31 March 2016

An Exercise In Frustration

Your name is Sara. Recently, you inherited your great-uncle’s estate, and you’re now moving in. However, your great-uncle was a strange person with many secrets, secrets which you may only learn by proving your worth through a series of puzzles.

This is the general basis of Obscuritas’ first act. Overall, it’s a sound premise, if a bit cliché. However, premise does not always match execution, as you will find out by playing this game.

The first act’s puzzles seem simple enough at first. In fact, they are simple. Find a key, arrange the props as they appear in this painting, etc. The problem with these puzzles, and the main problem with Obscuritas in general, is consistency. Or should I say lack of consistency. Take the very first “puzzle,” for instance. Upon reaching your great-uncle’s estate, you find that the front door is locked. You search for the key in the courtyard, immediately checking the suspicious-looking pots around you. However, after looking at 6 pots, you realize it doesn’t seem that you can even interact with them. Giving up on pots, you look frantically for anything interactible, but only after a few minutes and confusion and cursing do you notice a pot hidden inside a bush: the only interactable pot out of all twenty-some of them.

Screw you, pot.

Similar issues occur throughout the game, including arbitrary context-sensitive interactions (I examined the elevator. I know it’s not working. Do I really need to shove my face in the fuse box before I can pick up fuses?). These issues are actually rather unfortunate, as Obscuritas has some well-constructed puzzles, and I’m sure I would have greatly enjoyed them if not for all the enragement in between.

We’re not in Kansas Anymore

Welcome to the second and third acts. This is where the horror starts, and it starts off strong. You wake up in a dark, ominous forest, with only a single path to guide your way. From here, you go on to explore some extremely interesting locales, including an atrium, a run-down amusement park, and a labyrinth, each with its own puzzles, traps, and threats. Of course, there’s only one enemy type, and it’s relatively easy to deal with.

Who's a good Mr. Poochems?

You can’t fight off Mr. Poochems in any way (Yes, even though you obliterated the first one with your flashlight. Apparently that was a fluke), but you can avoid him pretty easily. The dogs follow set patrol paths, and they’ll only attack if you get within a certain distance of them. They’re pretty dumb mutts. That said, they’re mostly quiet, they move fast, and getting caught means an instant game over, so they’re still pretty effective at scaring your pants off if you get caught off guard.

Out of the fire and into the frying pan

Of course, the last two thirds of the game aren’t without issue, either. I mentioned earlier how some puzzles still have context-sensitivity issues. However, the save system is another glaring issue.

Obscuritas works on a pretty simple autosave system. It saves at the beginning of each chapter. However, each of the game’s 29 chapters are roughly twenty to thirty minutes long, with the threat usually located near the chapter’s end. This means you can easily lose twenty minutes of playtime simply because the game saves so infrequently. The best example of this issue is in the labyrinth. According to the developers, the labyrinth can be navigated within thirty minutes. Using the appropriate landmarks, it took me fifty. Roughly two-thirds of the way my first time through, however, I accidentally stepped on the trigger for a spike trap, sending me back to the start salty enough to kill a shark.

In addition, this game has an unhealthy obsession with keys. Need to get through a door? Grab this key so you can get that key so you can get the key for the last key.

Each of these rooms are locked by a key in another of these rooms.

It’s almost like someone on the development team thought tedium was the same thing as difficulty. Or maybe someone was just terrified of locked doors. I’m not sure.

Back to reality

Overall, I’m not entirely sure whether or not I enjoyed Obscuritas. I mean, sure, I got scared. And I don’t just mean that I jumped. There were moments when I felt legitimate tension and dread as I planned my next move. Plus, the music and overall sound design is fantastic. Seriously, give those folks a medal or something. The music was downright chilling and probably served as the main source of the dread I felt while playing. However, the sheer frustration I experienced between the good stuff just absolutely shattered my entertainment. As such, I can only really recommend this to very patient gamers who are okay with a good deal of trial-and-error.

About the Author

Jacob D. DeVore

Recruit Editor

http://www.twitch.tv/shmumbler

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