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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water.

Transcript Edit

Well, it's that time of year again. The stockings have gone up, and the owner of the stockings has been paid $20 and left my motel room. Yes, it's almost Christmas, and there's just time to get caught up with something I missed before the end-of-year roundup: Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water on the Wii U. If you're not familiar with this franchise, it's kind of like Ringu by way of Pokémon Snap: you take candid paparazzi photographs of Japanese ghosts so all their ghost cellulite gets put on display in Ghost Cosmopolitan and they die of shame.

The series is called Fatal Frame in the US, which is one of the few cases of an American localization change I wholeheartedly support. Not only is Fatal Frame snappier, no pun intended, but it actually means something. It's a game about death and photography- "Fatal Frame". It is not a game about whatever the fuck Project Zero means. What, are we taking pictures of ghosts for our school project, which is the prequel to the first school project we made? Or maybe I'm pronouncing it wrong, and it's Pro-ject Zero, as in a game about characters from Metal Gear Solid 3 being forcefully thrown out of a nightclub.

In any case, Fatal Frame games always have the exact same plot: One or more schoolgirls with skirts so short you can practically see their labial folds peeking out the bottom like the questing feelers of a tunneling spider is trapped in a dilapidated area that's really haunted because some kind of death-torture ritual was conducted in the past there by someone with really liberal interpretations of Japanese Shintoism, and there are pretty good odds that one or more characters will turn out to be the reincarnations of somebody or other.

In this case, the severely under-dressed schoolgirls are trapped on a mountain that's haunted because some crazy motherfuckers were packing young women in gift boxes out of devotion to the FedEx branch of Shintoism. And speaking of liberal interpretations, Maiden of Black Water has strange ideas of what "trapped" means. Every single chapter ends with the current protagonist going, "Oh no, we're in the middle of a haunted forest full of inescapable hostile ghosts who want to claim our soul, how can I possibly get out of this one? Oh, I know! I'll fuck off home, eat my tea, and have a bit of a sleep, then contrive a new reason to come back to this deadly haunted mountain tomorrow night!"

Usually, the reason is to look for a missing person. One wonders why we couldn't save time and look for two or three of the established missing people while we're up there, but whatever, maybe we're getting paid by the day. If we find the missing person dead, we fight their ghost, if they're alive, we take them home and go, "Well, this possessed person who keeps wandering off obviously needs their space. Let's put them to bed, unsupervised, in an unlocked room, and then sit at a desk for six hours frowning at something." I swear this happened like, twice for every character in the game, and I only played up to about halfway through the story.

Frankly, I ended up rooting for the ghosts, because ironically, they were the livelier ones. They're dead and angry, so they're going to take it out on the living. That shows about ten times the capacity for rational decision making as the alive characters ever display. At least they don't react to deadly supernatural threats by raising their eyebrows a quarter of an inch over the course of about ten seconds. At least they don't run like they're running through a boy's locker room with very sticky floors, flapping their limp wrists left and right going, "No, please don't flick me with your towels, tee hee!"

See, I've enjoyed Project Fatal Zero Frame games in the past. I found them slow-paced, but uniquely atmospheric. But Fatal Frame: Pirates of Dark Water- Who remembers that?!- takes the "slow-paced" thing a bit too far. Over and over again, we go through the same maps, fighting the same ghosts. Over and over again, our character sees something frightening and reacts like she just realized she forgot to take the library books back. At one point during a cutscene, the camera holds on an establishing shot of some teacups for like, six whole seconds- I fucking counted. And as for atmosphere, it's got the atmosphere of a party thrown to celebrate a successful mass lobotomization.

Part of that's the Wii's screen controller; using it as the camera made sense in theory, since it's built like a Fisher-Price "My First Smartphone", but immersion was impossible. Every time I'd gaze at a shift from the TV to the controller, it would also track over my poorly-vacuumed carpet and growing mountain of foul-smelling tissues, and my brain would go, "We're not in a haunted forest! We're in our flat, trying to stave off the inevitable moment of drunken self-reflection!" Besides, teleporting behind you is the only source of entertainment in the life of a ghost, and the controller tilty-controls aren't much help at that point, unless you're sitting on a Lazy Susan.

So between the controller, and the boredom, and the characters acting with all the common sense of a lobster in a jacuzzi, immersion is impossible and therefore it's not the least bit scary. Which, as we all know, is the foot that ultimately kicks the chair out from under the bad horror game. I didn't even jump when ghosts suddenly appeared, and jump-scares are as easy as it gets. A cat in a bin can manage a jump-scare, and most cats haven't seen Ringu 1 or 2! Maybe they shouldn't have put great, big indicators on the screen going "Hey, I'm not saying there's gonna be a ghost, but maybe look over there, wink wink!"

Maybe the characters could have reacted like the ghosts were something more than an occupational hazard. Or maybe the game shouldn't have given me 20 uncle-felching healing items at the start of every chapter, and killed any chance of actual challenge! Which leads us to the question, if the game isn't scary, challenging, or interesting, then what does it have left?

Well I'm glad you asked, myself. The answer lies in the mechanic wherein the ghosts get more aggressive the more wet you are. Well, the playable characters are always pretty fucking wet, but I meant in the moisture sense. How you know that you're wet is that your clothing becomes realistically clingy and see-through. Which sheds certain light on the fact that most of the protagonists are teenage girls wearing thin white cotton blouses. Oh, that's right, it's a Koei-Tecmo game. I did wonder why most of the female ghosts were rocking more cleavage than the San Andreas Fault. You know Koei-Tecmo, they make Dead or Alive, which is a fighting game series in the sense that late-night Cinemax films are thrillers.

Now, I'm no harumphing prude, as you know. I'm masturbating right now. I get that cheesecake is a grand, noble tradition in fighting games, which are about larger-than-life characters spreading their legs and jiggling about like they're trying to scratch their itchy assholes with the thread of their G-strings. But an atmospheric horror game is the kind of thing I play in the 20 or 30 minutes of the day that I don't spend masturbating! "No, no, no, no, it's just realism!" I'm sure the game would argue. "Clothes go clingy and see-through when they're wet! That's what happens! Christ, talk about political correctness gone mad." "Granted," I would reply, "But why do our clothes not go clingy and sexy when we're playing as the one male character?" "Oh, are you gonna say that's sexist now? It's just 'cause he wears thicker clothing, 'cause he's a man, and therefore possesses a brain!"

Addenda Edit

  • Bustin' makes him feel good: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Maybe a stupid question but why don't they just power the flashlight with whatever the camera's flash is powered with
  • Maybe that's how Alan Wake came about
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time


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