Project Zero 2: Wii Edition is a bleak, nasty horror game that scares every step of the way.
- Rich atmosphere that heightens tension
- Shocks are timed with Hitchcockian precision
- Excellent use of the remote speaker
- Defeating tough enemies produces overwhelming relief.
- Haunted House mode is tacky
- Camera's roving eye adds unneeded ick factor.
UK REVIEW--Project Zero 2 is a remake of the disturbing Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly, and it might be one of the Wiiís finest retreads--itís certainly one of its scariest. Nintendo isn't averse to a touch of horror, but Project Zero 2 is a far cry from the excesses of Resident Evil, and even the Lovecraftian menace of Eternal Darkness. Instead, it offers something altogether bleaker: a brutally intense and unsettling tale of ritualistic sacrifice, murder, and tormented spirits. The game is unrelentingly grisly to the point where you'd be hard pressed to say it's enjoyable to play, but it's incredibly gripping and genuinely frightening.
The narrative setup is fairly well-worn in the horror genre: twin sisters Mio and Mayu find themselves in an abandoned village with a mysterious secret that must be solved before they can escape. The two are separated, and though Mayu frequently appears to her sister, she always seems to be out of reach. While everything about the place should set off a warning alarm telling her to turn and run, Mio blindly follows her sibling, stumbling into a series of terrifying encounters with the wandering spirits that haunt the village.
It's a disturbing place even before the ghosts show up--a dilapidated, dimly lit settlement of cramped interiors and sinuous pathways. As in the original game, the fear factor is slow to build, the game holding back the shocks and ratcheting up the tension to near-unbearable levels.
Where the original used static camera angles, this adopts Fatal Frame IV's over-the-shoulder perspective, restricting you to an incredibly narrow field of view that only heightens the sensation that something terrible lies just out of sight. It also includes the exquisitely nerve-racking "touch" mechanic from the same game, where you have to hold the A button to have Mio gradually extend her arm to pick up an item, open a drawer, or lift an object to discover what's underneath. A further carryover is the sporadic appearance of a spectral hand, which will occasionally grab Mio's arm: these moments might seem like cheap jolts next to the constant atmosphere of creeping dread, but they're used infrequent enough so as not to undermine the scares when they do arrive.
Indeed, basic actions like opening doors or peering around corners are transformed by a more dynamic camera, which leans in closer, sometimes tugging you over Mio's shoulder to a near first-person perspective, forcing you into rooms before the character you're controlling. That the vast majority of the time there's nothing there only makes the surprises more potent. It's quite an achievement to turn the simple act of holding a button into a test of nerve: the game dares you to be brave and then provokes a genuine sensation of relief when nothing emerges.
It's not long before they do, mind you. Many of the ghosts have backstories, their tales sketched out through discarded notes and fragments of diary entries: tragic, but no less frightening. Some ghosts drop spirit stones in which their thoughts are vocalised; you can slot them into a strange radio and hear their wails through the remote's speaker, the tinny sound quality only making them more unnerving. Others are even scarier, unexplained horrors that float, stumble, and lurch unnaturally toward you, limbs and faces horribly contorted.
Of course, the wonderfully sadistic idea at the heart of the game's systems is that you're actively encouraged to let these malevolent spirits get as close as possible. The camera obscura you wield deals damage as it captures their image, with collectable lenses and upgrades allowing you to temporarily stun or push back your ectoplasmic aggressors. You inflict significant damage when the shutter flashes red for a fatal frame, while bonuses are awarded for snapping two and three ghosts simultaneously.