If you’ve not played Fatal Frame II – largely considered to be one of the scariest games ever made – you now have the opportunity, but only on Nintendo systems, as the company has brokered a deal to take control of the entire Fatal Frame franchise. The game pretty much made me wet myself nearly ten years ago on the PS2, and has now been re-released as Project Zero 2 for the Wii – including some new content. Does the survival horror still have what it takes to send shivers down your spine?
It follows the plight of cutesy Japanese twin sisters Mio and Mayu Amakura – who, after becoming lost in a creepy forest happen upon a cursed, mythical village that’s purported to have mysteriously disappeared on the night of a festival. With no way to get out of the forest, they’re forced to tackle the ruinous village for a way out – or perhaps some help – instead. soon, after a few ghostly encounters that’ll make the fine hairs on your neck stand up, they come across an old camera – the Camera Obscura – that’s able to capture images of things that shouldn’t really be there; spirits, forgotten memories and SWEET JESUS I TURNED AROUND THERE WAS A FRIKKING DEAD-EYED GHOST IN THE WAY. It’s a cheap trick to elicit scares, borrowed from countless films – particularly the Japanese sort, like The Ring and the Grudge and CRAP! WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT? The game doesn’t rely on those cheap thrills for its frights though; it also dabbles with some rather dark, psychological horror – and you’ll probably be edgy and feel slightly uneasy the entire time you’re playing.
Once you’ve finally regained your composure, turned on all the lights and locked your cat away so there’s little chance of it brushing against your leg, causing a coronary attack while you play – you’ll find an entire haunted village to reluctantly explore – though you’ll largely be restricted to one building at a time. You’ll have to fully explore that building, solving whatever generally easy puzzle restricts access to the next section. You’ll often be given insight to the village, its denizens and the reason for its disappearance – as well as clues to puzzles via scraps of paper, diaries and memos you pick up (itself often a scary event, as a ghostly hand occasionally interjects). Mostly, what you’ll be doing is taking pictures of things using the game’s hook; the aforementioned Camera Obscura.
You find the camera – really your only weapon in the game – early in your adventure – and it serves a number of functions. It can be used to capture images of, and defeat hostile spirits, reveal clues, catch hidden ghost and unlock doors that’ve been sealed by creepy spirit magic. As with any old camera, you’ll need a steady supply of film. For some reason, different grades of film are more efficient and dispelling evil. Your camera comes equipped with a bizarrely inexhaustible supply of slow to load, low-grade film, though (also nonsensically) you can find stronger film scattered throughout the village. Though you move about ably while exploring, entering camera mode keeps you physically in place, pressing the camera button (B on the Wii Remote) puts you in to first-person mode – allowing you to photograph hints – or attack the numerous spirits who’re intent on getting you to join the netherworld. The capture circle glows green for hints and hidden spirits, changing to a glowing red or orange when you’re in range of hostile spooks. You can upgrade the camera via lenses and other items you pick up during the game – spending “spirit points” to do so.
You’ll generally earn these points during battles with the spirits of the dead – with fighting ghosts as the game’s biggest hook. When you’re close enough to a spirit to inflict damage, the capture circle in camera view glows orange and starts to hum with static. The closer you get (you brave fellow, you!) and the longer you keep your camera trained on the ghost, the more damage it’ll inflict. At times, the capture circle will turn a bright red – giving you the opportunity to pull off a critical hit – or Fatal Frame. It places emphasis on timing and patience – and a test of steely nerves.
It’s also, unfortunately, where the Wii version of the game falters. For some reason, Tecmo-Koei and Nintendo have shoe-horned some rather terrible Wii controls in to the game. when you’re looking through the Camera Obscura’s viewfinder, the stick on the Nunchuk controls the X-axis – and could have ably controlled the Y-Axis as well. Instead, looking up and down is done via the Wii remote’s unreliable accelerometer – so you’ll regularly find yourself wrestling with the controls just to get that perfect shot. Honestly, I think they should have just let us control it all with the analogue stick, or if they absolutely had to use motion controls, the Wii pointer. Instead, we’ve got a great game, hampered by shoddy controls.
There’s a fair bit that’s been added to the Wii version beyond some up-scaled visuals; an all-new and pretty terrible English voice cast and Widescreen support and a new on-rails mode called Haunted House where the game judges how scared you’re getting by how still you keep your controls. The best new feature is some clever use of the Wii Remote’s built-in speaker that have you packing it all away and opting to play in the daytime. Its just a pity about those damned controls – inexcusable for a game where you sometimes have mere seconds to line up the perfect shot.
Project Zero 2 might be nearly a decade old, but it’s still rich in great, macabre and dark atmosphere. There’s a great deal, in terms of presentation and interface that haven;t aged particularly well – but it still does what it set out to do in 2003; scare the hell out of you.
A survival horror without the back-tracking you’d expect from the genre – without any of the weapons you’d expect either. It’s a pure adventure game, though one that’ll have your heart trying to jump out of your throat. The core mechanics, however, may seem a little outdated.
One of Nintendo’s last releases for the Wii, it’ll give you 10 hours of chills for your first playthrough – with enough compelling reason (if you’re a completist) to have a second go with New Game +.
Less of a total rehaul and more akin to the wave of remakes we’ve seen on the Xbox 360 and PS3. If you’re the sort who actually likes games making you live shorter by stopping your heart every so often, you’d do well to give this classic a shot. The game has, however, got me really excited for a new Wii U exclusive sequel.[Reviewed on Wii. Adult nappies supplied by Pampers]
Last Updated: July 9, 2012