I love survival horror video games. They’re a dose of Halloween horror fun set in the most unreal situations and places. Everything from the unreal (like traversing The Evil Within’s world-bending landscape) to the traditional spaces (Resident Evil’s Spencer Mansion); there’s a bit of every horror movie cliché in each game. Sometimes a horror game can keep it simple by sticking to the tried-and-true formula: evil mystery, ragtag group of teen characters, and a location straight from a B-horror movie. And nothing screams it more than a little obscure horror game called ObsCure.
ObsCure is a 2004 survival horror video game set in the fictional academy of Leafmore High. After one of their friends goes missing in the school at night, a group of teens stay overnight to uncover the mystery and stop the evil that is emerging from the shadows. Gamers take on the role of one of five teens to fight the monsters, explore the campus, and delve deeper into the strange twisted history that is haunting their school in true “teen horror movie” fashion. The game was released for PC, the original Xbox, and PlayStation 2.
This game is, by far, not on the same level as a Resident Evil or a Silent Hill video game when it comes to survival horror notoriety. It’s woefully underrated and living in the shadow of more successful (and let’s face it, SCARIER) competition. Though for any cult classic gamer or lover of teen horror flicks, this is a good addition. It’s similar in teen theme to last year’s release of Until Dawn on PlayStation 4, but obviously not the mechanics. (If you want further explanation, check out Grant Jonsson’s review of Until Dawn)
The first highlight of note is the cast of characters. There is a core group of five teens that the gamer can switch between to experience their special abilities, personality type, and interactions with each other. You’ve got the jock (Kenny), the journalist (Josh), the brain (Shannon), the cheerleader (Ashley) and the stoner (Stan) – it’s almost like a 00’s version of The Breakfast Club. If I had to explain this video game to anyone…I would say it reminds me of the 1998 horror movie, The Faculty. Without giving any spoilers away (I’m trying here!), the close-knit vibe of the characters and the mysterious actions of the teachers/faculty on campus almost fit the similarities to a T. While their dialogue is a bit cheesy, it’s all part of the B-horror movie flair.
With a changeable core cast, ObsCure embraces a two player co-op party system – which I LOVE in earlier generation gaming consoles. A second player can easily jump on and join Player One as any of the other four characters. If no second player is available, the partner will be an AI character. However, in the case of both modes, the focus will always be on Player One and they will lead the path throughout exploration. The co-op function is a standout for ObsCure (and survival horror) as the genre tends to be very solo-driven. General genre plot points usually features a single solo character making their way through a dangerous and scary location – sometimes they have a companion for a short while before disappearing for long periods (Resident Evil, Silent Hill). Nowadays with online capabilities, a Player Two option is common, but back then having this feature in survival horror was a nice change of pace.
The weapon configuration from ObsCure gave a new addition to creating weapons. Whereas instead of simply mixing herbs, players can combine weapons with supply materials to create even more powerful items. For example, ObsCure features sunlight (and light, in general) as a key weapon against monsters. Gamers can combine a flashlight and tape with a gun to have a weapon that not only shoots monsters but weakens them too. It’s a handy feature to utilize especially when the monsters get tougher and resources become scarce. I remember searching EVERYWHERE for ammunition three quarters of the way through the game as I was running out, so I relied heavily on flashlights – it’s a lifesaver!
Speaking of the light mechanic, we need this element back in a video game! Even though the ObsCure sequel stepped away from this feature in favor of more firepower, I haven’t seen this staple since playing Alan Wake. Sure, it seems a bit cliché, what with vampires being afraid of the light. And there are other more fearsome weapons out there that deliver a cinematic experience. The feeling of breaking a classroom window and having the sunlight destroy several little monsters at once = perfection.
Finally…how could I forget the music? This is an early 00’s game. The soundtrack is ripe with pop-punk or rocks songs from Sum 41 and Span. But the real gem is the background music – it’s eerie, tense and downright creepy. It pairs together perfectly with the unnerving setting. Who hasn’t had a nightmare of being trapped in school at night?
ObsCure, much like its namesake, is an underrated and forgotten survival horror game of the past. In the days of the teen slasher and post-Buffy the Vampire Slayer era, this little sarcastic, self-aware game explored horror in a hopeless place (high school) that any horror movie fan would like. It’s been more than 10 years since its release, and with two additional games released in the series (ObsCure: The Aftermath in 2007 and the spin-off Final Exam in 2013), the series is essentially lifeless. But, if you’re like me and you look for new games to add to a Halloween or survival horror playlist, you might get a cheap thrill…or laugh…by dusting off this title and playing it. I sure did.