Wednesday, September 5, 2012
It’s College Students vs. Plant Monsters in Wii’s Obscure: The Aftermath
As far as I know, the cinematic narrative formula of teenagers versus monsters has been around since the 1950s, when movie producers realized that teenagers had enough disposable income to spend on movies. Early examples of this type of horror movie include Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), Earth vs. The Spider (1958) and The Blob (1958). This kind of teen-centric horror subgenre earned its notoriety during the 70s and 80s, when its films began to include heavy doses sex, nudity and gore. Yet for as well known as this narrative formula has been in horror movies for over 60 years, it hasn’t had much of an influence in horror video games. This brings me to my review of Obscure: The Aftermath, which was released for the Nintendo Wii back in 2008.
Unlike other horror video games, Obscure: The Aftermath takes many of its themes and plot points from horror movies that are commonly associated with the teenage demographic; in fact, as I played the game, I found myself reminded of such films as Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), Return of the Living Dead (1985) and Night of the Creeps (1986). While it’s not the best horror game that’s available for the Wii--or for any system, for that matter--the willingness of Aftermath to tell a of story that’s become commonplace in horror films but rare in horror games kept a horror fan like me entertained and curious about where the game would go next. Read on for my complete review of this unique entry in the genre of survival horror games.
Obscure: The Aftermath is the sequel to Obscure, a game that was released back in 2004. Obscure was about horrific, disfiguring experiments that were secretly performed on students at Leafmore High School; Aftermath takes place two years later, when two survivors of the Leafmore experiments have moved on to college at the nearby Fallcreek University. As the game begins, a strange flower has been blooming all over the Fallcreek campus, a flower that’s similar to the one involved in the Leafmore experiments. Aftermath focuses on a group of college students--the survivors of Leafmore and several new characters--as they fight for their lives against a horde of homicidal human-plant hybrids that appear to originate from the black spores emitted by the mysterious flowers.
Even though Aftermath is not very cinematic in its overall presentation (as opposed to Dead Space: Extraction), it feels like a standard horror film/sequel that revolves around a cast of teenage or young adult characters. Surviving characters from the previous story mingle with new characters, leaving you to wonder who will live and who will die by the end of the sequel. Characters wander away into dark, dangerous places, seemingly oblivious to the obvious risks of doing so. You’ll encounter a variety of clues—a newspaper article here, a cryptic line of dialogue there, an old photograph somewhere else—that do not make sense at first, but become clearer as the story progresses. The game begins with a nightmarish dream sequence that provides symbolic hints about the story that has yet to unfold. There’s even a just-when-you-thought-it-was-safe false ending, just before the real ending. Seasoned horror fans will recognize these plot devices, and I thought that they translated quite well into the context of a video game. I would even go so far as to say that if you are not interested in seeing a horror story that relies upon these familiar conventions, then you probably would not enjoy Aftermath.
Aftermath was also released for Playstation 2 and Microsoft Windows, but the version that was produced for the Wii takes ample advantage of the system’s motion controls. You’ll use the Wiimote and Nunchuk to operate flashlights, aim guns, swing blunt objects and chainsaws, control machinery, row the oars of a boat, turn valves, pick locks and hack computers. The diversity of situations, puzzles, tasks and environments keeps you challenged and intrigued, while the game’s gloomy visuals add a foreboding, chilling atmosphere to the game play.
There are a total of eight playable characters in Aftermath, and each scene involves two characters. You can either play with a friend, or you can let the computer play the other character. Each character has his or her own unique ability (one can solve puzzles, one can move heavy objects, one can hack computers, etc.) and each ability plays a part in progressing through the game. Not only does this feature allow for co-op play--which itself is a rarity in survival horror games--but it also makes the game feel more like a movie, switching back and forth between different characters at different locations. While not giving too much of the game’s plot away, very few of the playable characters survive through the entire game. Such a high body count feels right for a survival horror genre, although gamers might be somewhat frustrated to see characters that they fought so hard to protect get bumped off during a cut scene.
Aftermath is a very difficult game to play, especially by yourself. The computer-controlled characters are not very bright, which forces you to protect them from monsters or else they will die quickly and the game will end. (The computer-controlled characters can handle guns, but they’re useless when they run out of ammo and have to use blunt objects as weapons.) Even though the controls allow you to do many different things, they are not always the most helpful when it comes time to defend yourself from attacking monsters. The monsters’ attacks are fast and fierce, which leaves you with little time to aim and use your weapon correctly. Adding to this problem are the characters’ health levels, which drain quickly and there are very few items that are available in each level that you can use to heal the characters. I had to resort to using cheat codes through the Homebrew Channel so I could make it thought the entire game.
I recommend Obscure: The Aftermath to fans of horror movies and to fans of horror survival games who are looking for something different. Even if you have to use cheat codes like I did, Aftermath provides a fulfilling experience that appeals to gamers’ familiarity with horror movies.