Review by MJ

"A tense game that sinks its tendrils into your brain and keeps you on edge."

Fatal Frame is a very, very disturbing game. Set in a haunted mansion (i know, you're having Resident Evil flashbacks, bear with me), a young girl searches for her missing brother, who consequently disappeared searching for a missing author. I have to give this shy looking, cute heroine her due, she presses on where I, in the same situation, would have turned and ran for my mommy. Of course she presses on because we tell her too with our Dual Shocks, but nonetheless. Lets get on with it...

The graphics in Fatal Frame are functional, and up to par with most releases you'd find on the shelf at EB. Textures are detailed, and everything runs smoothly. The key here is how the developers used what they had to create a very tense atmosphere. Miku's flashlight constantly dances around the dimly lit rooms, throwing shadows about, making you think twice about what may be lurking in that dark corner. The mansion itself is crafted very well. The ghosts, though nothing but a few transparencies, are quite vividly portrayed, especially when they get up close and in your face (which happens alot more than you'd want it too...). The FMV's (of which there are a handful) are creepy in their own right, and finely crafted. The overall quality is not the caliber of a Final Fantasy X, but they serve their purpose in this game.

Ahh yes, where so many Survival/horror games fail, luckily this one doesn't. On the whole, i'd say Miku moves at a sluggish pace, and performs physical tasks at a painstaking drawl, but i assume its for effect. Honestly, if i was in a haunted mansion, i don't think i'd be clamoring about at a swift jog rattling open doors left and right... attracting their attentions, but, gamers used to faster paced gameplay may be turned off by her deliberate strides and purposeful door sliding.

If you can bear the pace, Fatal Frame will deliver the creepy tingly feelings on the back of your neck. Armed with only her mothers enchanted camera, Miku must navigate the mansion and its lengthy corridors searching for her brother, and any others who might be alive.

You quickly learn that your camera is a very invaluable tool. Not only does it serve as a wouldbe ghost detector and overall paranormal event meter, it will help you defeat all the creepy spooks that would like to make you a permanent resident of the mansion. When your ghoul alarm turns blue, you're in the vicinity of a ''not quite normal'' happening, either an encounter with a ghost, or a clue to help you move on in the game. When you snap a photo of the event, something will be revealed to you, the location of a key, or a particular item you need. When your ghoul alarm turns a shade of orange, it means an encounter is imminent. Despite having this nice heads up, Fatal Frame never fails to catch you off guard and scare the living crap out of you. I'm not going to give anything away, but keep your eyes peeled and you'll soon see what i'm talking about.

Combat in Fatal Frame is decent at best. Once you enter first person mode with your camera you're all but a sitting duck for the ghosts, so quick aiming and photo snapping is a must. I enjoy combat in this game, its different at least, offering something else instead of the run backward and blast with shotgun/machine gun/rocket launcher. My only gripe is with the occasional cheap ghosts that will grab hold of you and hit you up to 3 times (death) without you ever getting a chance to escape, its happened twice, but really not that much of a problem (maybe i should try harder!).

The game features a few puzzles. Nothing mind bending, simple logic, and sometimes trial and error and they're quickly done away with. They serve their purpose of breaking up the monotony of key-fetching to get to new areas.

One last thing about the gameplay. Fatal Frame delivers a very gripping psychological freak fest. The scenes of murder and ritualistic sacrifices are eerie and disturbing. The mansions long dead residents revealing themselves in grisly fashions at the most opportune moments (i swear they must monitor your heart rate through the dual shock) will keep your pulse racing at an unhealthy level, unless of course you're one of those jaded gamers made of stone who never flinches, if so, bugger off :P

The plot is interesting and grisly. It is revealed slowly as Miku discovers clues in diaries and recorded messages dropped and hidden throughout the mansion. You know, there aren't enough games about ritual sacrifice these days, this game fills the gap nicely. Without revealing too much, the mansion and all its residents are cursed. The symptoms of the curse are rope marks appearing on the victims skin, several people have been cursed and you learn about them through the game, but that's not all that has been going on in this menacing manor. Ghostly rope maidens, a woman with her neck snapped, and her head turned backward, and finally a ghastly apparition with her eyes gouged out all await you within, and you learn more than you'd like about their fate.

The control scheme is simple. No multi function buttons to worry about, and the game makes nice use of both analog sticks. Though Miku controls like a ... well a reluctant scared girl traversing a spooky mansion (in other words sluggish and slow), its not that bad, and you get used to it rather quickly (until she goes down a ladder, ugh).

Ahh... another department in which this title shines. Sound. The mansions chambers and hallways are filled with eerie sounds, making you stop more than once to go ''Okay, wtf was that?!''.

There is alot of voice work in this game, and its pretty much average, but enjoyable. I especially dig this games use of a tape recorder to relay the stories of other missing adventurers who met a bad fate in the mansion. Though the voice work on the tapes lay on the cheese sometimes, its still a cool plot device.

Another thing your tape recorder is used for is to dish out freaky messages from ghosts you happen to be fighting at the moment. Whoa, this little gameplay element really got me going the first time i heard my enemy yell ''I want my child!!!'' through a grainy tape recorder.

The background music is way in the background, a droning, intense soundtrack that you don't really notice until you stop and listen, then you quickly wish you hadn't because its very chilling as well.

Fatal Frame is a surprise. I hadn't heard of it until a few days before its release, and saw zero advertising, but its a very nice surprise. The game fires on all cylinders to deliver a very haunting experience. The plot is interesting, and sets a good pace throughout the game. If you're a hardcore survival/horror junkie, this game will give you a good fix. If you're looking for a different type of game with a few thrills, check it out, you won't be disappointed.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/18/02, Updated 11/18/02

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