Project Zero: Maiden of Blackwater - A Snapshot of Terror
PS5/4, Switch, PC
When I was a kid, one of the activities I used to love doing was going down to my local Civic Video and hiring a videogame for the weekend. Anybody born after 1996 probably has no idea what I’m talking about, but back in the olden days, you could go down and hire a video game for a night or a week – much like you would a library book… although you youngin’s probably don’t know what that is either.
Anyway, one of the games young Jenn remembers picking up was called Fatal Frame. I was drawn to anything where you played a female character, and even though the back of the box told me it was a horror game, I thought to myself ‘pffft how scary could this be?’
I played that game for maybe three minutes before I got creeped out. Then my much younger, braver brother decided he could do a much better job of the game than me. Granted he got a lot further than I did, but Fatal Frame decidedly won the battle of bravery between the Christodoulou kids.
Cut to 2021, where Jenn is no braver but for some reason plays every horror title Player2 gets their hands on. It’s been a number of years since I played the first Fatal Frame, so I thought maybe my many years of experience doing horror reviews for Player 2 will help.
I was wrong.
Nothing bloody helps.
Fatal Frame is still too goddamn scary and I’m going to have nightmares forever.
Fatal Frame (or Project Zero, depending on what region you’re in) Maiden of Blackwater was originally released on the WiiU in 2015. The PS5 version claims to be a remaster but honestly other than it looking much brighter than the original, I don’t see a lick of difference. The game doesn’t look bad, but calling it a remaster when it’s clearly a re-release with the brightness dialled up is a bit of a cop-out.
The controls on the PS5 version are also clunky as all get-out. The differentiating gameplay mechanic of Fatal Frame is the camera obscura, a special camera the protagonists use to take pictures of the creepy ghouls around them and banish them into the netherworld (or wherever ghosts go when they get camera shy). On the WiiU this was done using the platform’s proprietary two-screen system and sounded pretty cool, but on the PS5 it’s a bit of a horror show. When using the camera you’re locked into first-person mode, and my instinct, when surrounded by bad guys, was to swing the camera around and shoot them all – however, when using the camera obscura your field of view is highly restricted. You can’t just turn 360 to get rid of the baddies – which means I spent a lot of time getting terrorised by ghouls when I could have easily photographed them into oblivion if camera angles weren’t so janky.
Controls aside, Fatal Frame is still a bloody scary game – maybe not as terrifying as previous titles, but definitely up there. I found that there was much more combat in this title (although I’m going off five minutes of gameplay from when I was 11), and even when there were too many spirits for me to snap and I was panicking, it was driven less by terror and more by wanting to get a better score for the end of the episode. When I was in combat I was having too much fun to be scared, so spirits ended up being a welcome distraction to the desolate horror found in every other aspect of the game.
Fatal Frame plays out in episodes, and at the end of each one, you get a score. Better scores unlock things like outfits for your playable characters, but let’s be real – once I finished a level there was no way I was going back. Not because it was bad, but because my sanity just said no. However, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t get scared and/or hates yourself, the episodic structure and multiple endings offer a lot of replayability. But even if you don’t touch the levels again, there’s still between 15-20 hours of gameplay here.
I can’t say I enjoyed my time with Fatal Frame: Maiden of Blackwater, because I spent most of my time with the game paused, my hands over my eyes and the television on mute to drown out the creepy ambiance and the anguished cries of spirits trying to kill me. As much as I despise it, spending 15 hours too scared to move, forcing my way through levels filled with horrors does tell me one thing; this is a damn good horror game. I wouldn’t call it a remaster by any stretch, so if you played the original you’re not going to be blown away by this title, but if you’re looking for a horror game to keep you company through a stormy night – this is the one.
Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water was reviewed on the PS5 with code kindly supplied by the publisher.