By: Callum Lavender
Available: October 30th 2015
Here is a tl;dr written review of the latest instalment of long running horror franchise Fatal Frame, or now known outside of Japan as Project Zero. The franchise came out round about the same time as Silent Hill and has become one of the cornerstones of the horror genre in video games, next to Silent Hill, Alone In The Dark and Resident Evil, and has it’s own collective loyal fanbase. Many believed that like Fatal Frame 4, Fatal Frame 5 was not going to get released in Europe and America. But thankfully the companies behind it listened to their fans who expressed much desired interest to play it and released it everywhere. Now I don’t normally do horror themed things but I was interested in giving this one a try. My first proper introduction to the series was playing a little bit of the project zero remake of Fatal Frame 2 and even though I’ve only done the first 2 chapters I really enjoyed the concepts. So when a fully fledged wii u exclusive of the 5th instalment came my way, I was eager to try it from start to finish. So I’ll try to avoid as much spoilers as possible. Also before I cause a bit of confusion there are many parts to this game that I both like and hated at the same time.
The first points I have to make is that the bar in horror games has been raised quite a bit thanks to games like Slender, Amnesia and 5 nights at freddy’s. A lot of the fear elements are now taken away if you have a weapon of some kind to defend yourself with. Where as with those types of games listed it adds to the helplessness where your only way of surviving is to either run, hide or barricade doors and pray that the entities don’t reach you. Now Nintendo label this as a horror game but it’s not really a horror game in the same sense of Silent Hill and Slender, where there’s constant jump scares and slim chance of survival. But more of a horror game in the same sense as the original Bioshock and Master Reboot, where it has the occasional scares but is more focused on atmosphere and exploration. I think the only reason why they label this game as horror (aside from it’s long running history) is because it’s only really horror by Nintendo’s standards.
That said there are many unique and great concepts in this game that make it worth playing. The first good point is the level design. Essentially it is just one big map with the exception of going through each area one pace at a time. The design of the mountain rain forest with it’s abandoned buildings are well done and I really like that a lot of it is based of the real life suicide forest in Japan. Which brings me on to how much I liked the emersion while walking through this world. Along with its dark, creepy and erie atmosphere. It’s something the developers nailed perfectly and you can tell your walking through a haunted world where anything can happen. This is what I also like about the characters (besides the ladies being pretty) is that you really have empathy for them as you journey (often alone) together through this haunted mountain. Not knowing what we’re going to find in these places. The characters don’t really interact with everything very much and in many cases that does help with the emersion. The game has quite a few good and unique mechanics while your playing such as playing third person while navigating, then switching to first person for combat and picture taking. Normally with horror games you have a limited ammo gun, limited flame thrower or a wench of some kind to fend of enemies. But the old camera and picture taking are a really great way of dealing with the ghosts that try to kill you, and again helps with the emersion.
For a lot of parts when trying to find a destination you press a button and a silhouette of a ghost guides you which I really like.
There’s not really much of a soundtrack to speak of aside from a striped down orchestra end credits song, the type we’ve already heard a thousand times, but the ambients and sound effects are really well done and match what the game is about.
There are 2 levels in the game where all the characters stay at home to sleep and one stays awake to guard them. To accomplish this you watch the houses security cameras (including cameras set up in the bed rooms where the women sleep, but hey ho, all in the name of protection I guess). This is a really great set up and through out the stages the ghosts do their best to tease and unsettle you. So there’s kind of a paranormal activity and 5 nights theme going on. The difference here is that the cameras work automatically and all you really do is watch them. If a threat emerges you have to get you and use the picture camera to deal with it. These levels also kind of remind me of that steam green light game Intruder… or what that intruder game could have been if they had just stuck with it (if the creators hadn’t been discouraged by Slender).
The last good point I will make about the game are the surprise moments that are present in this horror experience. There were genuinely times where I couldn’t help but go “whoa!” in surprise (like in bioshock) and thats something I can approve of. Like I said not really jump scares but moments that do make it exciting.
The first big drawback’s of this game however is that it gets very repetitive very quickly. I mean in both exploration and in combat it goes on for ages at a time and it just gets boring. With exploration it got boring because you just go back to the same endless area over and over again, doing pretty much the same thing and it just drags on for ages. Because of this some levels last about an hour and it makes me skeptical about re playing them. With combat it got boring because not only do you fight the same insane ghost all the time, but you have to take about 10 pictures of the same ghost before you finally get rid of it. If your lucky you can speed up the fights by taking pictures of 2 or 3 ghosts at the same time but even then it still goes on for too long. The basic formula is this: spend god knows how long exploring an endless area to find your destination or objective, then fight a ghost for god knows how long, rinse and repeat. Dare I say it it’s almost like their using Call Of Duty set pieces to set up this game. This means that progression is unbearably slow and even if you grind for hours to upgrade what you need, it’s still repetitive. To make this worse is that when your in an abandoned building and your looking for something, that helpful silhouette suddenly disappears. You have to spend what feels like hours searching this abandoned house and the game doesn’t really give you much clues as to what your suppose to be doing (something I personally can’t stand in modern games). Then to add final insult to the boredom injury are the endless scraps of paper and diary entries that supposedly explain the lore of this cursed mountain/suicide forest, and how all the victims are lured away by spirits. God the fun just goes out the window when reading these things, and after a few chapters you just start skipping them because you can’t be bothered to read them anymore. For the past decade now there have been several games that have evolved this trope and the solution was audio recordings and video recordings. It’s a lot better than melting your brain reading this dribble on pieces of paper. In fact the game actually does have a couple of video recordings and a mechanic where you can touch a defeated ghost, and view their memories. The developers really should of just stuck with this more instead of relying on reading boring novels with no relevant information.
Since I’ve talked about the receptiveness enough I’m now going to move on to the story itself. The story is average at best and it’s also not shy about showing it’s various plot holes. The last chapter has multiple endings and this is something else I personally don’t like about long running franchises, because if it has multiple endings how are you suppose to make a successful sequel out of it. As well as it being pointless because the overall ending theme is basically the same. Some might argue that this has re playability because you can re play the final chapter in the level select option. But then this final level lasts about 2 hours and it’s always the same, adding to it being repetitive again.
Now I stand by my surprised moments claim, but for those who have watched/played enough horror films/games will instantly start seeing that a lot of the things that happen are predictable. It’s not hard to become a clairvoyant in this game.
I could also go on about why the games extra chapters and motion controls are unneeded here but I feel like I’ve already gone on about its flaws long enough (plus they are purely optional). There is one more flaw I am going to talk about but it’s not even a flaw of the game or the game developers. That is the flaw of censorship that the international version of this game has undergone. Can you guess who’s responsible for it… thats right online social justice warriors! To these people who may be reading I want to politely say this: please stop with this political correctness nonsense, let people enjoy what they want to enjoy and stop being the fun police, thank you.
To conclude this lengthy article I am going to say that despite my long list of faults with it, the game is worth playing… at least once, when it becomes cheap. And before Nintendo abandons the Wii U in favour of their next console.