With an escalating war between heaven and hell, a talking dog, and a hard-ass protagonist, Obey Me has ambition. There’s even a comic series to demonstrate the developer’s aspirations. Luckily, the action is mostly fun, even if there’s a bit of repetition and bloat.
The end of the millennium was an intriguing era for gaming. Not only was the scourge of downloadable content absent, but storylines had routinely begun to exhibit depth. Even better, risk-taking was still routine, with publishers taking a gamble on games that hadn’t been focus-tested into homogeneity. There were a multitude of games that might have lacked mechanical polish but offered deliciously pulpy plots. If you ever played titles like Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain (1996), Akuji the Heartless (1998), or Shadow Man (1999), then you knew how beguiling the late nineties action-adventure game could be.
But rising production costs meant fewer of these eccentric titles on console, at least until digital distribution offered a viable approach for indie developers. Plunge into Obey Me, a recent PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC release, from Argentina-based Error 404 Studios and you’ll be thrown into shadowy slums and slimy sewers. It’s a setting where humans and demi-demons work are stealthy foot-soldiers in a furtive holy war between the factions of Heaven and Hell.
From Pixel to Panel
One of the first takeaways you’ll likely get from Obey Me is how closely it mimics the tone and punchy dialog of a hardboiled comic book. Lead Vanessa Held is the prototypical reluctant hero and unsympathetic badass. When she’s not sassing her mission handler over the phone, she’s a whirlwind of destructive violence, taking on a horde of enemies with her Azia, a glowing spirit dagger. But she doesn’t confront foes alone. Monte, a talking hellhound who resembles a rottweiler, follows her everywhere, and is all too eager sink his canines into antagonists.
As such, it’s not surprising that Obey Me has an accompanying, six issue comic that was released last year. It’s the kind of ambitious transmedia effort that accompanied the release of The Matrix Reloaded, contributing character developer as well as side- and backstory. Pleasingly, it’s non-essential and you’ll enjoy the banter between Vanessa and Monte without a read. While the comic follows her day-to-day exploits, the game delivers the kind of epic showdown where the fate of the entire world hangs in the balance. But instead of focusing on the big picture, Obey Me’s feels more personal; with wars seen through the back-and-forth between two pawns.
It’s that interplay that’s one of the core strengths of Obey Me. Talking companion characters routinely offer another source of commentary. Here, they’d both have their own understanding about a larger conspiracy, as they carry out orders from Ammon, the Archduke of Avarice. With a healthy supply of cursing and a surprisingly indifferent attitude toward humans, Vanessa is a curious character and easily able to carry a multimedia franchise on her hoodie-strewn shoulders.
A Plethora of Ways to Pummel Antagonists
At the start of the game, Vanessa is armed with her Azia, which can be used as both a melee and ranged weapon. Recalling the combat system from the Marvel Ultimate Alliance games, she’ll move through three-dimensional environments dishing out deadly combos on enemies foolish enough to attack her. Like the MUA series, variety is rooted in the augmentation of your arsenal. With Soul Core gathered from defeat foes or found in deposits placed around each stage, you can invest the currency in tech-trees to make both Vanessa and Monte more formidable. Like many brawlers, you’ll be persistently ground-based. While there’s no jumping, Vanessa can teleport, which acts as an indispensable defensive maneuver across the game’s twelve-chapter trek. And you’ll definitely need the maneuverability. The game’s settings are unremittingly filled with traps, like long-tongued plants that pull you in or putrid plants that erupt when you step on them.
Smartly, the Azia aren’t the only weapon she’ll have access to. Next, you’ll gain access to Vonpho- a painfully slow but heard-hitting hammer right out of Monster Hunter. But you might learn to tolerate the drawn-out swing animation, as you can spawn Living Miasma, which act like tiny minions that will chase down enemies. You’ll eventually earn two more weapons to power-up, offering incentive across the trek.
Implements of Annihilation
But combat becomes less appealing as you advance through the game. Enemies turn into damage sponges and remove more of your health as the game goes on. This tends to drag out each encounter. But foes also have a habit of crowding you and pushing you toward a chain reaction of traps. Watching Vanessa get tossed around like a pinball might be visually laughable but can also be quite frustrating. Sure, Monte helps offset this problem, but it feels like a band-aid placed on a more serious wound.
Expectantly, boss fights punctuate levels offering suitable end-of-stage showdown. While there’s a bit of opponent recycling and periods of enemy invulnerability isn’t always overtly signaled, these bouts offer a satisfying reprieve from slaying legions of subordinates. Another respite from combat is found in the exploration of veering paths. Discover these and you’ll probably unearth deposits. Another minor issue is that Obey Me has a few too many currencies and collectables. It’s not a huge issue and one that prevalent in gaming, but it feels like unneeded complication.
On PC, Obey Me is largely a competent performer. Save for the rare half-second stutter during exploration, the game runs smoothly on lower-end rigs. We were able to squeeze out a fairly steady sixty-frames-per-second from a five-year-old i7/GTX 860M laptop. Those with a beefier rig should be able to take advantage of the 75 and 144fps caps. For those with lesser systems, the title offers a few selections that can reduce exertion, with options for visual quality, anti-aliasing, ambient occlusion, and shadowing. Even with some of the settings dialed down, you’ll still be able to enjoy the game’s art style, where vivid characters and hazards are contrasted against shadowy surroundings. Expect a soundtrack that blends upbeat electric rhythms with sampled choirs and ringing church bells.
To truly appreciate Obey Me, you’ve got to be a fan of delightfully pulpy storylines and intense brawlers that drip-feed new ways to decimate your opponents. As with many entries in the genre, the variation helps offset repetition, as you make your way further into game’s tangled conspiracies. Like many of the games of yore, there’s will be times you’ll be distracted by minor issues. But they’re offset by a juicy storyline and one of the best personality pairings in recent memory.
Obey Me was played on PC with review code provided by the publisher