STAFF REVIEW of Fatal Frame (Xbox)

Saturday, December 21, 2002.
by Queasy Buddy

Fatal Frame Box art There are no zombies, dinosaurs or giants, as a matter of fact there's not much of anything for most of Fatal Frame, except you and a big, empty mansion. The terror in this game isn't in your face, it's behind you for a split second, then it's beside you, then it's gone: lots of big open space, no corners to hide in to feel protected and safe. Most survival horror titles have an abundance of enemies, the fear caused by the feeling of being overwhelmed, Fatal Frame kinda sneaks up and grabs you from the dark, and when you spin around, it's gone. The fear comes from a lack of control of the situation; the ghosts fade in and out, and can appear or disappear in the time it takes to focus on them. The strength of Fatal Frame was its story, and the game structure, and the slowly emerging relationship between them. The protagonist (and player) experienced a strange, distorted world -- and then an even more distorted and horrific world -- and then both worlds collided, mixed, and finally fragmented into complete psychosis. Really, that's what I remember the game being like. The descent into madness, pardon my cliche; they did it right. And, one step behind that sequence, the protagonist learned things. Not everything was explained; but you could guess (eventually) why there were two worlds, what that meant, and why they fell apart. Why, in fact, your first guesses were wrong, and that the madness had been there all along. When my friend and I play, in front of my xbox, in the dark; there was barely a rare ten minutes when you could not hear us say, "Holy crap." Or "This is insane." Or "This is freakin' nuts." Or "Aaaaa." We said "Aaaaa" to each other a lot, as I recall. The designers understand pacing. And timing. (Timing is a single unanticipated thump; pacing is a long walk in the dark, during which nothing happens at all. Both are necessary.) The sound design is terrific. The design of the ghost, their movement, is terrific. Horrific. Aweful. The layout of the buildings is given a great deal of thought. They're realistic, but blocked and locked doors guide the path of exploration, and therefore the path of the storyline. A bit of backtracking, but not much. From the very moment you fire up the game it oozes class (to borrow a phrase from Fagin a fellow dooyooee, as it's so appropriate). The opening FMV sets the tone perfectly for the game, sweeping through haunting images, enticing and confusing. The quality of this is maintained throughout the various cut-scenes within the game which slowly draws you into the plot. While the gameplay is clearly derivative of Resident Evil, the detail and subtlety of the puzzles are far superior to any of Capcom's challenges and will only be mastered by the most patient and persevering gamer.

The game play was good for the most part but I felt that there could have been more ghosts standing in your way. Because of puzzles the game could have lasted a lot longer then it needed to and some time I got confused where I was going because the designers made some of the hallways look the same. So Fatal Frame was not too easy and not to hard and had a great game play. Unfortunately you are not alone within the mansion. There happens to be an unhealthy smattering of otherworldly ghost intended on feasting on your soul. Consequently you have to show your prowess in various self defense techniques but the only way your going to kill a ghost is with your antic camera, which captures the ghost?s souls and eventually kills them .But this is no gung-ho show, oh no. While the evil critters, given half a chance, are persistent and deadly, they are not the biggest challenge. Silent Hill is puzzle central and will challenge your intellect as well as your hand-to-eye coordination. And if that wasn't enough, Fatal Frame is constantly flipping to its alternate dark side, enveloping your surroundings in gothic gloom, which constantly disorientates you with spatial warps and tricks. The darkness dominates the game generating a very claustrophobic, oppressive ambience, that turns your soul into a dark puddle if you play for too long (seriously). The game itself is rather lengthy, taking place over four nights, and after completing the game the first time new options are unlocked, allowing for further exploration of the game. Playing through a second time with a bit more of understanding of the camera special functions and power-ups allows for a different approach to the game and adds some length to the life of the game as well. There are certainly many shots that were missed the first time through, resulting in a lengthier time upgrading the camera, its worth going back in for a second round, which is where I am now.

Graphically Fatal Frame was is pushing its host hardware. The swirling fog and pitch-black darkness served a big purpose and that purpose was to provide a bleak and disturbing nightmare vision of a mansion gone mad. The visuals were the best thing because everything was dark and misty. Most of the walls and rooms have blood smeared on the walls and the floor. Another thing they did was make some backgrounds look like time had wore then down. The camera angles helped a lot with the games atmosphere. Rather than Silent Hills angles were the camera free flows as you move, skewing and spiraling, the angles are more like Resident Evil's static angles. Cut scenes are presented as scratchy, old, eight millimeter film reels, either in black and white or sepia tone. With the exception of the black and white game intro the majority of the game is played in color, but with a very dark, washed out scheme. Blurring effects are used on most of the apparitions on multiple levels, giving them a smoky appearance; there, but then again not quite there. Scary as these specters may be (and beautiful-the look of the ghosts moving about highlights Fatal Frame's superb graphics), the overall atmosphere enhances the nervous fright. This is one to play in the dark and to play loud.

Without sound, visuals are nothing. Whilst the soundtrack never did make for easy listening it drew the player into the nightmare with some unforgettable sound to accompany specific set pieces found within the game. The air raid siren that accompanied the light-to-dark, concrete-to-steel changeover was well done. The white noise (or radio static), used in cut scene was implemented well; the dual purpose was that the sound, just like the lamp, not only guided the player, but also alerted the enemy of their presence. Sound was key in this survival horror game because you would hear things that were not there or hear things bang around so this is another thing that added to the atmosphere. I remember one time when I was in a room and then heard a window shatter and that made me just about jump out of my skin. No pounding soundtrack, just the sound of your own footsteps, and off-screen whispers, creaks, the laughing of children and the wails of the dead from time to time.

Fatal Frame was undoubtedly a great game and is worthy of an inquisitive look. I don?t really have any suggestions for this game therefore all I have to say is Great job guys.

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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