In 2005, Capcom released one of the most prolific survival horror games ever created, Resident Evil 4. While the game set new standards for the genre, it also shrouded other budding games that sought to carve their name in the horror hall of fame. One of these games in particular was ObsCure, which was released the same year in the US.
ObsCure is a fitting name for a game that ended up going under many gamers’ radars. It was developed by Hydravison and published by Dreamcatcher Interactive in North America. The game was available on PS2 and PC, with an HD version currently available on Steam.
While game critic reviews for the game were lukewarm when it was released, the game has collected a cult following of players who hold the game in their hearts fondly. If you look at the reviews back in 2005, the ratings given by critics sat around the 6-7/10 range. What’s more interesting, is that current player reviews on the Steam page are overwhelmingly positive, reaching nearly a perfect score.
Is it nostalgia blinding the fans of the game from the flaws that critics saw or is ObsCure a sleeper hit that went mostly unnoticed? Let’s take a deep look to see what the hype or gripes are all about with a fresh review of this early 2000s survival horror game.
A Campy Teen Horror Story
The game opens with an upbeat and angsty soundtrack while the camera pans over a large bustling high school. After a few locale shots, the focus then shifts to a group of teens playing basketball in the gymnasium.
The characters are introduced with a nice little splash screen while they play, pausing to let the player know each of their names. The cast stars five characters who all have a mixed bag of generic teen-slasher archetypes.
You’ve got Kenny, the jock-esque guy. Then there’s his sister, Shannon, who’s a smart but punk gal. Next, there’s Stan, the stoner who’s a bit of a troublemaker. Following him is Ashley, Kenny’s cheerleader girlfriend with a lot of attitude. Finally, there’s the nerdy Josh, who’s not playing the pick-up game of ball and is filming them for a project.
Cheesy intro aside, after the teens get done playing, they all decide to hit the showers and call it a day. Kenny decides to stay out a bit later, avoiding home to instead make plans to meet his girlfriend later that evening.
Sometime after the gang leaves the gym, the player gains control of Kenny. Here, you can shoot baskets for a bit, but eventually, it’s time to head out and meet up with Ashley. Kenny goes to take a shower and calls Ashley when a shadowy figure sneaks behind Kenny and nabs his bag.
When Kenny finishes his call, he notices immediately that someone has taken his things. Kenny leaves the locker rooms to hunt down the thief, who leads him out into the courtyard and into the gardens located behind the gym.
Kenny follows in the steps of the stranger to find a dilapidated house behind the school. Eventually, he finds an open basement, which leads him to come across a gun, flashlight, and another ladder that leads deeper underground. Something in the depths groans and screams, and Kenny, for no good reason, climbs down the ladder to investigate.
Long story short, Kenny isn’t seen again. While at school, the other members of the gang discuss their options on how to find Kenny. Deciding to work backward from when they last saw him, they plan to stay at the school after it closes and search for clues.
After hours at the school reveals that something definitely is going awry. The teens work together to solve puzzles and search for clues on Kenny’s whereabouts. Strange noises, like groans and screams can be heard while they search the Administration area.
After some searching, they eventually come across a twisted creature, which attacks them. One of the teachers still on campus jumps in to help the teens and is injured in the process. He advises them to find the principal, which turns into a bit of a goose chase.
They are faced with increasingly more hostile monsters and as they search the school, they discover that something is making some of the students shift and change into horrific beasts. Armed with whatever weapons they can find, and with the knowledge that these creatures are weak to light, the teens struggle to survive the nightmare of Leafmore High.
Combat, Puzzles, and Co-op Play
ObsCure’s gameplay is a mix of combat and some puzzle-solving. A few of the puzzles can take a bit to figure out, but you won’t be dealing with too much of a struggle since most of them are pretty easy to put together.
While you search for clues and key items to progress further, you’ll encounter a handful of grotesque monsters who attack the team on sight. To deal with them, you can find various firearms and melee weapons to defend yourself.
A key combat mechanic is that these creatures thrive in the dark, making them much tankier. To deal with this, players can break glass windows during the day, to let light enter the room and weaken their protective auras.
