Monday, July 2, 2012

Review: Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly (Wii)

The Wii has missed out on one of the great trends in the later half of this generation. That trend is, of course, the HD remake. So many popular series’ from the last generation have hit the PS3 and Xbox 360 with gorgeous new HD graphics, and not a whole lot more. And people buy them in droves.

The Wii can’t do HD graphics, of course, so the HD remake is off the table. In its place is the occasional waggle-remake – a classic PS2 or Gamecube game with some gimmicky motion controls strapped on.

So, when I saw that Project Zero 2 was being remade for the Wii – the greatest horror game of all time, bar none – and when I saw the back of the box showed no Classic Controller support, I was immediately terrified, without even putting the game in the Wii console. This is a game where a camera would mandate people point at the screen to “shoot” the enemy ghosts. It was going to be uncomfortable to play and it was going to ruin one of the finest games of all time.

Well, that should relieve the tension.
I’m more than happy to report that I was wrong. Not only is this the most impressive, subtle use of motion controls that I’ve ever experienced, but this game makes such brilliant use of the Wii’s limited hardware that this it possibly the best game that has ever hit the console.

Let’s talk about the visuals first, though. Project Zero 2 has been developed in such a way that it looks like a grainy, B-grade horror film, while a lot of effort has gone into the character models so they appear as detailed as possible. The camera is kept very close to those character models, which limits how much of the environment around them is viewable. All this visual trickery means that it’s difficult to notice how basic the environments are, and when the action is so close up, there’s an immediate intensity to the horror that makes the game engaging in a way that many other modern horror stories have forgotten.

Some of the imagery is truly striking, too. This is a horror game that isn’t afraid to upset or distress players. The overriding theme of the game, much like most Japanese horror, is more sad and bleak than especially angry or violent, and so it tends to evoke as much sympathy as horror. But, when it turns the horror on, it really doesn’t hold back. This is one of the darkest and mature games you’ll ever play.

In keeping with that theme, the story is only spooned out in small doses. Through much of the game the exact cause of everything is a mystery, and so anyone going in to this game for instant gratification is going to be disappointed. Unlike other modern horror games, Project Zero 2 is slow, methodical, and intelligent.

It’s not the perfect game, though. With the camera so close to the characters, it does mean that there are moments whether the gameplay itself is problematic – there’s a slow, plodding pace to the character’s movement, and when visibility is restricted, turning in time to see a threat can be a tense, even frustrating affair. But then, this is a hallmark of a good horror tale as far as I’m concerned – you should at times feel like you’ve not got enough control over your fate.

What is impressive about the control system is the way motion control is implemented. Rather than relying on pointing at the screen to aim the torch, for instance, the game simply asks you to tilt the Wii mote in the direction you want the camera to turn to. This means that the game can be played from a more natural (and more comfortable) position, with the hands by the side or in the lap – and it shows just how much care has gone into working this game into the definitive Wii experience. It didn’t need Motion Plus, the balance board or any other gimmick – it simply needed to get the basics right.

In every way this is the game that horror fans will remember so warmly (perhaps that's the wrong word) – a deeply intense and brutal horror game that just dosen’t let up. And yes, with this Wiimake, it just got even better.

- Matt S




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