With the Wii nearing the end of its life cycle, itâ€™s easy to understand why publishers arenâ€™t in a hurry to throw a bunch of money at new IPs for the console. What doesnâ€™t quite make sense though is that, despite the Wii having been declared dead for the last 12 months, it has possibly been the best 12 months of the Wiiâ€™s cycle and Project Zero 2 (PZ2) serves to prove that point.
The Project Zero (or Fatal Frame) franchise has been around for over a decade now with the original release of PZ2 back in 2004. The series has always been lauded as one of the scariest franchises in gaming and, with critics and consumers loving it as much as they did, it was only a matter of time before it got a remake on a current gen console.
Project Zero 2 follows the story of twin sisters Mio and Mayu. While visiting a spot they used to play in as kids, Mayu gets distracted by some glowing red butterflies and wanders off. When Mayu finally catches up they discover that theyâ€™ve walked right into a rather bizarre and fog shrouded village. While at first it seems to be abandoned, the sisters are soon surrounded and tormented by the damn souls of the villagers, trapped in limbo due to a failed sacrifice. Mayu, still transfixed by the glowing red butterflies, becomes entangled in the nightmare playing out in the village and itâ€™s up to Mio and a rather fancy ghost injuring camera to get the two of them out of there.
For gamers that may not be fully up to play on the Project Zero series, there are no guns, no blades, no sharp pointy sticks. The whole idea of this franchise is to put you in an extremely vulnerable state and give you one simple device to get past any oncoming threat: the Camera Obscura. This camera is quite similar to a camera you might have found in the 60s, but with the added ability to deal damage to the souls of the damned. While you can upgrade the power of the film used, using the camera makes you even more vulnerable than you were before, with limited movement and, quite frankly, a frustrating control scheme.
The one aspect that really brings Project Zero 2 down from being a must-have is that, for the majority of the game, if not the entirety, youâ€™ll be struggling against what should have been a perfect fit for the Wiimote. Youâ€™d think that with a game all about pointing and shooting a camera that the IR sensor would come into play in some form, but instead the game has been given the gyroscope treatment; tilt the Wiimote back and your character will ever so slowly look up and vice versa for down. This unto itself wouldnâ€™t be so bad if that was the only problem with the controls, but itâ€™s just not to be.
The biggest confusion comes in the form of the mixed controls when using the camera. For some reason Tecmo Koei decided to map the horizontal controls to the analog stick and the vertical controls to the Wiimote. The lock on button, when in aiming mode, is also the jog button; so, in tense moments of concentration, itâ€™s easy to lose control of which controller moves which axis, drop the camera to your side, and jog nonchalantly into an oncoming soul. It will leave you frustrated and in some moments leave you dead..... which will lead to more frustration.
Project Zero 2 does away with pesky auto-saves and skippable cutscenes, so the rule of thumb here is that if you see a save point, you use it. Nothing screams â€śturn me off and play something elseâ€ť more than fumbling controls, dying and having to replay the last 20 minutes; if youâ€™re going to have that system in a game at least make the cutscenes skippable so that the player can get back to where they were in the fastest way possible.
PZ2 really is a throwback to how games used to be before developers decided that they needed to inform you where to go every step of the way. The lost village the twin sisters roam isnâ€™t overly big so when you hit a locked door and have no idea where youâ€™re supposed to be going, instead of checking a map that shows you exactly where to go, youâ€™ll have to make your way back through hallways you were specifically trying to avoid before just to see if there was something you missed earlier on. This works for the most part, but there are moments where youâ€™re expected to go try doors that were locked before despite having been given no indication that they're now usable.
But it isnâ€™t all gripes and growls; past the iffy controls is a game that is begging to be played. The atmosphere of the almost abandoned village is amazing and there are moments that are truly chilling in ways that a lot of games only ever wish they could be. No big jump scares here, just an unnerving sense of isolation in a village where walls mean nothing to the demons that are out to get you.
Graphically, Project Zero 2 is the Wii at its best. Sure, the gritty atmosphere and low light probably serve to make the game look better than it is, but it runs smoothly and looks fantastic; heck, there are even physics-based motion on aspects of the girls' clothing. A lot of small details go to make this game a pleasure to look at while also creating a perfect atmosphere to absorb you in. Had the Wii been able to spit out HD graphics, itâ€™d look no worse than a lot of XBLA/PSN games out there.
Like a lot of games these days, the sound is a mixed bag. The tormented souls sound great and the total lack of score makes you feel isolated every step of the way, but the decision to give two Japanese girls in a haunted Japanese village shrouded in Japanese horror tropes English voices just doesnâ€™t seem right. Sure, a lot of people donâ€™t want to read subtitles while absorbing themselves in a horror, but the off lip-synch and british accents only take away from the level of immersion.
In the end, once youâ€™ve gotten to grips with the awkward controls - which, again, could take a few hours - youâ€™ll start to understand why this game has been given the praise that it has. While the revamped Wii controls have done nothing to prove this remake was a good idea and while the Wii wonâ€™t be the console of choice for the majority of the Western fanbase, itâ€™s nice to see a truly mature core game looking so good on it.