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Hydravision's horror/survival game is back to send shivers down your spine...
Make no mistake. ObsCure II is obscure in every sense of the word. French team Hydravision return with developer responsibilities for this sequel (although the publishers are now Playlogic rather than Ubisoft) and they have also retained the same basic format of the original game.
For those not yet accustomed to the ObsCure series, the basic premise takes its influences from teen horror movies. A load of rambunctious teens/early twenty-somethings are forced to battle a ravenous horde of rampaging mutants in consistently eerie surroundings. The format is old-school survival horror a la Resident Evil.
The first ObsCure took place in Leafmore High School. Here there was a conspiracy against the students that transformed many of them into mutants, while the main characters were left as not so fancy-free teenagers fighting for their lives. A couple of standout features from the first game include a two-player co-op mode (unusual for the genre) and the ability to combine weapons and items (e.g. adding a torch to the top of your gun to produce a weapon/visual-aid combo).
The first feature is back with a vengeance as a second player can now drop in and out of the co-op mode at any point in the game. Crucially, this new feature isn't awkwardly tacked on without any gameplay that takes advantage of it. While the version we've been playing is still very much in construction, there does seem to be some areas and puzzles which lend themselves well to the co-op. These areas feature tasks that must be completed simultaneously by the two characters on-screen, creating a real sense of camaraderie.
Co-op also brings greater enjoyment to combat. This is because the AI characters in the single player are far short of self-sufficient. With this babysitting of the AI character, quite a lot of time is spent switching between players, using health packs mid-fight and moving them into better positions to avoid unwanted deaths. Combat becomes a much more streamlined experience in co-op and a much more enjoyable one at that.
One general issue with the preview game we've played is the camera in co-op mode. Both players can control it and this leads to some annoying tug-of-waring. More troublingly, it's all too easy for one player to move out of the camera's view and become a quite unhelpful arrow on the side of the screen. Getting back in view can be difficult although Hydravision have got plenty of time to deal with that before the September release.
The camera does have its many upsides though as it takes you through angles which are, at times, cinematic (and I do not use that term lightly). This is complimented by some incredibly lush visuals throughout. It seems that developers are really managing to get some impressive power out of the PSII in its twilight years, what with other beautiful creations recently such as God of War II. These games are even managing to rival the graphics in some of the less impressive next-gen titles.
Similarly to the first ObsCure, there are seven playable characters in this sequel. Three of these characters have returned from the original story but now, rather than the plot centering on students at high school, the location is now a college called Fallcreek. This time it's a strange flower found around campus that is responsible for the mutations in the student populace.
Each student has their own special ability such as strength, acrobatics, hacking, decrypting and even one character that can communicate with the black aura. This is where the game really comes into its own because it is these character traits that help to create the multitude of tricky puzzles throughout the game.
Stan, for example, is an expert lock picker. When you use his skill the view zooms into a cross section of the pick in the lock. There are a series of lock catches that need to be jimmied with the pick. Other games have had a similar feature - there's one in Oblivion, for example - but we have never seen a lock picking mini-game with quite the same detail and rewarding feeling for a successful pick than in ObsCure II. There is also an interesting word game for Mei's hacking ability and some of the puzzles related to Amy's decrypting skill are inspired.
In fact, the puzzle-solving element to the game makes up the vast majority of its content. Fighting mutants only really serves to break-up play and remind you of the problem at hand. This leads me back to the second noteworthy feature from the original ObsCure, which allowed you to combine various weapons and items.
This feature was nowhere to be seen in ObsCure II. It should be remembered that the version we have been playing has a long way to go before completion but, that aside, it would be more than a little disappointing for Hydravision not to include such a unique idea. To make matters worse, the gameplay in combat is a little shoddy at this stage. Two examples of this are the lock-on system, which is a bit clumsy, and combos for baseball bat/golf club style weapons that are overly simplified and repetitive.
On the other hand, this can easily be straightened out. With ObsCure II scheduled for release on the Wii as well, an improved combat system could really push gameplay onto the next level with some gory Wii remote attacks added in for good measure.
Storyline, plot and dialogue are not the strongest part of this game. The plot is formulaic, the dialogue cheesy and the characters are pretty two-dimensional (pretty being the operative word here). In fact, the blonde-bimbo (crucial for every teen-horror storyline) Amy is described in her synopsis as being "partly responsible for the strange stickiness of many a bed sheet belonging to the male populace of Fallcreek." Having said all this, the game does still feel very much like the blockbusting Hollywood genre it is emulating. Perhaps the weak plot and dialogue were a good move then.
While the poor dialogue is not helped by very bad voice-acting featuring Joshua Swanson (answers on a postcard please), the rest of the sound in-game is another beautifully created part of ObsCure II. The soundtrack, performed by the Boston Symphonic Orchestra and the Paris Opera children's choir, creates an atmosphere that is full of suspense. In parts there is a classical/rock mix in the style of Evanescence that's bang on the money.