Fatal Frame III: The Tormented ReviewCain Dornan
Theres something about the Project Zero series (or known as Fatal Frame outside of PAL territories) that frightens me like no other game. Sure, Doom managed to inflict the odd surprised jump or two out of me, as did Silent Hill. But when you weigh both of these two highly popular and well-publicized titles against the Project Zero series, which has received very little recognition outside of Japan, Project Zero proves to be the scariest of the three in almost every way.
Maybe its the fact that your roaming around old, run-down Japanese mansions that are crawling with lost, tormented ghostly souls. Or it could be the reliance on a mere torch and camera to use as your only weapons against these restless, harmful spirits. Then again, it could simply be due to the very talented team over at Tecmo who are capable of producing a game that scares as well as A-grade Hollywood blockbusters. Whatever it is, any Project Zero game will leave you shaken, stirred and often scared out of your wits as you sit in your living room in the middle of the night, roaming through endless corridors of horror as you attempt to escape from the frightening horrors that surround you.
The presentation of ghosts within the entertainment industries has long surpassed the budget quality of a guy running around underneath a white cloth. Cast this non-scary, childish image aside and picture ghosts that are each freakishly scary in their own individual way. Picture torn and bloodied faces and mangled bodies that float around you in a horrifying manner. Then combine this thought with the image of faint, see-through beings that are creepingly normal looking that is, until that small child in the corner with an evil smile begins staking your foot to the ground. Then combine this with an assortment of screams, groans, growls and moans as these non-human beings make their appearances in the most unexpected of ways. Dont be fooled by the screenshots to your right when actually playing the game, these ghosts are amazingly frightening, not as outright clearly seeable and the presentation put into ensuring that each one appears in a unique, completely unexpected way further adds to the scare level that you is present throughout most of the game.
The latest in the series, Project Zero 3: The Tormented, doesnt stray far from the gameplay recipe that was used in the previous two games. Once again you are equipped with the Camera Obscura, a unique invention that is capable of capturing images of the Other World. Using this camera, you are able to photograph ghosts and even inflict damage on vengeful ghosts who attack you. This third iteration follows the experiences of Rei Kurosawa; a freelance photographer who is sent to photograph a mysterious abandoned Japanese manor shortly after her fianc, Yuu, is killed in a car crash whilst Rei was in the drivers set. As luck would have it, the manor is said to be haunted, which is soon proved to be true when Rei sights Yuu moving deeper into the mansion. From this point forward, Reis dreams are filled with terrifying nightmares of the manor, where she must escape from the ghostly inhabitants who are attempting to kill Rei and locate Yuu at the same time. In order to do this, youll need to unravel the history behind the mansion, which holds the key to finding Yuu and ending the horrible dreams for good.
You soon discover that the dreams you are having about the mansion are shared with various other people, all that have experienced very similar events within the confines of the Manor of Dreams. In addition to playing as Rei, youll also assume the role of two other characters, with their stories intertwining into Reis rather cleverly. Theres Miku Hinasaki, an assistant of Rei, and Kei Amakura, who was once a good friend and colleague of Yuu. Each of these three characters are tied together with the dream through similar ways. Miku has also lost a loved one, her dearly loved brother, which lead to her beginning to experience the horrifying dreams. Kei, on the other hand, began to actively research the manor and the dreams that surround it after his niece, Mio (who was one of the main characters in Project Zero II) begins to have the same nightmare. After delving deeply into the history of the manor, he also begins to have a similar dream to Rei.
Throughout the nightmarish dream youll encounter a horde of unique and interesting ghosts. While youll meet a number of higher-profile ghosts that appear more than once in the game, there is one ghost that sticks with the game from start to finish. Covered from head to foot in blue tattoos, this powerful, mysterious ghost makes regular appearances throughout the course of the game. While it is not immediately known who, or why, she is roaming around the manor, you gradually learn further details about her through various texts that can be found around the games environment. The tattoos are strangely similar to the ones that Rei and Miku are suffering from whenever they wake from their dreams, which gradually spreads across their body as the game progresses. To save from revealing any spoilers, well end the discussion on this freakish creature here.
