Check out our spooktacular retrospective review of the massively underrated Obscure…
This PS2 title was one of the few games to try to adapt the teen slasher genre into an interactive experience. But after 15 years since it first released, it is worth playing this Halloween season?
Watch on to find out…
It’s October and you know what that means. The nights are drawing in, the cosy jumpers come out, and we get to celebrate the most magical time of year… Halloween!
And there’s no better way to get into the festive spirit than by playing some scary games. I’ve always found video games are much more effective at sending the chills up your spine compared to the likes of TV and movies. Whereas it can be easy to detach yourself from the turmoil of characters on the silver screen, in games it’s you who has to peek around the corner or venture further into the darkness.
I could quite comfortably watch Alien on my own in a dark room, but I’d struggle to get through 20 minutes of Alien Isolation on a good day!
And I’m not alone in this mindset, and as a result most genres of horror have been tackled in games. You’ve got your classic zombies, psychological, body horror, Luigi, but one genre that’s been painfully overlooked is cheesy teen slashers.
Don’t get me wrong, the likes of Dead By Daylight do go someway, and borrow some of the archetypes and tropes, but they tend to be more homages to the classic terror of Friday the 13th and Halloween. And besides, these types of games very rarely lean into narrative, instead focusing on multiplayer.
But after digging around for underrated spooky games for a special halloween edition of Nostalgia Obscura, one sprung out that not only focused on this horror niche, but did it blooming well. It also happens to be arguably the most appropriately named title for a series called Nostalgia Obscura. Obscure!
But what is this game all about and why aren’t more people talking about it? Watch on to find out…
Developed by Hydravision Entertainment and released all the back in 2004, Obscure is ostensibly a survival horror game. The next section will cover the general plot so I’ll pop the timestamp on screen if you’d prefer to skip past spoilers. Naturally, as with all good teen slashers, it has to take place at a school and Leafmore High provides the perfect setting. You play as a group of kids who start to notice strange goings on, including students inexplicably disappearing and members of the faculty acting awfully suspicious. I once saw a group of lads pick up and carry off a teacher’s car like pallbearers so honestly all that other stuff would fly under my radar.
Anyway, you proceed to explore the school, encountering your mutated classmates and all other manner of obstacles, dangers and booby traps. You’ll eventually discover that like myself during my goth phase, these beasties are sensitive to light, and there’s some pretty inventive ways you can use your flashlight and exploit broken windows to weaken and defeat your foes.
It’s ultimately revealed that the mutant teens are failed experiments conducted by the principal Herbert and school nurse Elisabeth. Not only have they been secretly injecting students with a rare plant spore in the hopes of finding the formula for immortality, they themselves are well over a hundred despite not looking a day over 60.
But just as you come across Herbert, he’s killed by another teacher desperate to find a cure for the infection. Herbert’s twin Leonard (oh yeah, Herbert has a twin) witnesses the death, and in a fit of rage murders the teacher and sets the biggest mutant yet on the teens. But in true popcorn horror style, you defeat the final boss, Leonard succumbs to the sunlight and everything returns to normal. Happy endings all round.
It’s all delightfully campy, littered with cliches and compared to the more thought-provoking horror of recent years is as shallow as a puddle. But it’s for these reasons that I, as well as many others, love it. It’s an absolute product of its time, seen no more evidently than with the proud inclusion of Sum 41 in the soundtrack.
The nostalgia is also very much there with the main cast of students, each of which have unique characteristics and abilities that affect the gameplay.
You’ve got the cheerleader Ashley, who can rapid fire with a pistol and deliver more damage with most weapons.
Then there’s her boyfriend Kenny who, being a jock, can run pretty fast. But he isn’t as interesting as his sister Shannon. A smarty pants trying to hide the fact they’re a smarty pants, she provides tips on puzzles and can heal the party’s wounds.
Of course it wouldn’t be a high school gang without a stoner, and Stanley doubles up on the tropes by also being a computer hacker who can pick locks more easily and break into rooms.
Finally we have Josh, the de facto nerd and as such, the most useful playable character. He can tell if there is anything left to do in an area, such as items to pick up, or locations that advance the storyline. This makes everything so much easier, as you’re never in the dark as to whether you’ve missed anything important or if you can proceed with confidence. If you take nothing else from this video, make sure you have him in your squad.
You can play as any of the main characters either solo or in co-op, which is most definitely the best way to experience Obscure. Traversing the halls of the school with friends helps you to roleplay and lose yourself in the narrative, however wonderfully hammy it might be. It’s also fun to replay different scenarios with a different combination of characters.
But make sure to watch your step, as if a character dies, they stay dead. And when I say watch your step I do mean literally, as there’s some areas where one wrong move leads to someone falling to their death and it can be super frustrating. Yet overall this is a really nice edition as not only does it ramp up the tension, but it also makes it feel like you’re playing through a movie, with certain areas and moments providing perilous set pieces.
Aside from all that, it follows a lot of the tried and true mechanics of survival horror. There’s a pretty deep crafting system that you’ll need to make the most of if you’re going to keep everyone alive. If you do nothing else, tape your dang flashlight to your gun as soon as you can. It makes everything so much easier.
There’s also the obligatory dodgy camera angles, which depending on your perspective will either be annoying or endearing. Personally I lean more towards the latter, and you’ll quickly adapt regardless.
As you would’ve seen throughout this video, Obscure was also a pretty darn good looking game for its day. It might be showing its age a bit now, but for the time and compared to its contemporaries it offered enough charm and realism to help keep you invested.
But if it looked as good (if not better than) other games of the time, had a competent game system and a fun, silly story, why has it been largely forgotten. Well, I have my theories.
Firstly, there was a truly woeful sequel that dropped a few years later. It follows the kids into their college years, where a similar set of events start occurring. It’s almost fitting that like a lot of horror movie sequels, this felt like a cheap cash in that lacked the plot, originality and charm of the original. Although it doesn’t discredit the enjoyment of the first, it’s easy to see why it didn’t win over any new fans.
What’s more, Obscure was a victim of the time in which it was released. Not only was 2004 reaching the end of the PS2’s dominance before the advent of a new console generation, but it also dropped the same year as Resident Evil 4. After over half a decade of dominance, the survival horror genre wasn’t quite as in vogue as it was or would become again, so it’s easy to see why something like Resi that shook up the formula would grab all the headlines. Had Obscure released a few years before or after, it might be held in much higher regard.
Either way, I implore you to check it out. It received an HD remaster in 2016 which you can find on Steam, and although it’s unfortunately lacking the bops of Sum 41, it’s still definitely worth your time this Halloween season.
And if that doesn’t quite satisfy your hunger for all things spooky, make sure to hit the subscribe button here for more videos on all things that go bump in the night, or head to upsidedownshark.com to find out more about everything we’ve got going on.
Until then my name is Tom, we’ve been UDS and we’ll see you next time.