The hats weren’t actually the first RPS-mail. I returned from my trip to Relic and Gas Powered Games to find a parcel addressed to Rock Paper Shotgun from Koch Media. Inside it was a copy of Obscure II, which I thought appropriate as I’d never heard of it. The developers had fallen for that basic mistake of giving the game a name which can easily be turned into a joke for a bitchy review, but – no – really, I hadn’t heard of it. That fearlessness deserves some kind of respect. Also, I chatted to Walker, who had played and actually 79%-liked the original, saying it “rewards innovation over frenzy, and it seems only fair to do the same in return” (Or at least that’s what professional parasites Metacritic claim, anyway, as John couldn’t really remember anything other than he’d played it). Like its prequel, Obscure II is a Survival Horror game but rather than feeding the Romero/Tartan-Extreme-Import duopoly, takes the American teen horror film as its basis. Oh – and it’s got co-op too. I decided I’d better play it.
That “playing it” happened when I was somewhat inelegantly wasted on Saturday night at about 4am. The morning after, between bacon sandwiches, I talked Jim into joining me in some Survival Horror Co-op with reviewing consequences and actually took notes and stuff.
JOIN US FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATIONS.
Let’s talk a bit about that Duopoly. Basically, taking from Eastern Horror and Romero means things – bar minor black humour – are pretty fucking grim. Obscure isn’t grim. Well, there’s some grim things you see, but just by having the leads be sterotypes Jock I, Hottie I, Jock II and Hottie II… well, things are different. Take the opening cut-scene, where a character is talking about the horrible thing which happened years previously (“…until Herbert Friedman decided to use the students as guinea pigs”). Then rousing American Guitar Pop blares forth, we pan out over the college and kids running around and goofing off and whatever it is Americans do. Apparently the first game started with Sum-41, which is even more appropriate. That this is even vaguely original in the genre, when there’s a half dozen teen films released every year with the format, probably says something or another.
Anyway, the game opens with Jock I getting out of bed and rapidly meeting Hottie 1. Both now run around excitedly, Jim amusing himself by running circles around me while I try and get screenshots. Luckily the camera sticks on me, allowing me to sprint off and leave him off screen. If I enter a loading zone, it drags him to catch up. Oh – the co-op is drop in/drop out, so you can have a friend play or not at any point, and otherwise you can skip between the two characters, leaving the AI to trail behind you. AI is okay. Phew. Anyway – here’s Jock 1 and Hottie 1 in their natural habitat. Say hello to Jock 1 and/or Hottie 1.
We explore the place a little, finding many goofing-around students and a lot of locked doors. Working out the linear path we have to follow – helped by a trace of a map-shape in my head, smeared by booze – we end up in our friends’ place, where everyone’s getting ready to go to a party. Jock 1 is convinced into trying the new tea made from plant leaves everyone’s been trying for weeks.
It’s drugs, you fool!
We’re suddenly somewhere else. Fragments of bodies impaled on spikes, monsters dragging off squirming things, blood smeared walls flashing in and out of existence, friends dragging themselves along with half their body gone, screaming, always the screaming – Jim and I sigh nostalgically. The true student experience.
It’s at this point Jim discovers the walk key, and something else comes to our attention. It’s one of the games where the animators seem to have an ulterior motivation. Where the men walk as if they’re walking to get somewhere the girls walk as if they’re walking to the bedroom. Here we are, using the Silent-Hill-esque torch to examine Jim’s posterior.
It’s odd the number of games that fall for this one. Even Deus Ex had all the female characters do the most hilarious Penelope Pitstop run, which kind of undermined the brooding atmosphere of pre-millennial tension. Anyway – moving on from Jim’s bottom, we had a fight with some monsters, which is nice…
But Hottie 1 died! Oh noes!
And then I came to, vomiting in the toilet after our drug trip. The verisimilitude is overwhelming. Wandering around with the screen wobbling like crazy, I eventually locate a Red-Bull-esque energy drink which manages to make life bearable. Lots of nodding. The only way this could be a more accurate student videogame is if you didn’t do anything for 95% of the game and then try and complete it in the last twenty minutes. It loses us a little when, to get over to the next building, I find myself swinging across an elevator shaft. That’s a lot of exertion on a hangover. Anyway – we find each other, and discover everyone else has headed to the party. Control switches to Hottie II and Jock II. We use our various special abilities to get into in – I push a big crate and Hottie II decrypts some codes, which is about as convincing as when Denise Richards played a Nuclear Physicist in that Bond flick. The goofing off has goofed off, sadly. The party goes crazy with monsters, as clearly everyone took the weird plant drugs and – as the tropes of teen films demand – any time anyone has any fun, whatsoever, ever they’ll all die painfully (and probably be pregnant).
We’re not paying attention. Jim and I have tooled up with Golfclubs and realised we can whack the living shit out of each other. Cue fight!
Don’t worry! Everyone was fine.
So, we’re making our way along and I’m thinking… well, this is actually kind of fun. I mean, the budget clearly isn’t there and it’s a little shoddy, but it’s passable fun. Most importantly, the co-op works really well. Traditionally when talking about Survival Horror, people talk ominously on about the feeling of isolation that’s central, which you’d think having a mate with would undermine. But that’s not entirely true – at least half of my scariest moments in videogames have been in the company of another human. For example, the moment when I realised that games are generally scarier when any other medium, playing Resident Evil 2 back at university with a room full of people watching, each other’s tension amping up everyone else’s until one spectacular moment when two people jumped behind the sofa while the one with the controller ran at the TV, shouting (not to mention my first play-through of the Cradle was on a wall-projector with friends yelping along). And let’s not forget the pioneering use of co-op in System Shock 2. This makes Obscure II a specialist interest, sure, but an interesting specialism, which…
At which point, I put a key in a lock via the inventory system, where the game crashes to desktop. Jim wanders off. I play a bit from my save game from the previous night, and get another crash within five minutes. I also remember that the reason I stopped playing the night before wasn’t due to me crashing. Now, I’m running on Vista, but – clearly – this is too unstable to even vaguely recommend. Especially when while they’re charging thirty quid for the PC version it’s just twenty for the PS2 . For a format that requires a publisher-payment to release on being cheaper than an open format is the real horror story here.
So (er) yes.