Review by Braben

"Mr. ghost here, say cheeeeese!!"

Due to the enormous (and well deserved I would say) success of Silent Hill, many companies started to exploit a more serious and realistic survival horror genre, one of the first companies to do that was Tecmo, and this is, in my humble opinion, the result:

The story is about a girl called Miku who is looking for her brother, who has disappeared near a creepy mansion under very strange circumstances.

The problem with the plot is that is not really intriguing because it is not very well done, this is one of those games where we are only going to remember about what was going on at the end of the game. Also, in my opinion there is not enough story, and so some times you will get lost without knowing what to do, I hate that, but I`ll go on that later.

They are not going to win any awards that is for sure, not even when the game was released a few years ago, but while a bit simple, they are more than good, yes, because they are scary, and that is the point. The game has that grainy look that makes it scarier and the ghosts are truly well made, so sometimes we are going to feel that horrible claustrophobic sensation we used to feel every time while playing Silent Hill, and, again, that is the point.

I am not going to blame Tecmo for the lack of music because I have yet to see a survival horror game with music, so that is it, there is barely any music, sometimes you will hear a creepy tune floating in the air, but that is all.

The best thing here as expected are the growls and screams of the ghosts that sometimes sure are going to scare the hell out of you.

We just have to explore the different rooms of the mansion looking for information about the history of the place, the inhabitants, and our brother, and everything in a very classical way, there is nothing new in terms of controls or anything, which is good.

Anyway, as a survival horror game is not nearly as good as Silent Hill for various reasons, the first one is that it is not nearly as scary, but this is something that can be easily overlooked because in the end it is a creepy game, that is undeniable, the main reason why this is not a match for Silent Hill is that as a whole the game is not as nicely structured, it is easy to get lost and the plot is badly paced.

First of all, we are only going to be exploring the mansion, and ok, it is probably the biggest mansion ever conceived (or at least in a Survival Horror game) and it has a really big garden and some underground paths, but, you see, in the end it is just one mansion. However, the main big problem here is that we are constantly going to be visiting the same places we have already been a lot of times, yes there a new things to do in these places, but it happens the same than with the fact that there is only one mansion, they are the same places we have already been, and they haven`t changed, they only have a new item to find or a new ghost hidden in a corner. That is not enough.

The fact that we are only going to ``fight`` ghosts is also something that could have been greatly improved, yeah I know this is a ghost story, and if it is a ghost story then there is no room here for zombies and such, but you see, all the ghosts are incredibly similar, in fact, as far as I can remember, only their faces were different, and only a little, very little. It is easy to think about how to do different ghosts, just think about ghosts with chains, classical ghosts covered with a white sheet over their heads, ghost with the shape of a monster, and very big etc, but no, in Fatal Frame we are always going to see the same two or three ghosts, it is sad in my opinion.

Catching ghosts with our camera is not as stupid and ridiculous as it sounds at a the beginning, yet, due to a few important flaws, it is far from being a good battle system.

We always use our camera in a first person view, and there is nothing wrong with this as it is probably the best way to use this system, however, the ghosts are constantly disappearing and as they are almost invisible and as most of the time everything is very dark, sometimes they hard to see, and as we can barely move in the first person mode, we will have to be switching between the third person and the first person mode, something that in small places is dangerous and annoying. How do we solve this?, probably with a more fluid first person mode, but anyway the big problem of this system is the lack of ammo, because to catch ghosts we need ``films``, which are very hard to find.

The lack of ammo is exasperating, and unlike Silent Hill for example we don`t have melee weapons, just our camera, and if we ran out of ammo we just can`t keep playing, it is that simple. This wouldn`t be a problem if the were, like it sounds obvious, lots of ammo scattered around the mansion, but well, there isn`t, sometimes you will find ammo again in a place where you have already obtained some, but this only happens once in a while. For me a better battle system with our camera could have been something like in the Ghostbusters movie, why not sucking ghost with our camera?, that could have been better, not to mention ecological and more entertaining.

Aside from fighting, our camera is also useful to obtain clues and take regular photos of strange places, something essential to continue our investigations and plot. If you think there is something fishy in a corner then just take out your camera, and if there is something then the camera will react.

The last flaw in the game is that one I started talking in the story section, nothing less than the lack of information about what to do. This is bad firstly because it means the plot is not all that well developed, and secondly because there is nothing worst than getting lost without knowing what to do while ghosts are haunting you and you don`t have ammunition. Sometimes you will be wandering around the mansion completely lost and suddenly when you enter a place where you have already been or that apparently has nothing to do with what was happening, you a see a little event which lets you continue for a while, the you think: ``what was that?, why did it happened here?, this makes no sense``, the answer is simple, ``who knows``, that is the way the game is done.

Fatal Frame is heading in the right direction, but it has a lot of boulders in its path. In any case, even to date, and excepting for its sequel (which I have yet to play) this is the best alternative to Silent Hill, yet, while a alternative, it is never a match for the one million times above mentioned Konami title, never, not even a little.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 06/14/04

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