The combining of the three slightly different experiences during the dream manages to further strengthen the deep storyline. Theres a deep, long-forgotten history surrounding the manor, one that twists and turns and offers plenty of interesting information for those wishing to look into it closely. While you can skim through the game and only learn of the bare basics of the storyline, its more interesting to take your time and read through each of the texts, pictures and sound pieces that offer extensive background information on the manor, those who lived there and the nightmare that our three characters are now experiencing. Nothing is ever completely revealed, which maintains a mysterious and questioning aroma that surrounds the entire experience. As with the last two games, this combines to provide a strong storyline that is truly engaging and fantastic, as itll keep you obsessively hooked on the game from start to finish.
The game takes place in two different worlds. Whilst Rei is asleep, the game will focus on the experiences of one of the three characters whilst in the manor, which are divided into sections by a series of chapters. Each chapter can last anywhere from twenty minutes through to an hour or two. Various points throughout the game nod towards the two previous games, with regular mentioning of past events and even the appearance of manor sections that appeared in the previous titles. Once each chapter is completed, you are returned to the safety of the real world when Rei awakens. During this time, you can roam around your house, developing mysterious pictures that you have taken during your time in the manor, researching some of the history behind the nightmares and dreams through Yuus extensive collection of folktale and history books, and request that Miku researches items or pictures of interest, which ultimately yields further information that aids the games storyline.
Your camera is the only weapon that you have at your disposal, with the dispatching of all dangerous ghosts being performed by taking charged pictures of these ghosts. Due to the special abilities of the Camera Obscura, you can inflict damage on particular ghosts by aiming the camera on the ghost whilst an on-screen circular bar lights up. The more the bar lights up, the higher the damage that will be inflicted on the ghost. Further damage is dealt when you charge the camera to its maximum, which deals a powerful blow known as the Shutter Chance, which can be further increased into the Fatal Frame when you manage to time the shot perfectly by allowing the ghost to be very close and have the camera completely charged. Theres nothing more thrilling than having an eerie ghosts face literally centimeters from yours as you take its picture.
The camera can also be upgraded by the earning of points, which are obtained by taking pictures of non-hostile ghosts, or by retrieving new lenses for the camera. Each lens offers its own unique ability, such as dealing extra damage or slowing the movements of the ghost. Unfortunately, most of the lenses offer little help, which results in only a handful of lenses being used.
While you will spend vast periods of time creeping throughout the haunted manor, snapping ghosts and searching for keys to unlock locked doors, youll also find yourself solving the occasional puzzle that unlocks a door or rewards you with a needed item. While the majority of these puzzles are easy to solve, there are a few that prove to be more challenging, having you scrape your brain as you try to solve the puzzle and riddles just as you are recovering from your last ghostly encounter.
Unfortunately, the occasionally awkward camera angles and clunky controls can dampen the experience slightly at times. While there are no major issues to either problems, they can make the occasional ghost-fighting sequence a frustrating experience when the camera fails to provide a clear-enough view of the room so that you can locate the ghost before they attack you. Furthermore, the characters move a bit too slow at times, with turning around to run taking a tad too long to perform. Its not a constant problem, but it does rear its ugly head at times.
While the camera angles can prove to be annoying at times, the angles used often aid in further dramatising the experience. The angles will reveal the location of a ghost in an eerie manner, causing the excitement and tension levels to jump a notch as a ghost suddenly appears immediately in front of you.
Project Zero III is a visual splendor, clearly showing the graphical might of the PlayStation 2 as it renders impressively detailed, aged, moldy and blood-stained rooms that are touched-off with some great lighting effects. The environments that you visit are truly eerie, adding to the intense experience as you sneak around the manor. The ghosts look great, as do the characters, with Tecmos artist team creating detailed character models that animate pleasingly well. The superb graphical presentation is further carried over to the games sound, as a combination of moody music ties together beautifully with a range of great sound effects. Project Zero IIIs voice over work is particularly sensational, as the vast collection of ghostly voices send a chill down your spine whenever they are heard.
If you havent caught on already, Project Zero III: The Tormented is a superb survival horror game in virtually every aspect. It manages to create a creepy atmosphere and engrossing storyline that was once limited to the Hollywood horror scene, only to be now firmly laid within a video game. The Project Zero series is truly one of the most frightening series of games currently available, with the third edition clearly proving that the developers have not lost their touch. We cant wait to experience the next game, and anticipate the furthering of this great series in the next generation of consoles.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.