There has been a distinct lack of truly scary games on the market for a while now. Even the entries in the series that used to be the go to game for inducing fear have lost their edge. However, one title that still manages to scare the ever loving crap out of gamers with even the mention of it’s name is the Fatal Frame series.
The original Fatal Frame was released in 2001 for the Playstation 2 by remerged developer Temco. The game was originally called Zero in Japan and dubbed Project Zero here in Europe, for once it seems the U.S. has the best title. The series exclusively appeared on the PS2 until the fourth game (unreleased outside of Japan) came out on the Wii. The jump to Nintendo seems to be permanent as Spirit Camera would also be exclusive to the Nintendo 3DS.
Unlike other games in the horror genre that pit you against unholy monsters such as mutants or the undead, the Fatal Frame series of games threw you up against vengeful spirits, an enemy that couldn’t be shot, stabbed or pushed away. Spirits can fade from sight at will and pass through solid objects, they can come from anywhere at any time, they could be right beside you before you ever notice them.
Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir is a spin-off game from the main Fatal Frame series. It works in very much the same way as the previous games in the series did, placing the player in a ghost story, their only defence being an artefact called the Camera Obscura. Spirit Camera makes heavy use of the augmented reality and gyroscopic features of the system in all of its gameplay, leading many to call it a gimmick game right away.
In Spirit Camera, the console itself takes on the role of the Camera Obscura, while the environment around you is the setting for the events. One of the problems I had with the game come into play right off the bat as a result of it being set in the player’s actual surroundings. Right at the start of the game it says you need to play it in a well lit area in order for the augmented reality features to work properly.
Already, this takes much of the horror element out of the game. The only time I managed to play the game without any problem was in the middle of the say with my blinds wide open as well as my light on. The game needs so much light to function properly that it’s hard to be scared by anything that goes on in the game. Even when I finished it one evening, the light in my room was barely enough for the camera to pick up the images in the book with enough clarity to actually work, meaning I couldn’t play the game at night.
The game’s main story mode is the ‘The Purple Diary’. Many of the functions of the game make use of a small 16 page book filled that is bundled along with the game. The diary is filled with random images from sheet music to shredded photographs that mean very little on their own, but all change in different ways once you look at them through the lens. As the player, you receive the diary one day with no explanation as to where it came from, using their Camera Obscura you decide to investigate the mysterious book, only to be sucked into it and into a haunted house upon glancing at the first page.
A brief segment within the house follows that actually seems like something from a Fatal Frame game before the spirits eject you back into reality. You find that a friendly ghost name Maya has followed you out of the house, she warns you that now you’ve been in the house you’re cursed. While she has no memory of anything within the house, she knows it is controlled by a spirit known as the lady in black who collects the faces of people who enter her house.
From that point on, the game is an investigation of the purple diary in order to find a way to break the curse. Maya provides much of the story of the game through dialogue, she tells you about the book and various objects you find. Each of the pages in the diary react with the camera at different points, to different ends. Quite often, to see what it really happening in a page, you must solve a puzzle to unlock it.
The most interesting part of the story is seeing how each page in the diary interacts with the game through the augmented reality; you will often be tasked with doing something to unlock the contents of the page completely, usually through changing lens on the camera or moving the diary itself in some way. Some of the best parts of the game resulted from these puzzles, for example, turning on a lamp on a page to light a hole in a photo in the previous page.
Most of the game’s best moments are created through this function; probably my favourite part of the game has you looking for something in the book when splatters of blood start to drop down on it from above. Where this lead I won’t tell you, but it was the only part of the game that made me forget I was spinning around in my room with my 3DS held at arm’s length.
I say that, because this is where the combat comes in. The game’s enemies are the vengeful spirits you meet in the diary that follow you out into reality, each of these fights takes place using the augmented reality. I feel that this is where the game stumbles a little, it really takes you out of the game a bit. Fights require you to physically move the device around in order to find your target, any open windows around alone cause for a very unscary case of white out to happen on your screen.
Imagine how I felt when a family member walked in to me spinning on the spot ‘looking for ghosts’. The actual mechanics of combat itself are very similar to the combat seen in the older fatal frame games. Ghosts stalk around you, keeping them within the lens in order to charge the camera’s power, you take their picture just as they are about to attack in order to block them. Because there is no part of the game where you aren’t looking through the camera’s lens, it can feel rather static at times.
Another oddity I noticed was that because I played the game in my bedroom, which isn’t the biggest room in the house, many of the ghosts I would encounter would be standing in my wall as though it went on for miles, something else that kind of takes you out of the moment.
Overall, the story mode is very brief, and can be beaten in an hour. While the content is intriguing while it lasts, it doesn’t last anywhere near long enough. How the developers made use of the augmented reality was really effective and is by far the best part of the game, but with only 16 pages, it doesn’t last anywhere near long as it should.
Aside from the story mode, there are two additional modes called Spirit Camera and Cursed Pages. The spirit camera mode allows you to take and save picture of things and people around you, when the pictures develop, certain paranormal events appear within the images. You can also turn your friends into vengeful spirits for you to fight as well as check how haunted their person is. These all seem like features that you could probably find on an iPhone app though.
Cursed Pages mode actually contains gameplay, with four mini-games that are unlocked as you progress through the game. They let the players replay various puzzles from the story to varying degrees of difficulty including a Three-card Monte type game where you follow the eyes of certain masks to work out where a ghost is. These mini-games are actually the content that can take the most time from the player if they have a mind to continue playing them and trying to beat old top scores.
The game is fun, but extremely limited, you can see everything the game has to offer in an afternoon. The voice acting ranges from pretty wooden to downright annoying, although this can be avoided altogether if the player chooses to play the game listening to the original Japanese voice acting, which I would defiantly recommend. Also, the game isn’t scary, not in the slightest. The fact that you need to play the game under a sun lamp ,coupled with the only ‘jump’ moments actually being pretty obvious before the fact, takes away any sense of fear the player may experience when playing it.
There is no point in the game where you find yourself exploring any location, wondering if you’re safe or not. There is constantly something happening in the game, giving the players no chance to be alone with their own thoughts. There is no build up in gameplay and you know something is going to happen each time you open the book. While it is just a spin-off, aside from the combat style is it almost unrecognisable from the original entries in the Fatal Frame series.
While the unique gameplay features the 3DS provides does make for a different and interesting experience, I can’t really recommend The Spirit Camera. There are some good moments in the game and the use of its augmented reality is probably the sole reason for actually picking. It just never got it’s hooks into me, despite the incredibly short play length, it still took me three sittings to finish. It’s not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination; it just doesn’t provide enough content to be worth a purchase in my opinion. I’d say borrow it or rent it if you can, it’s an interesting title, but not a great game.
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