Another way is by using flashlights, which you can tape to your firearms to use them simultaneously. Flashlights can be used to focus their beam that burns through your foes’ defenses in a very Alan Wake manner. These beams can only be used for a brief period before having to cool down, making it necessary to hunt for more powerful flashlights as you go through the school.
You can take two characters with you as you explore Leafmore High’s campus, which allows for co-op gameplay. If you play solo the remaining member of your party is controlled by an AI. Being able to take on creatures with another member allows for a bit more tactics to even the playing field.
Each character in the cast has a unique ability that’s specific to them. Some of these abilities are helpful in combat, like Ashley’s ability to attack twice rapidly in succession. Other abilities allow you to detect if items are still able to be interacted with or even get hints on puzzles to progress further.
These abilities didn’t have too much of an effect on the game, as they aren’t the most helpful, save for Shannon’s boosted healing ability and Ashley’s insane damage output. Stan can pick locks very quickly, but there are few actual uses where this is helpful unless you are on higher difficulties and are trying to avoid combat or ambushes.
Should any of the monsters take out any of the teens, the game carries on without them. The game is completely over when the last party member perishes. The only way to recover from death is to reload a previous save, which is limited and requires Save Disks to record your progress. Unlike Resident Evil and its Ink Ribbons, you’ll be able to save the game anywhere, as long as you have Disks on you.
Overall, the gameplay isn’t groundbreaking, especially when compared to RE4 or the Silent Hill franchise, so it’s serviceable at best. You can feel how the developers were trying concepts like the character-specific abilities and the light mechanics, but ultimately the mechanics don’t go much deeper than surface level.
While the enemies do get more tough as you progress, the strategies generally stay the same. Beam the creatures with your light, have you and your teammate fire from a distance, carry on. Tight corridors and rooms make some encounters a bit tricky to not lose health, which makes it feel a bit cheap when the locking system gets a bit janky when facing off-screen enemies in tight quarters.
The normal difficulty felt like it had a decent balance of resource management for combat, so you won’t be steamrolling through everything unless you know what you are doing. Playing in co-op does make the game feel easier and less threatening, but it’s still good fun. Especially when you accidentally whack your mate in the back of the head with a bat.
Level Design: A (Painfully) Simple High School
Leafmore High School was designed well regarding the environments that you’ll travel through the course of the game. Each ‘level’ is laid out in a realistic way to help keep players immersed, but it does eventually feel like a drawback.
Some of the areas that you travel through seem very short, especially if you are experienced with survival horror games. There is much less backtracking compared to other survival horror games, which is nice considering most of the rooms you explore only contain ammunition and healing items, or sometimes… nothing at all.
This pacing starts to feel a tiny bit rushed about midway through the game due to this. Once you have collected a decent arsenal and are familiar with the game’s combat, the gameplay loop doesn’t do too much to mix up the formula.
This leaves some sections of the game, like the amphitheater, feeling underwhelming. Often you’ll enter a new area and realize that there isn’t too much to do after clearing out enemies and solving a rather simple puzzle, so you move on to the next area.
The game starts pretty slow with a gradual buildup, but after the initial discovery of these monsters, there isn’t much else to keep you on your toes. By the time the game starts introducing new enemies, you’d be well equipped or experienced to not feel as threatened, especially if you were playing on the easy difficulty.
I think the design of Leafmore High School is believable for a school layout, but it doesn’t add much mechanically to a survival horror game. It’s a pretty straightforward game and will have you feeling railroaded through most of it.
Overall, something is missing from ObsCure’s level design that holds it back from being painfully average. Silent Hill had it’s ‘otherworld’ version of locations that mechanically changed it’s zones. Resident Evil 2 had a formidable foe that constantly chased the player. ObsCure lacks depth when it comes to Leafmore High, which certainly holds it back when compared to other survival horror games.
Dated Models for 2005
The game looks pretty decent for its time, but there are a few drawbacks that you’ll either love or hate, depending on how nostalgic you are feeling. The textures and art design of the game are serviceable, with a lot of detail being focused on the environments more than the models themselves.
