If you've found Capcom's Resident Evil series to be less than horrifying as of late, Tecmo has an alternative up their sleeve that they hope will put the bumps back on your goose. Fatal Frame follows the adventures of Miku, a young lady trying to find her missing journalist brother who went off to investigate the Blair Witch-y disappearance of a writer researching the old Himura Mansion. Will these young people never learn?
Naturally the house is haunted by hordes of tortured souls, but Miku can blow them back into the ether by using her mother's special camera as a weapon. Miku can recharge her camera by finding extra-powerful rolls of film scattered around the mansion.
The premise makes Fatal Frame seem like a goofy sort of Ghostemon Snap, but the game controls very well and does a great job of scaring the $#!@ out of you. Fans of Silent Hill 2's Se7en-esque graphics will delight in the similarity of Fatal Frame's aesthetics.
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Taking a cue from the Blair Witch Project, Fatal Frame puts you in the shoes of a shaky teen whose only protection from predatory specters is an old-fashioned camera. Most would probably prefer a gun or Ghostbusters proton pack over a Kodak when zapping paranormal entities, but Miku’s slight, almost helpless disposition is critical to instilling the sense of nakedness one feels in the game. And although Frame risks players not taking this mode of gameplay seriously, especially against some of the more heinous-looking ghosts, keeping a steady hand can be quite challenging during the game’s scarier moments. Piecemeal storytelling through note scraps, journals, audio tapes and news clippings scattered throughout an exquisite Japanese mansion also helps establish an ominous foreboding in the game. Some weaknesses, though, will keep it from being on the top of your horror hit list. Overused, campy sound effects that tend to say “Halloween haunted house,” rather than “survival horror,” and anime-influenced character designs act as constant reminders that FF is indeed just a game. Despite its best intentions, Fatal Frame is definitely a “diet” fright game. It’s perfect if you’re just looking for something with an eerie plot and offbeat gameplay to tool around with. But those who find pleasure in scaring themselves pantless will have better luck watching Richard Simmons Farewell to Fat infomercials at 3 a.m. instead.
Play with the sound up and the lights off (’natch) and Fatal Frame will freak you out, Silent Hill-style. Its dark but sharp graphics, excellent sound effects (used both to scare you and as unique audio clues) and sudden surprises create a wonderfully dreadful overall mood right from the start. Unfortunately, the puzzles are pretty generic, and I never could get into the photo-combat despite the different options and abilities. I’m sure it works for gamers in Japan, where TV shows are dedicated to “oooh”-ing over ghostlike images accidentally caught on film, but it’s not my idea of exciting action or spooky fun. Still, a great late-night rental if you have the patience.
“Mommy!" That’s what I would whimper every time I turned around to find a ghoul standing silently over my shoulder, or when a pack of undead infants would materialize and creep toward me on the floor. An unheralded entry into the survival-horror genre, Fatal Frame performs admirably, with a unique premise, solid control and excellent Sezen-esque presentation. Sure, taking pictures of the dead to destroy them is kind of goofy, but powering up your camera with various enhancements makes you feel like a photographic badass. The enemies are tougher and more frequent in the brutal second half, but I still enjoyed every thrilling moment.