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TVG hides behind the sofa to play one of the scariest games released so far – beware the butterflies…
The genre of â??survival-horrorâ? is quite a new one in the history of videogames, becoming recognised in Resident Evil back in 1996 (although purists would argue that Alone in the Dark created the genre four years earlier). Since then, weâ??ve been subjected to all manner of supernatural horrors from zombies to flying demons, all the while trying to escape some of the most haunted places across the world, all from the discomfort of our darkened living-rooms where shadows prepare to pounce.
So it would be a fair deduction to make that if you were to ask most gamers for the name of a survival-horror game, a fair few would chirp up with either â??Resident Evilâ? or â??Silent Hill.â? Some of the more discerning fans of the genre, however, might actually say Project Zero or Fatal Frame, as itâ??s known in the US and Japan. Although Resident Evil and Silent Hill are both firmly rooted in the â??Western Horrorâ? style with both games set in fictitious towns and cities throughout the US, the Project Zero franchise, however, is very much in a similar style of Japanese horror and is visually very similar to perhaps the most infamous â?“ Ringu.
Released on the PlayStation2 in 2002, Project Zero became renowned for offering skin crawling chills to a level that Konamiâ??s and Capcomâ??s efforts just couldnâ??t muster; the Xbox version was released the year after, and brought Japanese Horror to a new fan base. Finally, Project Zero II: Crimson Butterfly was released on PS2 in April 2004, satisfying the survival-horror lust once again. Since that time though, Xbox fans have had to make do with the original game, but thankfully, not for much longer. As compensation to the somewhat lengthy delay incurred by non-PS2 owning Project Zero fans, Tecmo have added several features that are exclusive to the Xbox version of the game, allowing them add the moniker of â??Directorâ??s Cutâ? to the title. Weâ??ll take a closer look at these features a little later on.
If you go down to the woods todayâ?¦
This time around, the story focuses on twin girls, Mio and Mayu, who have visited the woodland close to their home for the last time. Years ago they were playing in the woods when Mayu slipped down an embankment and caused a severe injury to one of her legs, something that plagues her to the present day setting of the game. It is she who is first drawn deeper into the woods when she first comes across the crimson butterflies. As Mio you then follow her until you come across the so-called â??Lost Village;â? and so the story beginsâ?¦
For the most part in the game you play as Mio, although there are times throughout the game where youâ??ll switch over and control Mayu. One of the key differences between the two sisters when you control them is that Mayu doesnâ??t seems to attract the attention of the ghosts and they generally ignore her; a good thing too, because only Mio has control over the camera obscura. The use of twins is very much a plot device, and the developers have obviously seen Kubrickâ??s The Shining one too many times (the scene of the murdered twin girls appearing in the corridor still gets under our skin). Whilst there are a few instances where you need to co-ordinate the actions of both twins, for example when you need to get both girls to stand on pressure pads to unlock a door; there is no real cooperation in the game between the two â?“ a real shame and possibly a wasted opportunity.
In terms of gameplay, Crimson Butterfly isnâ??t exactly the most complex, and is certainly not the most original by any stretch of the imagination; for the most part you control Mio as she runs around from place to place trying to find the relevant keys to progress through the game. At certain times, there are puzzles (the most noteworthy being the return of the Dolls Head puzzles from Project Zero I), but for the most part the gameplay is the old â??Find-the-Keyâ? to get to point B, which will probably please and antagonise gamers in equal measure. Having said that, the game is very solid, and is heavily reliant on telling a story well, something that it very much succeeds in doing. We certainly found ourselves glued to the action in a valiant attempt to crack the narrative, and weâ??re just lucky that the developers have successfully managed to perfect the balancing act intriguing storyline and spirit exorcising action.
