I was a strapping young lad when Project Zero first hit the cold, desolate shores of Northern England. Far too young to actually purchase the game, but not young enough to prevent my dad from scarring me for life. We sat down one winter’s night, booted it up, and I swiftly shat my briefs and watched as life-long scars developed on my teeny-tiny hippocampus. It was a great time. Two decades later and a remaster of the fifth entry, Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water, has landed on modern hardware – is still the spooktacular spectrefest it was back then?
Let’s Go To Mt. Hikami
Maiden of Black Water goes all-in on the plot. You play as either Yuri, Ren, or Miu and are trying to uncover the secrets, tragedy, and solution to Mt. Hikami. There are missing persons, reports of frequent suicides, ghastly sightings, and a history that is steeped in what appears to be Japanese folklore. Going into any more detail than that would be a disservice to the genuinely intriguing events that unfurl as you play. Each character has well-defined motivations, and the big reveals are satisfying and often rather disturbing.
Disturbing is the keyword because, for the most part, I didn’t find Maiden of Black Water scary. That seems to be by design, however. The throws unsettling imagery, powerful themes, and uncomfortable scenes at you regularly, so whilst I was never afraid, I was always on edge. The enemies help in this regard too. Being wraiths, they don’t necessarily need to follow the laws of physics to rustle your shrubberies, and many of the ghosts featured look particularly spine-chilling.
This really comes into play when you engage in combat, which is a major part of Project Zero’s formula. Instead of packing a bunch of high-powered ballistics, you are clutching a camera – the Camera Obscura. This mystical device can send ghosts back to the underworld, but in order to do so, you need to get up close and personal. The damage you deal is based on a number of factors, the biggest one being distance and proximity to danger.
Getting up-close and personal with apparitions is risky, and more than a little bit spooky. The unnatural movements, unorthodox attack methods, and surprisingly detailed visages come together to make for a memorable experience. The combat is also a lot of fun, which is somewhat juxtaposed with horror. Timing your shots so they land just as an enemy is about to land a blow will unleash a Fatal Frame attack. This allows you to push back your pesky poltergeist and perform a string of powerful snaps. There are other ways to stagger and deal damage, such as lenses and maximising points of interest when you take your pictures, giving the game just enough depth to carry the combat for the full 15 hours.
Another benefit of taking quality pictures is the accrual of points. Points can be spent on upgrades at any time, or on consumables between chapters. Upgrades are the best way to spend them, and you have a number of stats you can bump to make your ghost-busting a tad easier. You can also invest points in upgrading your various lenses, which can lead to some pretty powerful picture taking. Finally, you can spend them on costumes too, all of which are ridiculous and are more tongue and cheek, than a serious inclusion. They do verge on voyeurism, however, which does dampen the overall feel of the game. They are optional, thankfully.
Project Zero isn’t the most difficult of games, scary spirits and interesting combat be damned. This is in part due to how bountiful Mt. Hikami is. You will never be short of resources when playing, and your stack of curatives can become quite vast. Death quickly became a choice whilst playing, and at no point did I choose to succumb to my wounds. This carries over to the ammunition too, and even though you have infinite ammo for your weakest type, there was never a point where I felt strapped when it came to my more powerful films. In short, there isn’t much survival in this Survival Horror.
Lengthy and Linear
The game is also incredibly linear, with only a handful of places where you can venture off the beaten path and find something interesting. In fact, large portions of the game feel like they are on rails. At any time you can hold a button and follow a breadcrumb trail to whatever place the game wants you to go to. It’s a handy tool, but the game is much better when that feature is disabled – such as during a puzzle sequence.
The biggest issue with Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water is its length. The game is simply too long at 15 hours, and there wasn’t enough unique content to justify that length. There is a lot of unnecessary backtracking through areas you’ve already seen and explored. You will hit up every part of Mt. Hikami at least three times before the credits roll, and sometimes, way more than that. This always felt like padding, and it’s pretty obvious that this should have been a 7-10 hour experience.
Being a remaster of a Wii-U title, Maiden of Black Water isn’t the prettiest of games going. Texture quality is low, animations can be a bit choppy, and the overall fidelity can leave a bit to be desired. Amazingly, this plays into the game’s strengths, as Project Zero looks distinctly gritty as a result. There’s a veneer of grime and dirt that enhances the games overall feel, even if it looks a bit dated. The black and white found footage cinematics that play when interacting with ghosts are also excellent and are true visual highlights.
The game’s music fits in perfectly too. It’s tense, foreboding, ominous and full of nails. There’s always something going on, whether it be subtle environmental rumblings, a dramatic musical stab, or rising tensions through screeching strings. My only complaint is with the voice acting, which is generally pretty awful. The distortion that warps each ghost’s dying wail is also a little bit grating.
Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water is a thoroughly enjoyable game that nails its atmosphere, story, characters, and combat. Its unique brand of horror is interwoven throughout, and what few complaints I have, don’t ruin what is an otherwise great game. Fingers crossed we see more games in the series make a return.
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