Project Zero Fatal Frame Review PS2 Review

No doubt, a lot of you readers will be coming to this game as Resident Evil or Silent Hill fans, looking for something that finally matches up to the calibre of these survival horror gems. Will you be impressed with what you find? I feel that simple diagrams are often handy in these situations, so for you to see show just how scary this game is I have prepared a Line O’ Terror™!

– Pretty Scary
Resident Evil
Jumps-a-plenty, very little psychological terror or real sophistication when it comes to scaring you (relies on grisly-looking beasties)

– Very Scary
Silent Hill
More ways to make you cry in fear than you can shake a stick at.

– Pantfillingly Scary
Project Zero
Play in daylight surrounded by friends, family and chirping birds to avoid becoming a nervous wreck.

So, there you have it. Scarier than Silent hill and Resident Evil. Still game? Lets go.

Graphics

The sprites of the game are perhaps the most disappointing part of the graphics; in cutscenes particularly, they look dated and plain, with a lack of detail. Other than that, the house is rendered beautifully; admittedly it isn’t very colourful, with everything being shown in either grainy black and white or subdued sepia, but the effects work very well. The ghosts, however, look spanking; there is plenty of variation in the creatures that you will find, from people with broken necks from being hung, to strange “weeping women”, all of which are carefully created to be semi-transparent in places, and terrifying to behold as they sweep towards you. It certainly doesn’t push the boundaries of the ps2’s limitations, but it does look the part for what it tries to achieve.

Gameplay

The action of the game is seen from the 3rd person perspective, and uses for the most part a fixed camera system – which comes with all of the negative aspects of not being able to see doors/directions very easily; though these are a minor qualm. The controls are of the nice and simple 2D form – meaning that up on the analogue stick will move your character towards the top of the screen – which works nicely for the game, although it can get easy to become stuck behind the edge of a piece of furniture/door jamb by running into it. Other than that, the gameplay is of a typically Silent Hill/Resident Evil affair, with your character searching things with the X button to find powerups and key items; your character will even helpfully turn their head to look at items that you may have missed. There are also numerous puzzles to be solved, involving placing masks and sliding icons to the right position to open doors – nothing very new at all, and sometime very distracting from the main themes of the game (think along the lines of some of Resident Evils puzzles involving weird statues and you’d get the idea).

The story runs something like this; you play as a young Japanese girl (in token school uniform) wandering around an abandoned house after you brother mysteriously disappeared inside it some time previously, along with a group of journalists who were meant to be documenting the grisly rituals involving young girls (ahem) that went on inside. You are blessed with something of a sixth sense, meaning that you can detect supernatural goings-on and ghosts seem to be drawn to you. As you search the house you learn more of what happened to the young kids that were raised there, and the horrific events of the rituals – and the reason for the ghosts being so angry – becomes uncovered.

The battle sequences are where this game finds its truest innovation. During your adventures in the house, your character picks up an old camera, which they discover can be used to trap the essence of ghosts. In order to use it, however, you have to peer through the viewfinder, subsequently switching the action to a first-person view. This is made all the more lovely for the grainy, faded out appearance that it gives the house. You have a capture circle in the centre of the screen, and a view-finding cross to move to angle the camera; your aim is to get the ghost and the cross into the circle at the same time and hit the shutter button to damage them. Waiting until the last possible moment before attack, at which time the circle will glow orange, will score you extra damage and camera points. These points can be used to level up the camera, and equip it with special skills, such as freezing the ghosts momentarily, or automatically locating them – which is handy if faced by a spook that likes to creep up on you while invisible and appear only when it is about an inch away. These skills can only be used so long as you have enough special spirit stones, however, so saving them for the right moment is important. Hitting the ghosts will make them fall back slightly, giving you a chance to move and reposition yourself if necessary. However, if you yourself are hit, the ghost will inflict damage in you depending on its power and how easily it has managed to catch you; it will also grapple with your character for a time, in which you have to mash the buttons to try and break free before it steals more of your life. While battling with a camera sounds terribly pathetic, it is carried off very well in the game, and the graphics coupled with the terrifying sound really make it a great part of the gameplay. Save points in the house take the form of camera mounted on tripods; while you can find replacement film lying around the house, which varies in potency from weak to highly-powerful, you can also find it in these save cameras if you run out.