I found Leafmore to be a decent setting that looked well, but when it comes to character and enemy design, it feels like a bit more work would have been effective. Some of the creatures are done well, but a certain enemy, the zombified students, was done horribly. They look just about as well as zombies did from 96’s Resident Evil, which is jarring since even the REmake of Resident Evil in 2002 blew ObsCure’s enemy design out of the water.
For a game released on the PlayStation 2, Obscure does seem a bit behind other games from the era. Overall, this is fine as long as you can suspend your disbelief a bit, but otherwise, the threats aren’t that scary-looking.
A Chilling Chorus and Unnerving Ambience
While the art direction is a bit mixed, the sound design is a notch better. Some of the background sounds that you can hear in the game are really unique and interesting. The screams of the creatures can catch you off guard, but the drawback is that some areas have background sound ambiance that loops and can lose their luster quickly.
It seems like the developers were aware of this, however, as the sound effects are different enough in each area of the game to where most players won’t notice this. If you enter a bathroom to search for supplies, you’ll be met with a quiet and echoey room, save for distant screams. Or, you can find yourself in an abandoned dormitory, with no sound beside the creaks of ancient floorboards.
One major unique feature of the sound design is the soundtrack used for critical story moments of the game. ObsCure features an eerie-sounding choir that sings in Latin. It can take a few moments to get used to, but I believe it helps keep things tense and otherworldly. These tracks pick up when you advance the plot, or when a new threat appears to threaten the lives of your party.
The delivery of voiced lines is fine, but the actual writing itself can almost break any tension that you are feeling. Ultimately, the cast comes up as very shallow, making it less impactful if one of them should die. And with the way that the characters are voice acted, it seems like they don’t mind the demise of their friends either; it’s just Tuesday at Leafmore High for them.
Overall, the sound design of the game does quite a bit of heavy lifting to make Obscure feel like a game of its own and not a clone of other horror games. The voice acting and story writing will require you to fight the urge to roll your eyes, but it’s almost endearing the longer you play (in a ‘fun bad’ kind of way). It does shift the tone quite a bit, but ObsCure doesn’t try to take itself too seriously.
What Else ObsCure Offers
After you’ve completed the game, you can access a harder difficulty game mode, and a special game mode. The hard difficulty causes some weapons to spawn much later in the game, making it much more difficult to deal with enemies. Monsters also hit harder and fewer resources can be found, especially Save Disks.
In special mode, there are some slight changes to playing the game on the normal difficulty. The first change is that all characters are wearing alternate outfits. The second is some weapons have been altered, like getting a decent baseball bat early and the automatic pistol turns into a laser gun.
Overall, I think ObsCure is worth a try on the hard difficulty if you cleared it on normal and had a good time doing so. The special mode is okay, but it doesn’t offer too much of a difference to make it worth another playthrough.
Other than that, I think the game fares as a decent experience solo, or with a friend. It doesn’t offer too much to keep players interested after they’ve cleared the game. At the end of the day, the game on its own offers around 6 hours of fresh content before having to run through the game again with some slight differences.
Final Thoughts on ObsCure
ObsCure isn’t a bad game for what it is. It tried to do something new, and you can tell that the focus was more on the mechanics and gameplay. Unfortunately, the final product felt a bit undercooked for the year that it was released.
That being said, ObsCure did lay the foundation for a sequel that turned out to be a much better experience. ObsCure II (ObsCure: the Aftermath) builds on the mechanics that this game presented, so it’s a rare case where the second game is an actual improvement for the series.
Nostalgia makes this game difficult to dislike, but playing the game in 2023 makes it difficult to recommend to the masses due to its drawbacks. It’s a decent game to chase a horror high after you’ve played more polished survival horror games from the era.
The game isn’t too scary or difficult, so I think it would be a good game to recommend for someone who wants to try out the genre but is too intimidated by most of the other popular franchises. If you are a survival horror game junkie, you may be left feeling a little disappointed after trying out ObsCure 1 if you have high expectations.
- Local Co-op makes for fun with a friend
- Straightforward gameplay that doesn’t overstay its welcome
- Decent Setting
- A bit outdated for the time
- Shallow characters make for a less interesting story
- Lacks the depth of other games in the genre