By Dave Haldane
When discussing survival horror these days, people are usually talking about one of two things: action games with jump scares or slow paced atmospheric thrillers. If you’re after the former, then you should go play something like Dead Space or Resident Evil; if you prefer the latter, you’re in the right place. Project Zero 2 is survival horror at its best, where aversion and tactics are your key to success.
As the name suggests, Project Zero 2: Wii Edition is a remake of the 2004 cult smash hit by the same name. It’s not a straight port, however, and they’ve added a wealth of extras including a new interface, new play modes, multiplayer and redesigned characters. Titled Fatal Frame 2 in the US and Zero 2 in Japan, it’s often been praised as one of the scariest video games made. After sinking around 20 hours into it and finishing it twice I can certainly see why.
Project Zero 2 tells the tale of Mio and Maya, twin sisters trapped in a haunted village trying to unravel it's secrets and escape. Whilst that may sound cliché the story is very unique and told in a way that’s moving, powerful and surprisingly engaging. It’s presented to you via a mix of cutscenes, text and in game experiences which create an amazing atmosphere bound to suck you in. Tekmo Koei further enhance this experience by adding multiple endings dependent on your choices, selected difficulty and what you learn about the village. What’s truly amazing is that each of the endings, whilst very different in content, fits in to the lore of the game perfectly. One of the endings was so heart wrenching it actually brought me to tears. Amazingly powerful stuff and not something games are normally able to invoke.
For the most part Project Zero 2 is broken down into two parts; exploring the village and exorcising ghosts. You explore in a fashion similar to most adventure games; finding items, opening doors, solving puzzles, etc. Unlike the original this one is presented from a third person perspective with a “chase cam." It works well as it allows you to fully explore the environment and provides unique tension enhancers. For example, when entering a new room, Mio’s head will often block the camera thus providing additional suspense. The spooky atmosphere is further complemented by a special mechanic for picking up items or opening doors. Rather than just pressing A you must hold it down whilst Mio slowly reaches out. Sometimes a ghost will grab your arm, sometimes nothing happens at all; if you let go of A she’ll withdraw her hand though so you do have the option to be cautious.
Another unique feature of the Project Zero series is the use of a camera to exorcise ghosts. Yes, you read that correctly. You’re a weak teenage girl who’s being pursued by ethereal entities… what did you expect she’d use? The concept behind the camera is fairly simple; when you use it the viewpoint changes to first person. Aim it at an enemy and take a shot. The better the shot you take the more damage it does to the ghost. Damage and effect can be further improved by upgrading your camera or using special lenses/film. The shift to first person mode is clever as it puts you right in the action and lays the foundation for some big scares. There’s nothing likely to give you a heart punch more than panning around and finding a ghost beside you about to take a bite! Whilst the concept is simple and may sound like a gimmick it works really well. It certainly adds to the atmosphere of a normal young girl out of her depth trying to escape.
Unfortunately, using the camera is where Project Zero 2 starts to lose it’s magic. Not because it’s a bad concept, just because the controls feel ungainly and frustrating. Actually, to be fair, it’s only the Wiimote I have issue with; the rest is ok. The problem lies in the way you use the Wiimote which is by tilting it; not pointing it. So, if you whip out your camera to photograph a pesky ghost but you’re not holding the Wiimote dead flat, the reticule immediately starts to pan in an unwanted direction. This results in a few seconds of “tilt tabling” your Wiimote as you attempt to find the neutral position and get on with the task. The problem is further exaserbated by a slow or sluggish on screen response. Slow controls implemented well can enhance the apprehension or tension in a situation; slow and sluggish controls done poorly just make it frustrating.
Keeping in mind that I’m a self-proclaimed “hater” of motion control games, I think an option to use the Wiimote as a pointer or a classic controller would bring this game’s score well and truly into the 9s. Motion controls aren't what make this game awesome so they shouldn’t be forced.
Project Zero 2 is easily one of the best looking Wii titles to date. Pre rendered cut scenes look amazing and the in game graphics really enhance the ambiance. Colour is used exceptionally well with most of the game shown in a washed out brown colour whilst ghosts and key items of interest shine out with contrasting color.
One of the areas that caught me by surprise was the musical score and sound effects. Creaking floorboards, banging doors, moaning ghosts and other such effects all seemed to have just the right volume and frequency to freak me out. This was further enhanced by the use of the Wiimote speaker. Hearing a recently defeated ghost’s moan or whispering ghost voices coming out of the Wiimote really brought the experience out of the TV and into my hand; it was really creepy. There isn't much music in the game but, when there is, it’s emotional, strong and perfectly matched to the scene.
Once you’ve finished the story, there’s plenty to keep you coming back for more. There are harder difficulties to unlock, new endings to discover and additional side stories to find. The Wii Edition also has a new mode called Haunted House where you travel along a pre-determined path collecting dolls, taking photos or just trying to reach the end. Instead of taking damage you accumulate fear; and you accumulate fear by moving the Wiimote or nunchuck more than necessary. Obviously the game throws lots of things at you to try to increase this frequency but, more often than not, it’s easy to ignore. It’s a nice idea however not one I found overly enjoyable.
Whilst the cover states that the game can be played by two, don’t get overly excited, I had to scour the manual just to find out how it worked. During story mode, if player 2 presses A at the same time you take a photograph, you get extra points. In haunted house mode they can help try to scare the other player by making ghosts appear, the Wiimote shudder or noises come out the speaker. Pretty lame really and not the two player experience I’m sure many were hoping for.
In conclusion Project Zero 2 is fantastic. It looks amazing, sounds great, and has an exceptional story. It’s genuinely creepy and the slow pace help set the mood and it really rewards you for paying attention to the detail. The controls may be poor but the game is designed well and has an engaging and emotional story. In my opinion it’s a must buy for any survival horror fan.