First posted on 29 December 2009. Last updated on 17 July 2010.
The survival horror genre of today likely found its vital roots in a French video game of the early 1990s: Frédérick Raynal's Alone in the Dark. Inspired by the gruesome tales of H.P. Lovecraft, the game was an artistic and technical achievement, spawning a new era of gaming that combined baffling puzzles with carefully placed action sequences. This formula would be later reused in the creation of other games that eventually helped to redefine the genre, namely the popular Resident Evil and Silent Hill series. Hydravision Entertainment's ObsCure, released in 2004, stood unquestionably as among the most original re-enactments of this survival horror premise. Featuring novel elements such as unique character skills and cooperative play, the game was widely praised by fans and critics. When the French studio from Tourcoing saw the success of its title, it decided that there was enough demand among gamers for a sequel. ObsCure II (also known as ObsCure: The Aftermath), published in 2007 by Playlogic Entertainment for both PC and consoles, was the studio's sophomore effort to continue this franchise.
The setting in ObsCure II remains faithful to that first exploited in ObsCure. It recaptures the similar atmosphere of a juvenile B movie horror flick, where a group of cool teenagers meets their fate with the paranormal, either unwillingly or accidentally. In this case, a particular drug has become very popular within the student community at Fallcreek University. Supposedly, the drug is made from the black leaves of a strange flower that has conveniently sprouted around the campus and possesses potent psychedelic properties for its users. By inhaling these murky herbs, these adolescents have driven themselves into a state of trance and are eventually transformed into ghastly, bloodthirsty creatures. As use of this new drug quickly spreads through the university's populace, the survivors of the original Leafmore High fiasco are finding themselves facing yet again the same nightmare that has changed their lives nearly 2 years ago.
While the original ObsCure is admittedly a refreshing title in its heydays, with solid gameplay and a captivating storyline, ObsCure II surfaces rather quickly as a sequel with some noticeable frailties, namely an underdeveloped narrative structure and a poorly designed artificial intelligence. The open-ended story of the original game is not powerful enough to justify a sequel that consists, essentially, of the reposition of the same context and situation that has already been thoroughly exploited. Because ObsCure II is fashioned out of the same mold as ObsCure, it is by no means an original game idea, even when considering the newly added features. While these small changes include new ways to interact with the surroundings, they have also become another pretext to add to the player's nuisance: for instance, whereas the death of a character in ObsCure is not decisive, death in ObsCure II will immediately end the game without any recourse.
The remarkable 3D engine first debuted in ObsCure has received some improvements in ObsCure II. It now features better lighting effects and character models. Less obvious, yet equally fascinating, is the background artwork that makes up for the credible school environment. The college campus area includes fully detailed rooms, with very naturalistic depictions that produce a certain contrast with the less detailed locations where the margin for improvements is perhaps larger.
As in ObsCure, ObsCure II incorporates a coop mode where 1 or 2 players can control up to 2 characters at the same time. Each of the 6 playable characters possesses a different skill set that is needed to handle different situations in the game. In single player mode, the artificial intelligence automatically takes control of a character whenever the player takes control of the other. The player can then toggle to cycle between these different characters. Gameplay consists of a combination of puzzle solving, combat, and stealth play. Sadly, the same camera system used in the first game is also responsible for some of the most frustrating parts of the gameplay experience in this sequel. This is because the poorly placed camera, in concert with the uninspiring artificial intelligence, frequently allows for friendly fire to pose a much bigger threat to the player than to the enemies. When not controlled by a second player in coop mode, the behavior of the partner character is shamefully inadequate, wasting away ammo without the player's consent or standing still and obstructing the way as the player desperately tries to move ahead.
Musician Olivier Derivière is once again responsible for composing the game's soundtrack, which includes a wide range of themes that vary between the average punk rock and the darker melody which creates the irreplaceable feeling of tension when exploring the poorly lit hallways. In fact, the befitting music is, at times, the only positive element that saves this game from being an absolute failure. It is inconceivable how the same developer can get the formula for a survival horror game so right the first time, yet manages to create such an uninspired sequel, bearing in mind that the studio has had a reasonable budget and a couple of years to exclusively work on this project.
Still, ObsCure II belongs to a very specific category within the survival horror genre: the diversity of controllable characters, inventory items, and the nature of the explorable space are actually quite inventive, even for a sequel. The schoolyard mystery theme allows for certain visual splendor, but it also suffers from an underdeveloped narrative in which the characters are obligatory shallow, sometimes impulsive, and simply idiotic. On the other hand, movie studios have long been enjoying box office successes with brainless teenage horror flicks such as those that may have served as an inspiration for ObsCure II. Consequently, there is a chance that the same audience will enjoy this game despite its plain imperfections.