reviews\ Nov 30, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Fatal Frame - XB - Review

The name "Fatal Frame" comes from the game's unique combat system.  You shoot the dead...but without bullets.  Bullets can't harm things that can't be penetrated, making them completely useless against any foe in this game.  Knives, rocket launchers and other common survival/horror weapons are nowhere to be found in Fatal Frame.  The only weapon you have is -- drum roll please -- a camera.  Enemies consist of ghosts, most of which are not very nice.  By shooting, per se, the ghosts with the camera, their spiritual energy is drained and sucked into the camera.  When all of a ghost's energy is drained, it dies.  The energy that is drained can then be used to upgrade the camera and enhance its picture-taking powers.

If you think that this is one of the most ridiculous concepts for a game, you're not alone.  I too thought that this was a bit strange.  But there was a lot of good buzz surrounding Fatal Frame, and I love survival/horror games so I couldn't resist trying it.  I'm glad I did, because I would have been a complete idiot to overlook this incredibly entertaining game just because it looked and sounded weird.  As it turns out, the sound is magnificently horrifying; the gameplay is slow, yet never boring; and the story is frightening, unique and somewhat believable!  I don't buy the "taking pictures of the dead" aspect, but put that aside and you've got a shocking story that seems very real, whether you believe in evil ghosts or not.

Without giving away any of the story's creepy details, Miku (the main character) is exploring an abandoned mansion in search of her brother, who had disappeared recently.  Her brother went there looking for a researcher, who had also disappeared recently after visiting the mansion.  That's not a good sign for Miku.  Once inside the mansion, she finds her brother's camera, which he had taken to snap some pictures of the place.  Miku picks it up, not knowing what do next.  After exploring the mansion a little bit more, subtle hints begin to point her in the right direction.  Ghosts reveal themselves from afar, too afraid to get close to the living.  Players with quick reflexes will find that they can snap a few great photos at this point in the game, but no points will be received if they don't take the picture fast enough.  (Points are an integral part of your success in this game, just as souls are in Onimusha.)

Soon enough, a ghost attacks poor Miku.  In her attempt to escape, she snaps a picture of the ghost, harming it.  This is when she realizes that she can defend herself against the unruly spirits that live in the mansion.

Fatal Frame's gameplay is unlike anything else out there.  While exploring, the game is played from a standard, third-person view.  When using the camera, the game switches to a first-person, in-the-camera view.  The controls seem a tad slow at first, but very smooth and precise, and after a little practice, most of the game's functions become second nature.  Ghosts aren't the only things that must be "shot;" certain objects must be photographed to reveal various hints and secrets that will lead you to the game's conclusion.  Miku has a Filament that lights up whenever she approaches a ghost or an important object.  The controller may vibrate as well, proving that there is definitely something that needs to be photographed.

The most terrifying thing about the game is that this is all all-new territory that has yet to be explored: gameplay that is unique, and scenarios that are eerie enough to actually scare you.  If Silent Hill 2 and the latest Resident Evil games just weren't creepy enough for you, then get ready for Fatal Frame, the scariest survival/horror game released since the first Silent Hill.

The majority of the game takes place in the mansion.  While familiar at first, once inside, you'll see that Fatal Frame is not at all a Resident Evil clone.  The mansion's design is very unique and original.  Polygon backgrounds are used in place of the pre-rendered backdrops featured in all but one of the Resident Evil games, opening up a world of creepy possibilities for the developers to utilize.  The camera follows your character at all times, but it frequently changes its angle to further enhance the creepiness of the situation.  An empty, ghost-less room becomes all the more horrifying when the music is pumping, the controller is shaking and the camera is angled in such a way that you can't see everything around you.  Danger could be lurking around any corner.  Or could it?  It's the unknown that makes this game scary.  If you knew what was going to happen next, or could at least assume that a monster was going to, say, pop out of a closet, then Fatal Frame wouldn't be scary at all.  But this game is good at keeping its secrets hidden, and it does a stellar job of terrifying you with the same kind of tricks that the best filmmakers use.

At the end of the night (or day, depending on when you stop playing the game), Fatal Frame is a truly rewarding survival/horror experience.  You'll walk away from this one a little shaken, and will want to come back for another scare.  Don't be fooled by the Teen rating -- its content may be suitable for young teens, but that doesn't mean it won't give them nightmares.  It's pretty clear that the ESRB cares more about blood and gore (which this game has very little of, hence the Teen rating) than actual content.  This is a game for older, tougher gamers who only have nightmares about creepy things that exist in the real world.

Reviewer's Scoring Details

Gameplay: 8.8
Who would have ever thought that shooting the dead could be so much fun?  Hands down, Fatal Frame is the scariest game of the year.  There is absolutely no reason why you shouldn't play this game.  Unless, of course, you're scared.

Graphics: 9 
Is this a port of a PS2 game?  You could have fooled me!  Fatal Frame's graphics are some of the best that Xbox has ever had.

Sound: 9
Fatal Frame has a near-perfect mixture of terrifying jingles, frightening sound effects, and great, creepy music.

Difficulty: Medium
Not too simple and not too tough, Fatal Frame provides a nice challenge of unique puzzles, fast-moving ghosts and plenty of scary moments to overcome.

Concept: 8.5
This is one of the strangest, most well-executed concepts in the history of the survival/horror genre.  Thank you Tecmo for giving me a reason to be scared again!

Overall: 8.8
Halloween may be over, but that doesn't mean that you should wait till next year to play Fatal Frame -- a creepy survival/horror game from the same company that brought you the Rygar and Ninja Gaiden series.  Tecmo has always surprised me with their innovation and this game is no exception.  Make sure you tell Santa to get you Fatal Frame this Christmas before it's too late.


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