This week, Twinfinite has been on a slight horror binge, while Silent Hill: Downpour has been getting some decisive reviews. Whatever the opinion, it’s a nostalgic return to survival horror’s zeitgeist, complete with its emphasis on metaphorical nightmares.
Ever since fans picked apart the subtext of Silent Hill 2, peers within the genre wanted to the same complexities. Some worked, like the echoes of Hiroshima in Forbidden Siren and the darkness of fairytales in Rule of Rose, but there were also those who completely missed the mark, like ObsCure II.
And boy, did ObsCure II miss the mark. Though, it did manage to hit an old lady, two towns over.
The original ObsCure was a solid b-movie horror game; a simple riff on The Faculty, with a couple of twists up its sleeve – fight with light sources, co-op play, character swapping, etc. It was released around the same time as Silent Hill 4: The Room, an underrated horror game at odds with the genre, and its own audience. ObsCure was a refreshing alternative; a guilty pleasure to some, a passable rental for others.
It did well enough to warrant a sequel, ObsCure II: The Aftermath.
Rather than stick to the smorgasbord of cheese filled horror that made the original successful, Hydravision went ahead with hormonal melodrama by the bucket full. That meant, somehow, everything was to be taken deadly seriously, where university was a hotbed of sexual anxiety, and Reefer Madness turned out to be an accurate depiction of drug use.
All in all, ObsCure II wanted to play with the grown ups, and looked back at its younger incarnation with embarrassment. Harsh, but it’s hard to forgive a game that involved rape as a plot device, and suicide as an excuse to exclude a character from a boss fight.
It goes without saying – rape is a tough subject to deal with. Not exactly the kind of thing an immature industry can really tackle. More so, when the girl is raped by Left 4 Dead reject, thankfully off-screen. It’s not as if the taboo hasn’t appeared in videogames before.
Phantasmagoria is a game that plays on such horrors, with the main protagonist’s other half being possessed, and forcing himself on her. The corruption of love leaves the character increasingly isolated, as more demonic horrors invade her new home. It has a disturbing consequence, one that is omitted from ObsCure II’s resolution.
To say it serves a purpose is, admittedly, bordering on pretentious. Though, in its defence, cinema has been examining this kind of subject for years. Nothing like that happens in ObsCure II. The bright girl, who flaunts her sexuality, is ruined for the sake of a conspiracy sub-plot, and some half-baked metaphor about unwanted pregnancy.
Still, even if you can forgive Hydravision for such immaturity, the end game knocks you for six, once the realisation of its pointlessness sets in.
To set the scene, Obscure II relies on two characters in any given section. One is controlled by the player, the other by the AI, and you can alternate to use each character’s abilities. Throughout the story, the group is whittled down, and after one character avenges his girlfriend’s death, he decides to commit suicide.
So, after all they’ve been through, finding peace through the vengeance, he shoots himself because some man-monster tells him to. If the narrative warrants it, there’s acceptance, but the real reason why we sit through such an act is because the game mechanics demanded it. The third wheel has to go; the more sudden, the better, apparently.
Whatever your views on suicide, be it a selfish act or a sympathetic understanding of struggle, it’s not exactly a blasé decision. In an effort to add to the deep issues of transition, Hydravision’s writers trivialised an intensely affecting subject into a last minute shocker.
Wow, that sure was classy. Enough, apparently, for GAME to pull the title from their stores; back in the days before companies pulled titles from them.
Five years later, there’s no point in crying over curdled split milk. ObsCure was loved by a small audience, and ObsCure II was a sequel that even fewer cared for.
Still, it’s a worthy reminder of how the industry, no matter how sophisticated it has become in those five years, keeps walking a narrative tightrope with naive hopes. For every videogame that gets the ideas right, there’s a handful wanting to emulate the success, without really understanding the reasons why. ObsCure II was never a bad horror game to play, just one that completely misunderstood the subtleties of an extreme genre.