As you progress through the game, scraps of paper and notebooks left by previous inhabitants and â??victimsâ?? help to piece together the story before the events currently occurring. Its no real spoiler to say that the ritual in question was a peace offering that closed the gateway to hell, and involved the sacrifice of twins. It seems that something went wrong during one of the rituals, which resulted in the massacre of the entire village leaving it to relive the horror of that night everyday. Which brings us quite nicely to the subject of ghostsâ?¦
Like the previous title, ghosts form an important part of Project Zero II and are both benevolent and malevolent. Benevolent ghosts (normally indicated by the filament in the corner of the screen turning blue) usually give away clues or lead Mio to relevant locations on the map. Malevolent ghosts (indicated by the filament turning red) are violent ghosts that attack both Mio and Mayu, so itâ??s up to Mio to exorcise them before she and her sister join the spirits in the village forever. At first the spirits are only glimpsed and soon disappear into the vapour, but once you discover the Camera Obscura, then youâ??ll start to see them pretty much everywhere be they benevolent, or otherwise. The tricks that are utilised in the game have been used in Japanese cinema for years, to the extent that avid fans of that particular movie genre will notice a couple clichés in the game, such a female ghost clambering out of a well with her long hair covering her facial features, not that we want to point fingers at any specific film, butâ?¦
For those of you looking forward to seeing how Crimson Butterfly links up with the first Project Zero, itâ??s probably worth saying now that the two titles are entirely separate, except for the use of the Camera Obscura. Created by the mysterious Dr. Aso, the camera can capture and defeat spirits and uses a multitude of film stock â?“ but not the kind that youâ??ll find in places like Jessops; after all, what kind of looks would you get if you walked in and asked for Film Type Zero with high exorcism powers?
Fortunately, you wonâ??t have to go the villageâ??s photo store (we suspect that there probably isnâ??t one in any case), since the former inhabitants were obviously fans of David Bailey and have left all manner of film stock lying around the village. Although youâ??ll be armed with Type 07 (weak) at all times, the gameâ??s equivalent of a knife or a thrown punch, is about as effective as a trying to deflect a comet with a firework. Other stronger types of film quickly fill the shutter however, and there is always more of it hidden in drawers or dark corners throughout the game.
The HUD of the Camera Obscura is fairly self-explanatory, and we soon found our feet. The control system does change when the camera is in use (the left analogue stick changes to controls the camera whilst the right analogue stick moves Mio around the room), which does take a little time to get used to, but once you get the hang of it, it quickly becomes second nature. Around the viewfinder is the so-called Ghost Wave Gauge, which fills up when you focus on a ghost; although you can take a shot at this point, itâ??s worth trying get the GWG to turn red indicating that the shot is at itâ??s strongest. One of the key changes between the first and second titles deals with the Camera Obscura in that the first game relied heavily on players working out the movement and attack patterns of the ghosts, whereas in Crimson Butterfly gamers just have to hold their nerve and let the ghosts come to them and take the photo at the last possible moment.
There is a certain RPG element regarding the Camera Obscura that allows you to upgrade it throughout the course of the game. In order to do this, gamer have to recover spirit orbs that are sometimes left behind by an exorcised ghost. Mio can then use the orbs to power-up various elements of the camera from its range to its sensitivity. Using spirit orbs isnâ??t the only way that Mio can upgrade the camera; various lenses can be discovered dotted throughout the environments, and these affect the ghosts in several ways from slowing a ghost down to causing an increased level of damage to the spirits. Itâ??s worth nothing that not all ghosts are vulnerable to the Obscura and we found that in that instance, itâ??s better to run away. Other functions that can be found along the way help to measure the â??healthâ?? of the ghosts as you blast away at them and indicate when to take a Fatal Frame.
As well as spirit orbs, some apparitions leave behind crystals, which Mio can then power a Spirit Stone Radio with. The Spirit Stone Radio works on the basis that crystals kept close to the body â??recordâ?? certain feelings and thoughts that the person may have; the radio reads the crystal and plays those thoughts back for Mio to hear. If youâ??ve seen the film White Noise, then itâ??s a similar sort of thing but with semi-precious stones instead of videotape. This is definitely a narrative driving device and doesnâ??t really aid the search for clues, but it does give a more rounded explanation to the thoughts and feelings of the ghosts who drop the stones.
If you find that Mio is somewhat worse for wears after battling a ghost, the gamers can replenish her health by using either Sacred Water or Herbal Medicine. One of the few gripes about the game is that even though the herbal medicine is only supposed to recover a percentage of Mioâ??s health, youâ??ll find that it pretty much replenishes the whole lot every time â?“ itâ??s not as though the health potions are scarce, because youâ??ll find them in a lot of the nooks and crannies throughout the various buildings so you donâ??t have to worry about dying that much, especially if you pick up one of the Stone Mirrors, which act like a â??continueâ?? in the game. In other words, youâ??ll be hard pressed not to survive the game the first time you play it; itâ??s not the longest of games, which can be forgiven as the narrative could have been stretched beyond our attention spans, but itâ??s the fact that it is quite a simple game to complete.
