The Project Zero 5 verdict: it’s good

After spending a few incredibly creepy hours with Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water for Wii U, I can safely say that it’s thoroughly enjoyable and incredibly creepy. Especially when playing it on your own with the lights down.

The game arrived on Friday, complete with lots of lovely gear, and I managed to get in a decent playing session last night – then attempted to get to sleep with thoughts of child ghosts leaping out on me from a haunted wood. Child ghosts are just the worst, aren’t they?

Spot the child ghost. Brrrrrrr.....
Spot the child ghost. Brrrrrrr…..

The game has reviewed widely varying review scores, with much of the negative criticism centring on how the game is too similar to its predecessors and lacking in innovation. But seeing as this is the first Project Zero game I’ve played, those criticisms barely apply in my case. It was actually quite refreshing to go back to old-school survival horror.

And the controls are definitely old school – although the movement doesn’t feature Resident Evil‘s infamous ‘tank’ controls, moving your character around is just as clunky. There’s a considerable delay between pressing down to turn your character around and them actually completing the action – the people in this game all appear to be wading through treacle. Likewise, the ‘run’ is barely a trot.

But all of this just adds to the atmosphere as far as I’m concerned – in survival horror games like this, wrestling with the controls is just part of the appeal. There’s nothing like being attacked by several ghosts at once and whipping the Camera Obscura out in a panicked attempt to fight them off – but instead looking at the floor and spinning around wildly while desperately trying to get the enemies in your viewfinder. The controls are intentionally difficult – the game wants you to fail. But importantly, it’s not impossible. I’m already getting better with practice, even though most of my attempts to fend off ghosts are more flailing than finessed.

I like the way the game does things slowly – it’s all about slow build-ups, eerie walks through darkened forests and impending dread as you shuffle down creaking corridors. Even picking up objects takes an age as you reach down slowly to grab the item, and sometimes a ghost hand will shoot out to get you instead. It’s a cheap scare, but effective.

And speaking of cheap scares, the game made me jump numerous times thanks to ghosts variously leaping out of cupboards or popping up behind me, although one of the most effective moments wasn’t a jump scare at all. As I was crawling down a collapsed corridor, I suddenly noticed a pair of ghostly feet dangling above me, as if they belonged to a man hanging from a noose. I quickly stood up and looked around, but there was nothing there. And nothing appeared there again, no matter how many times I went back… making me wonder whether I’d imagined the whole thing. Brrr.

I can’t wait to dive back in and see what else the game has to offer!