it, without even bothering to implement it into the narrative.

The game simply feels like a big missed opportunity, like it could have been a lot better if they kept it contained to the college setting, it was so unique to this series! But no, instead they wanted it to be more Silent Hill and it ditches the original premise for a variety of woods, a foggy lake and even an abandoned Hospital! Let's not even mention again the tasteless plot one more time, trying to make the game more "mature", darker and serious.

Like the original, ObsCure II was also also ported to the PS2. A Wii port was also simultaneously released. The PC version is probably the best one, thanks to customizable options and the higher resolution, while the Wii and PS2 ports are only slightly behind. The Wii uses motion controls, which can both be fun and disastrous depending on the situations. From what I read lock-picking can be a real torture, but the boat segments sound a lot better thanks being gesture-based instead of timed executions.

There also was one last port on the PSP later in 2009, due to the big fan demand to port ObsCure to a portable system. They were even able to make use of the PSP's own co-op capabilities. The graphics were tweaked just enough to keep the game looking great and detailed.

Some more additional ObsCure games were originally meant to follow ObsCure II before Hydravision was forced to close down. First there was a third game, Obscure: Dark Aura, a cartoony-looking spinoff aimed for the PSP and DS in 2010. It would have been an interquel episode, focused on other survivors from the first game (there are some hints to that game in ObsCure 2). There also was Obscure D for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC which was intended for a 2012 release date along rumors of an Obscure: Survivor. But all that ended up being merged together into the digital beat 'em all sidescroller Final Exam once Hydravision was revived as Back Mighty Rocket Studios under Focus Interactive,

I give it:
1.5 / 3 Necronomicons!

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