I miss the survival horror genre. Once upon a time, no console worth its salt would be seen dead without a clutch of survival horror titles to its name, but nowadays they’re as rare as praiseworthy tweets about Konami. I remember happily spending hours watching my housemate Ian complete Resident Evil 2 while I was at university – watching, not even playing. That’s probably a good indication of how much of my time was wasted at university, but it’s also a good indicator of how fascinating these games are to watch. It’s the tension that makes it interesting, the dread of being low on ammo and not knowing what lies around the next corner.
After playing through ZombiU – essentially a first-person survival horror game – I realised there’s a massive survival-horror-shaped hole in my life. Since Resident Evil headed off to reinvent itself as a brodude shooter, there’s been a noticeable lack of traditional survival horror games around, so I was suitably excited about the launch of Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water.
From the general buzz about the game, it seems that it’s not the best in the Project Zero series (it’s game number five), but it was the first Project Zero game I’ve played and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. At first, anyway. But more on that in a minute.
For a start, the graphics are superb – I loved the beautifully drawn backgrounds, featuring suitably grotty and dank Japanese shrines, and the character models are superb. Plus the plot is brilliantly eerie – the full horror that’s been unfolding on the mountain is revealed slowly, with many a gruesome turn. Sadly, the dialogue is very much in keeping with that of traditional survival horror games – i.e. it’s not very good. We don’t quite reach the ‘Jill sandwich’ level, but the option to switch from English audio to Japanese was a welcome one.
The start of the game is excellently scary, as all sorts of horrid-looking ghosts leap out on you from all angles while you do your best to bat them away. But unfortunately we end up seeing the same old spirits a bit too often, and they gradually lose their power to scare as you encounter them again and again. Not only that, it’s pretty easy to avoid their attacks once you’ve mastered the ‘dodge’ button, so by the end, each encounter felt more like a slow dance than a battle to the death. The sheer number of shots needed to down a ghost is also a bit of a bind – it strikes me that a much better idea would be to have much quicker, deadlier ghosts that only need one shot to ‘kill’. This would have made for a much more tense game, forcing you to be wary as you explore but also quick off the draw.
Repetition is what sucks the life out of the game in the end. For example, there’s a great sequence where you flick between security cameras to keep an eye on your slumbering companions and then head off to attack any ghosts that show up (complete with scary static and ghosts suddenly appearing in front of the camera). But later on this idea is recycled again almost verbatim, which rather takes the shine off the concept.
Similarly, there’s rampant reuse of locations – we’re not quite talking the police station in Resident Evil 2 here, but it does begin to get a little wearisome towards the end when you’re stumbling through the same old places. More importantly, the reasons for revisiting the mountain begin to border on the absurd. The three main characters all have to venture onto the peak to rescue (and sometimes re-rescue) various people as the game goes on, and by about the sixth time they’ve been up and down the mountain it starts to get a bit ludicrous. Rather than all staying up there until their business is done, they keep jogging back home for a snooze at the end of each episode. And then the next morning they head back under some flimsy pretext, despite having encountered dozens of horrific, blood-sucking ghosts the day before. Either the characters are all eternal optimists or they’re enormous gluttons for punishment – it would make more sense if there was some sort of evil force that trapped them on the mountain.
I enjoyed the game whole-heartedly until about two-thirds of the way through, but by that point the repetition became a bit wearing – and the extra mission at the end featuring Ayane from Dead or Alive was pointless fluff. There’s a great game here, but it’s stretched a bit too thin – it’s still good, but if it was half the length it would have been far punchier and more memorable.