Allegedly based on a true story (I can’t ascertain whether it’s really true or the hype machine working overtime), it tells the story of a haunted mansion in the suburbs of Tokyo. In the opening cinema, we are introduced to the premise of the game, where the main protagonist’s older brother wandered off inside the said mansion, and haven’t been see since. It’s up to Miku to investigate the disappearance of his brother, and unravel the sinister mysteries that haunt the Himuro Mansion.
The game plays like most game in the survival/horror genre, but with a few new and welcomed twists. Controlling your character is a snip, thanks to the directional controls in most action game. Push the analogue stick to the right, and your character turns right instantly. No more shoddy and frustrating control issues like in the famed RE series. The only drawback here is that you move very slowly. Running doesn’t help speed up your movement greatly, so it can be an issue when you need to go somewhere fast. Thankfully, the slow movement of your character means that the ghosts are equally slow, so that you won’t be overwhelmed when in combat with multiple apparitions.
Combat is where Fatal Frame really shines. Unlike in RE or Silent Hill where you’ll be armed with shotguns, in Fatal Frame your only defense against the armies of hell is your camera. Yes, you heard that right. Apparently, the concept behind this is the old Japanese belief that the camera can capture the soul, and thus would deal damage to your ghastly opposition. When you encounter a ghost, pressing the circle button will get you into combat mode, where you need to target the ghost within the camera’s viewfinder, and pressing the x button to deal damage. The longer the ghost stays inside the viewfinder, the more damage you can deal to it. You can move the targeting cursor by using the left analogue stick. Fortunately, while in this mode, you can also move your character, simply by using the right analogue stick. This makes for an interesting twist, since you have the option of playing the game in the traditional third person view, or using the camera mode to go into first person mode.
During the course of the game, you’ll find various films and accessories that will enhance your camera, and give you added abilities. They can increase the damage you dish out, or push the ghost further with each shot. This comes in handy when you’re cornered with multiple apparitions. The menu will give you the explanation for each item that you find, so try to mix and match abilities that will be useful in your quest.
A survival/horror game wouldn’t be complete without puzzle. Yes, the brain-busters are also here, only that they’re not too taxing on your brainpower. The puzzles, while not too difficult, require a lot of backtracking around the level. Also keep a notebook close by you if you want to solve the Japanese character puzzles. This problem is made worst by the unintuitive menu system, particularly the map. To access the map, you have to go into the menu, and select the map. It would be more useful to assign the map to a particular button.
Another plus factor in the game is the sound. You can clearly hear the creaks when you walk around the spooky mansion, and some distant background sound that just plays with your mind. It’s recommended that you play the game at night, in the dark, and with the speakers turned on full. The music changes when you in encounters, and gives the game a really creepy feeling.
Graphically, Fatal Frame certainly exudes the foreboding sensations of a survival/horror game. The characters are well animated and detailed, and close attention is also apparent to the locations. The areas are mostly dark, but not too dark that you can catch a glimpse of objects from the outlines.
Most of the time, you’ll be shrouded in darkness, with your flashlight being the only source of light. I’m particularly impressed with the ghosts, as some of them are transparent and disappear slowly as they pass through walls and objects. It’s certainly on par, if not better, than the frontrunners in this genre.
The game’s not fun - it’s scary! For me, it does exactly what it seeks out to do - scare the hell out of me. Like most survival/horror game, there isn’t much replay value here, so you won’t be playing this over and over. Try playing it alone at night in the dark and turning up the volume and you’ll agree with me.
Fatal Frame is definitely scary. I personally place it between the shock-intensive Resident Evil and the slowly disturbing scenes in Silent Hill. Highly recommended for survival/horror fans that are looking for something new.
Former owner and editor in chief of Darkstation.com