The camera can also be used to reveal certain things that aren’t visible to the naked eye; for instance, if Miku detects that something supernatural is surrounding an object (denoted by a small icon at the top of the screen that glows blue when she sees something that can be photographed like this), taking a picture of it will often reveal a clue as to what to do next, be it a door hidden behind a screen, or information on how to open a certain locked door. This is handy, and means that you rarely get stuck trying to find a key.

As well as these aggressive ghosts, you will also see “harmless” ghosts that act as a kind of echo of what happened in the house in the past. These are arguably more terrifying than the angry ghosts, as the camera will suddenly snap to a fixed angle displaying them while a startling noise makes you brown your trousers. These can be snapped for extra points, although they cant be killed, and will often say something about what they were thinking when they were alive – as these ghosts are usually those of the journalists that went inside, you will hear them muttering things about how cold or unsettling they find the house, or of weird things that they have witnessed. This is disturbing, and adds greatly to the terrifying atmosphere of the game, especially when you just see someone walking slowly across the corridor in front of you crying before going through a boarded-up space where there used to be a door. There are several ghosts of children, the most notable of which is a young girl with long hair (think “The Ring”) who guides you, albeit never saying a single word but just pointing ominously. Your aim then becomes, as well as finding your brother, finding the source of the power that keeps all of these ghosts from resting.

As the game progresses, you play through several chapters which are divided by the number of nights that you spend in the house; these are scripted, so actual game time doesn’t play a factor. Each of these ends with the end seeming ever-closer for your character, and so suspense begins to play a big part.

All-in-all, the atmosphere of this game is really unrivalled in the survival-horror stakes. Still, it is not without its flaws; your character, particularly Miku’s brother that you play in the prologue of the game moves hideously slowly, something that might have been sorted with a 60 Hz option. The ghostly battles can get frustrating as well, particularly of the ghost holds you in place for several seconds while you are helpless to escape; and while there is no shortage of healing items, you cannot do anything while being attacked – including opening the options menu.

Also, ala Resident Evil, film for the camera is scarce, and you will find yourself hording it, particularly the super-powerful red film. However, unlike Resi, it is almost impossible to run from a ghost that has spotted you – they will shortcut through walls and pursue you through doors unmercifully, so you find yourself largely having to waste film on non-boss characters. This means that you can easily run out of all of your film; and while you can get more at the save points every now and then, it is of the weak variety, and fighting a boss with it is no fun. This made worse by the fact that you have to take pictures of certain objects in order to advance; wasting this film will have you crying with frustration.

As previously mentioned, some of the puzzles are mundane and seem to bear little relation to the game in general; however, this speaks only for a few. This seems somewhat trivial, but when wandering about getting scared out of your wits, stopping to solve a “sliding stone” puzzle seems to be a bit if a change of pace.

There are also far too many cutscenes, which really does break up the game play, and most of them just seem to consist of Miku breathing rather heavily as she turns around to see a ghost behind here. Integrating more of these shock moments into the game would have been cooler, although there are plenty of shocks that will have you jumping out of your seat!

Sound

The sound is impressive in this game; while it is relatively basic, the sounds become distorted when a ghost is near and your heartbeat begins to echo over the top which is terrifying to behold. There is no “music” as such, but rather just background echoes and shimmers. Perhaps the most effective use of sound is in the voices of the ghosts themselves; they sound as though they are being played on a tinny radio, which is unnerving to say the least when played in a dark room in complete silence. There is also excellent use of survival horror’s best tool – silence, particularly just before the camera whips away to show a ghost tied to the ceiling watching you. This, coupled with the sudden piercing sounds like your character suddenly shrieking as they are attacked or the sudden gong-sound that rings out as the camera jerks away, are used masterfully.

Lifespan

This isn’t the longest game that you will ever play; like resident evil or silent hill, it will probably take about a week or so of your time if you sit and play it properly. Playing through a second time will unlock a mini-game, in which you can earn more spirit points to use in the main game, and a nightmare difficulty level… oh, and a new set of clothes. I believe that completing the nightmare difficulty will earn you an extra ending, though whether or not you can be bothered to play the whole thing again is the deciding factor here.

Overall

I really do like this game a lot, just because it’s so stylish in its approach to survival-horror; Resi is like the B-Movie of the genre, Silent Hill is the psychological horror and Project Zero is like “The Ring”. It’s just got something about it that scares you so completely without resorting to open gore or creatures chasing after you snarling. For that reason, I think anyone moderately interested in survival-horror or even horror in general should give it a go. Play it in the dark alone – I dare you!

8 out of 10
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