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PLATFORM: PS2, Wii, PC
The sequel to a relatively unknown/unloved game that came out in 2005, Obscure the Aftermath centers around a bunch of survivors of Leafmore High – the scene of some pretty fucked up botanical experiments gone completely awry. The students have since gone on to get over their issues and start over again as college students. But wouldn’t you know it – some weird plants start popping up on campus and, because apparently college students feel the need to ingest any and every natural substance they can in an effort to stay as completely fucked up as possible, shit hits the proverbial fan.
When doing research on the first game, I read a description that said it was “Resident Evil in a High School.” That’s probably the exact pitch that got bandied about at some point in the development. Just change “High School” to “college” and here we are.
Hack and slash (or aim and shoot, depending on the weapon you have), solve a puzzle, find an item, unlock a door, hack and slash – rinse and repeat. It’s a pretty standard formula and it’s prevalent in pretty much every single survival horror game ever made. Not that it’s a bad formula, but there is the old adage that says if you’ve seen one you’ve seen em all. So if you’re gonna stand out as a buoy amidst a veritable sea of titles, you need to bring something special to the table.
And what Aftermath brings, above anything else, is a pretty fucking intuitive co-op element. 99% of the game is played with you and a partner, either AI or 2nd player, which brings some pretty specific dynamics to the gameplay in the way of strategy. To begin with, our core cast of characters is about six strong and they all bring their own unique skills to the fight. Kenny is an acrobat, Mei is a computer hacker, Sven is Strength McMuscles, Shannon has some sort of weird co-existence with the flowers, the slutty blonde chick is a Puzzle Masta’ and the other dude, Beanie McBaggyPants, is a master lock-pick. So, while there are several tasks that require using both you and your partner (giving someone a boost to grab an item off of a high shelf, for example), a lot of tasks require the specific skills of the specific characters.
Now, sometimes this fact is just thrown in your face. Example – trying to open a locked door prompts a subtitle that says something to the effect of “This door is locked…only a master locksmith will be able to open it.” Eureka – switch to that dude and get to work picking that lock. Other character specific obstacles aren’t quite as obvious, which does add a bit of a challenge. If you’re in an environment where the next course of action is to climb up onto a fairly high ledge, you’re going to need Kenny to do it, but unless you have Kenny activated, you’re not going to see the “Jump” trigger, or any other indicator for that matter. I’ve spent quite a few unnecessary minutes running around rooms or buildings wondering what the hell to do next, simply because I had the wrong character activated. But you do learn fairly early on which characters to just keep activated and only switch when you get a prompt from the game, so that’s not much of a deterrent. It also needs mentioning that the majority of the time, the game itself dictates which two characters you’ll be playing in any given scene, but occasionally you’ll run into a gathering of all the characters (usually once per major location) and you’ll have to select two characters with which to continue. Sometimes, obviously, you’ll pick the wrong ones and you won’t know until you run into a character specific obstacle – hopefully you haven’t traveled too far from the gathering point, but if you do, you CAN always just run back and switch it up. It adds a little bit of tedious time spent running from location to location, but it’s only a small hurdle, and honestly, you’ll probably just be grateful that you have the option to go back and switch ‘em up.
Now, once you look past the nifty co-op stuff, what you’re left with are the typical adventure/horror elements. You gotta solve puzzles, ranging from basic jigsaw puzzles (reconstructing a document), to picking locks to photo analysis (although it does need mentioning that the photo analysis is pretty much done for you – you just have to make sure you have the right character activated). Solving puzzles is rarely about gathering objects, but instead, granting you access. Putting together old documents gives you access codes or tells you the combination to more elaborate puzzles, both leading to hidden passages being revealed or doors being unlocked. Same with hacking electronic door locks and computer systems. It’s all about progression and the majority of the items you’re going to need typically just show up on the path in front of you. It makes a lot of sense, actually – why would you need to figure out some elaborate puzzle just to get a battery operated chainsaw? Who’s gonna hide that shit that well? Almost all of the puzzles and obstacles fit pretty seamlessly within the whole framework of the game and the environments (there’s a “crane game” puzzle in somebody’s backyard that does come completely out of left field though) and they do serve to add to the experience as a whole, as opposed to being a distraction.
Combat is less promising. It uses the same third-person, over-the-shoulder technique as pretty much all of its brethren, but aiming is either just done for you or completely random as there is no targeting reticule and any contact your long-range weapons make with the baddies just doesn’t feel rewarding. I stuck to my melee weapons for a VAST majority of the game because at least you get the feedback of smacking monsters around, and, to tell you the truth, ammo is SO RARE and reloading your guns is such a pain in the ass that you’ll likely be more successful only using them when you absolutely have to (and there are some instances where that is the case). Except that when you need to use them, sometimes you’re gonna be outta luck anyway because your partner’s AI always goes for the guns when they’re available, using up any amount of ammunition you do manage to have stored. You can always switch to them and force them to switch weapons, but when you’re in the middle of a monster-killing death orgy, stopping to switch characters, making them switch weapons, then switching back to the other character usually proves to be fatal.
Which brings us to saving the game. When I first put this in, I spent about an hour and a half playing through it and since there wasn’t a save option in the pause menu and I hadn’t run across any obvious save points, I (incorrectly) assumed it ran off of an autosave and just turned it off. Turns out, there are little black flowers scattered throughout the game that act as save points but they don’t make a point to let you know that. And not only that, you’re told from the onset that these flowers will KILL YOU so when you run up on one and it says “Do you REALLY want to touch this flower?” my initial response was no. And even if you DO select yes, the whole screen goes dark, you hear this crazy awful noise and you and your character drop to the ground while everything fades to black. And THEN the save screen comes up. Once you realize how to do it it’s a bit easier to appreciate the fact that they didn’t go the “random typewriter in the middle of a deserted forest” routine, but they could have done a bit better in letting the player know what the deal is from the onset.
That really just leaves the controls, which are standard and very easy to figure out, and the camera. The camera is probably my biggest complaint. It has a mind of its own and, while it can be user-controlled, once you get it where you want it and let go of the stick – it goes right back to where it was to begin with. That issue is compounded by the fact that in a lot of areas, the camera is constantly moving on its own. Pans and zooms and rotations that, while nifty from a stylish point of view, can really make game play a chore.
For a budget PS2 title, this game actually brings the goods. The graphics are nice and clean and are on par with the Resident Evils and Silent Hills that came before it. But where this title really shines is in the soundtrack. The score is fantastic and when paired up with the detailed and subtly creepy atmosphere it makes for some really uneasy game play. I won’t go so far as to say it scared me, but there were definitely moments that had me on edge.
Some of the monsters were a touch generic, but overall it was very creepy and in the beginning levels, when they were showing off the whole hallucinogenic qualities of the flowers, things got incredibly fucked up in a glorious way. Sadly, those elements faded out somewhere around the halfway point and any creepiness that remained was due strictly to the environments and the sound.
Sadly, there really isn’t any replay value that I could see. I remember way back when, beating RE:DC and immediately starting back over to play through it again. I didn’t have that urge here and even though I definitely enjoyed it when I played it, I don’t see myself sitting through it again any time soon.
At the end of the day, even though it has its flaws, it’s a fun game that has more than its share of qualities and does pretty much everything it sets out to do. And the fact that it’s a budget release at launch means that it’s not cost-prohibitive and you’ll definitely feel a sense of having gotten your money’s worth.
8.0 out of 10