Light and Shadowsâ?¦
Quite frankly the visuals in Project Zero II are nothing short of stunning and wonâ??t fail to impress you. Whether itâ??s because of the heavily desaturated colour scheme used in the game or the static noise added to the screen, but the quality of the character models and the general environments just look very impressive indeed. There have been some comments made that the faces of the two girls are just too unsympathetic, that they barely show any emotion, and whilst itâ??s true that they donâ??t exactly smile in the game, I think that there is something to be said for the high stress levels that two teenage girls would endure in such a situation; itâ??s all about surviving, thereâ??s plenty of time to cry later.
The environments and indoor locations in the game are bathed in shadow and an almost ethereal glow-like light. The village itself is surrounded by fog and a perpetual darkness. The atmosphere is very much set, and already begins to add a layer of tension that just wouldnâ??t exist if the game was set in the middle of the day. As weâ??ve already said, the game is very much devoid of any colour, except that is for the colour crimson, which is evident in the butterflies (obviously), the lanterns that enable you to save your progress, and the flames that may signify the fires of hell itself (call it a long-shot, but I think that itâ??s an idea worth kicking about;) bits of fabric hang from doorframes and waft gently as you pass through them while clues and items shine on the dusty floorboards and walkways.
One of the most useful objects that Mio finds quite early on is a torch, which thankfully does its best to cut through the fog surrounding the village. It has been done before (for instance in Alone in the Dark 4), but the light effects that have been implemented into the torch is very well done, and once again adds to the visual feast that the game offers.
The game uses the classic â??staticâ?? cameras dotted throughout the environments to create a cinematic effect, and whilst it has proved successful in the past, you canâ??t help thinking that perhaps in light of Resident Evil 4, that the technique is a bit old hat. The technique also means that the age old problem suffered in Survival-Horror titles, in other words the sometimes â??jumpyâ?? controls in-between camera transitions, are quite prevalent in the game, especially if you make Mio run through the environments (something that we did more often than not as she was somewhat slow at just walking.)
Talking about the control system, it has to be said that for the most part it works actually quite well. The quick tap to spin the player controlled character has been removed (aside from the FPS mode â?“ more on that a little later), which means that if you lose sight of a ghost itâ??s probably a good idea to flick back to the third person view and quickly scan the area from the spiritâ??s re-appearance. The other controls are quite intuitive and wonâ??t take long to master; even the controlling the Camera Obscura (something mentioned earlier on) becomes second nature quite quickly.
Creeky floorboards and gentle whispersâ?¦
As with horror movies, the key to generating the uneasy tension in horror video games is the sound, and weâ??re very pleased to say that the level of attention paid to the audio aspects of Crimson Butterfly is evidently huge. The game an eerie ambient soundtrack, which is full of various creeks and whispers â?“ some of which are used in tandem with the controller vibrating to really make you jump when you least expect it. For some segments the only sound will be the tapping of Mioâ??s feet on the dusty floorboards, but you can then find yourself turning a corner only to hear the undead whispering of spirits, be they helpful or dangerous.
The voice work in the game is actually of a high standard, something that the genre isnâ??t perhaps well known for. The two girls sound very convincing and do convey the feeling of fear, and the ghosts can sound both threatening and pitiful, often at the same time. Their sound however is often masked by the quite disturbing sound effect given to the Camera Obscura as it prepares to exorcise a ghost.
The Directorâ??s Cutâ?¦
One of the additional features included exclusively in the Xbox version of Crimson Butterfly is the FPS Mode, which allows gamers too play the game through the eyes of the two girls. In other words, if being a â??3rd person bystanderâ?? wasnâ??t enough to make you soil yourself, then the first person mode certainly will. It is in this mode that the developers have retained the 180 degree spin, which we can be entirely grateful for because other wise it would make the game quite unplayable at certain points in the game when you find yourself attacked in a number of directions by spirits.
The mode is makes for an interesting addition to the game, and players are sure to at the very least try the FPS version of the game, but to be honest it is a little bit gimmicky and the game does lose some of its cinematic quality because of it. The developers also like to give players the creeps even when you let the game go idle for a couple of minutes. Doing so will turn the TV screen to heavy static and images of the dead fade in and outâ?¦All in all, the little extras added into the Xbox version of the game do add a certain quality to the game, but it certainly doesnâ??t need it to make it a high quality game.
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