Platforms: PC | PSN | XBLA
Developers: Mighty Rocket Studios
Publishers: Focus Home Interactive
On the one hand, it could be argued that Obscure is everything that is wrong with IP mismanagement. After all, the original was a quirky survival horror title from nearly a decade ago (which received mixed reviews), set in a high school, with four teenagers investigating strange goings-on, odd disappearances, and students turning into hideous monsters. On the other, this reboot seems like pick-up-and-play fun and, considering that Mighty Rocket Studios are made up of a number of the key development staff who worked on the original, it's pretty much theirs to do whatever they want with it.
"“It was impossible for us not to finish this game, because it’s our baby," expresses Mighty Rocket CEO Francois Potentier. We can see he's excited. He takes us through the game in breathless fashion, clearly thankful to be showcasing the revived IP. Considering that one direct sequel shipped and sank, a change of direction has clearly been deemed necessary. The scares and the scarce items are out, but the high school setting and the youthful protagonists are retained.
Potentier explains that whilst the original game's were attempting to tap into a popular genre at the time, survival horror has (arguably perhaps) fallen by the wayside in recent years. This reboot intends to provide some immediately accessible fun, attempting to poke fun at reams of horror cliches as it does so. "On the way to what should be the party of their lives, a group of young students will instead face off against hordes of aggressive and frightening creatures," reads the official tagline. "No horror cliche is safe from the chainsaw of the developer, Mighty Rocket Studio. It’s a wild mash-up of monsters, baseball bats, chainsaws, flamethrowers, and bursts of laughter!”
And it does make us laugh in places. This type of 2.5D side-scrolling action-platformer is hardly anything new, but it is a winning formula, and Mighty Rocket clearly have an idea of exactly what this game needs to be. In comes local and online drop-in/drop-out co-op, the interface is simple to use, and the animations are smooth and responsive to user input. Frustratingly perhaps, we were handed a singleplayer demo, with a number of debug buffs available, and all of the special moves unlocked, so it's difficult to speak as to the balancing of difficulty in the game, but there were a decent variety of enemies in the 30 minute level through which we played - from speedier zombies to great, big hulking brutes, and flying ghouls that need swatting out of the sky. The cartoonish look to the game is endearing, and sits well with the revised approach to gameplay.
"We wanted to do something to reflect our focus on digital distribution, so we made it a little more colourful and cartoony, and decided to focus much more on the gameplay rather than concerning ourselves with cutscenes," says Potentier. "But the legacy of Obscure is still there in the setting and the student archetypes." So it is that you begin the game by choosing one of four high school horror character stereotypes - the jock, the nerd, the smooth charmer, and the cheerleader - each with their own particular strengths. The beefcake jock, for example, is better at hand-to-hand combat; I got to grips with the nerd, who had a strong propensity for blowing stuff up with explosives.
Move with the left-stick, aim with the right, jump with A, and nudge the bumper to lob a grenade. It's as simple as it sounds, and the action is instantly familiar. Pleasantly, there seem to be a few little setpieces, where working together is encouraged. We found ourselves behind the wheel of an enormous tank-like vehicle at one point, fending off oncoming zombie hordes from all sides, and hopping between four different turrets - two machine guns, one rocket launcher, and a tasty flamethrower - to keep the undead mob at bay. It was frantic doing a section clearly designed for multiplayer on my own, but fun nonetheless.
"It's certainly designed with co-op play in mind," says Potentier. "You want something like this on PSN and XBLA that you can just pick up and play with your friend. It was important for us to have big maps – huge maps – because you’ve got up to four players at once when you're online. In online play, everybody can be everywhere on the map. You can either stay together because it’s safer, or divide to meet your objectives quicker.”
There are nice little touches here and there; one of the nerd's special moves, for example, is to deploy a little box that looks an awful lot like a Ghostbusters ghost trap. Little environmental dangers add to the puzzle-platform aspect of the game too, such as trying to sneak dynamite across a dodgem pit occupied by ghost drivers. Every so often, too, you'll come across a room or an area where you're set upon by a near-endless horde of zombies, and Potentier notes that Valve's co-op zombie shooter Left 4 Dead has had a significant influence of Obscure.
But do we really need another side-scrolling action-puzzle-platformer? Well, maybe. Well all is said and done, Obscure doesn't need to be particularly spectacular or wildly ambitious. We like these types of games because they're instantly accessible, with camaraderie in co-op being the obvious draw, and this is a game that would certainly seem to offer that opportunity. If they can get the infrastructure as slick as it needs to be for pick-up-and-play goodness, combined with a downloadable marketplace price point, few would begrudge Mighty Rocket a strong return following the closure of Hydravision.