Friday, 27 November 2015

Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water

It's nearly Christmas, and you know what that means; time for a horror game review! Specifically, Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water. It's a Wii U exclusive, which is unexpected and creepy in itself nowadays. Could this be the first game of the year which actually makes good use of the GamePad?

There's arguably only one game which makes good, consistent use of the Wii U's dual screen setup. That's another horror game – Zombi U – and, embarrassingly for Nintendo, it's a third party launch title (not to mention a launch title that's been recently ported to other formats). This is another third party title, one with prequels on Microsoft and Sony formats (pull your fingers out, Nintendo!). There are three characters to control over fourteen chapters, a prologue, and an 'interlude'. The story ties into gameplay quite nicely, thank you very much.

Something is afoot at Mount Hikami and the village immediately below it. Spooooky things. Previously a popular tourist area, the mountain is now a notorious suicide spot. The dead wander the area at night, and young women are drawn there never to be seen again. It's up to you to find out what the fuck's going on – and how it's connected to stories of shrines and something called the 'black water'. You'll meet plenty of ghosts along the way, and you defend yourself with a special camera known as the 'Camera Obscura'. The GamePad acts as the in-game camera in your hands.

Hold the GamePad in front of you and hit X, and the screen provides a camera's-eye view. You'll sometimes need to take photos to reveal hidden objects or provide clues, but it's mostly for combat. You can't get away with simply using the pad as a traditional controller and concentrating on the TV, either. In a neat twist, the ghosts are visible on the TV – but they're much clearer through the camera, which also provides a sort of health bar for them as well as visual cues for the best time to take a picture.

You can't simply keep hitting the photo button until the ghosts go away, you see. There are multiple types of film of varying strength, but only the crappiest one is available in an infinite amount. In addition, the film needs to load after each shot (which can vary by upgrades and type of film used). You'll want each picture to count, therefore. Catch a bunch of spectral objects in a single shot for maximum damage. If you're brave, take a picture at the last possible moment of  a ghost attack for a 'Fatal Frame' – a more powerful shot that also lets you take more pictures rapidly for a few seconds.
The ghosts themselves are, by and large, shit-inducing material. They look suitably disturbing with some great wibbly-wobbly effects, and sound even creepier than they look. They also have a tendency to teleport out of view, hide for a few moments, then reappear somewhere different (often rushing you). This can lead to some very tense parts where you accidentally take a shot that deals little to no damage, and nervously will the film to reload before one or more ghosts make a dive for you.

The story is pretty good, encouraging you to explore for collectables and seek out as many visions (had by interacting with defeated ghosts) as possible. Unfortunately, repetition of locations is the game's main problem, which saps most of the horror out of the experience before the end. The more familiar you are with something, the more comfortable you are with it.

By the time you reach the final chapter the scares are pretty much gone; ghost encounters are just fights, and the final boss fight is, well... just a boss fight. The strong story and multiple endings however will keep you going, and perhaps even encourage replays.

The dead come alive for 3/5.


Luke Kemp

Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water at CeX

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