Review by c magnum

"If a game can be very scary with minimum blood and gore, then it is truly a masterpiece. And this game is one of them."

Yes, Silent Hill is scary and very disturbing but the nightmare ends when you stop playing the game. However, for Fatal Frame, it is a different story. Fatal Frame is every bit as scary as Silent Hill, if not more, but it will continue to disturb you even after you stop playing the game. The images and sounds of the game will sink their talons right into your dreams, countless of sleepless night will be ensured. If you are freaked out by the movie “The Ring”; this game will sure to do so too since it looks like it is heavily inspired by the movie. This game is truly a gem of the survival horror genre, though at the same time, it is so different from the other games of the genre.

Story 9/10 – Miku, our heroine ventures into a haunted mansion in search of her brother, Mafuyu who disappeared while searching for his mentor, Takamine. She will find out that this mansion is not ‘clean’ and the history of the mansion and flashbacks into the past will slowly reveals the cause of the existence of beings from the other side of the world. The story sounds simple but as the game progresses, you will realize that there is more than it meets the eye, the fates of those who enter the mansion, the sheer cruelty of the rituals performed and what actually happened in the mansion will get you addicted to the game. The story is sadistic and horrifying but at the same time, beautiful. Well, you will have to find out for yourself what is the beautiful part of the story near the end of the game. The story is so wonderfully woven together that it almost gets a 10 but I minus 1 point from the score because of a certain plothole regarding the family lines.

Gameplay 8/10 – The scare factor is a big part of this game. While the puzzles are ordinary, the real purpose of playing this game is to immense yourself in this horrifying realm. The puzzles require you to run back and fro the rooms, but that is precisely what the game’s designers wanted to do, to scare you. Thinking that the rooms you have visited are safe? Wrong, some of inhabitants will all of the sudden, appear in the room to pay you a visit, as for whether you will be attacked, well, that depends on whether they are just passing by or they seriously want to drag someone else into their hellish world. Sometimes, Miku will even suddenly cowers in fear making you go “what is that?”, to realize it is just a false alarm. The game scores big time in giving you the sense that there is nowhere safe in this mansion, the ghosts will continue to chase you by phasing through the walls, you cannot escape by just running into another room, not to mention they might phase right in front of you. Even the save room are not safe at all, ghosts still visit you there and you cannot save until you chase them away. The only solace is going into the map or inventory screen to give yourself one moment of break.

The action and inventory part of this game is similar to RE but the combat is unique and again, truly achieves the result of getting you scared. This time, an old camera with mystical powers is your only weapon to fight the ghosts; you will go into first person mode to get the ghost in your camera’s view and shoot to absorb spirit points, which you can use to upgrade your camera. The fact that an old camera is used will give you a sense of insecurity since it is an ordinary object that we come into contact with every now and then, unlike guns, which are high tech and for the specialists only. Another thing is that unlike zombies in which you aim and just keep on shooting until it is dead, the ghosts are not that stupid, they phase and teleport, you may have them in the view and the next moment, they disappear to reappear at the next unexpected place to attack you.

A lot of people complain about the speed of Miku running is very slow, but I think it was done on purpose, to give you a sense of dread that you cannot run fast to escape from the ghosts and after all, logically speaking, who would want to run very fast in a haunted mansion, either one will be too scared to run or will prefer not to alert the ghosts of his presence. Fortunately, Miku runs fast enough to evade some of the ghosts’ attacks, so the running function fulfills its purpose.

One minor gripe I have with the game is that you have to stand precisely over an item to pick it up which can be quite frustrating at times.

Controls 10/10- This department gets a perfect 10 because I am really impressed with the versatility of the controls. For some people, they simply hate the RE control system so they like the default settings for the controls in this game which is similar to MGS, well, that’s good for them. However, for some survival horror fans, like myself, we appreciate the RE control system, we are naturals at using this kind of controls, we will find MGS controls not suitable for this game since there is this problem of disorientation when you move from one prerendered scene to another. That is where this game’s designers are really thoughtful in, they implement various control systems for players to choose from so as to accommodate all kinds of players. So personally, I use B type control with ease and anyway, you can change the control settings from options screen. In addition, the back key is for quick turning instead of walking backwards which is a nice change from RE’s control system, since you can quickly turn to run to a safe place and then turn back immediately to shoot the ghosts. Another nice touch is that when you are in first person mode, you can move the digital pad to move the camera’s view and with square button pressed, the camera moves faster, and at the same time, move the right analog stick to move Miku. There is no major issue with the controls.

Graphics 8/10 – This game is beautifully rendered to the extent that Miku looks like a CG character when you are playing as her in the game, the characters all are rendered smoothly, there are no jagged edges that indicate that they are pieces of polygons pieced together. The shadows, including Miku’s are realistic and the directions of the shadows move according to where Miku’s torchlight is shone. But one thing I notice is that when Miku is standing in front of an altar filled with candles; there is no shadow cast from the light of the candles. This is just one minor imperfection. The ghosts are very realistic with the translucent effect and signs of the hell they are living through and the state of their death are clearly seen, yes, these ghosts are so realistic that their faces will haunt you in your dreams. The CG movie are nicely-done and decent with the characters effectively showing their expressions, but don’t expect Silent Hill 2’s standard of CG movie where the characters look absolutely real.

The movements of the characters are very fluid, especially the ghosts, the sights of them turning into a blur of mist floating around and reappearing are awesome.

Sounds 7/10 – The music and background sounds will do their job effectively in scaring you. The Shinto chants, moans of the ghosts, the thunder and the footsteps will at least make your hairs stand up. The voice acting is decent, nothing too awful but not too impressive either. The voice acting of tapes are hardly audible but the effect of voices recorded on tapes is achieved.

Conclusion - Since you will play as a meek teenage Japanese girl who cannot even run fast, armed with only a camera in this game, this is not the game for you if you only like to play as some military trained specialist who will fight his/her way out for survival with guns. Otherwise, for most fans of survival horror genre, this is a refreshing entry and is a must-have.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 10/01/02, Updated 10/01/02

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