I'm a big fan of traditional or "true" survival horror, a genre that has been in increasingly short supply, with The Evil Within being the only notable release in the last few years; the horror genre itself seems to have largely moved onto either weaponless hiding/running simulators or third-person action games with a few scares thrown in. So, when Nintendo announced it was bringing Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water (the fifth entry in the 'Fatal Frame' series as it's known in the US) across from Japan I was very excited indeed and remember staying up late whilst on holiday in Kyoto to preorder the limited physical release. This series is probably the only major "true" survival horror franchise in which I've no experience, I'd never played a single Project Zero game before I picked up this latest entry, and only knew what to expect based off the Japanese trailers on YouTube. I even forgot that I'd preordered it until it got near the release date and the reviews started to pour in, and what a divisive mixed bag they were!! Trusted websites of mine (Destructoid and Eurogamer) gave the game middle-to-low scores and my favourite print publication (Edge) gave it a high 8/10, so I was apprehensive about dropping a load of money on a game which may-or-may-not be worth it. My wife convinced me to keep the preorder as it looked like the sort of videogame I would enjoy, and I'm *so* glad that I listened to her advice. Despite the complete polar opposition of some reviews, I ended up *loving* this game and Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water terrified me for a couple of weeks straight as I worked my way through the mysteries surrounding Mt. Hikami and the curse of the black water.
The plot of Maiden of Black Water concerns three central protagonists (Yuri, Ren and Miu), who live and work at the base of the mountain, and who are mostly involved with psychic investigations finding missing people who have wandered up the cursed mountain to commit suicide; in a scenario not too dissimilar to the real life "Sea of Trees" in Japan. They each have their own reasons for investigating the dark forests and abandoned shrines littering the mountain, and even though the game repeatedly involved going back and forth from the antiques store (a sort of safe location where exposition takes place between chapters) to the mountainside I never found it to be out-of-character or silly like some of the reviewers did. If your best friend and mentor who had saved your life was trapped in a ritualistic sacrificial coffin somewhere in the forest would you really just leave her to die? Or go to bed and call the police in the morning knowing that she was probably dead in the meantime? No, even though it's terrifying you'd get your ass back up the maintain to save her! Similarly, the way that the plot unfolds is actually well paced and the notes and books used to fill in the backstory and mythology of Mt. Hikami, and the native religion of the surrounding area, are a great help too. One thing I would say though it that the voices should *definitely* be set to Japanese, as the voice acting is fantastic and very evocative of 90's era J-Horror like Ringu or Ju-On; the English cast in comparison are amateurish and flat in their delivery, leading to a dislike of the characters and misunderstanding of their motivations
The presentation of Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water is very good, and I've used screenshots from my MiiVerse playjournal to hopefully illustrate how good the game looks visually. While it's not going to give The Order 1886 a run for its money, it's still well made and perfect for the style of game, although some of the flat textures and simple geometry give it a "HD remake" look rather than that of an up-to-date modern engine; this is par the course for "true" survival horror and it looks at least as good as The Evil Within. As you may have read, the gameplay is split between the TV screen and using the Gamepad to control the "camera obscura", the psychic camera that you use to exorcise angry ghosts and your only weapon in the game. Recommendation from other reviewers was to set the camera control to the right stick, but I found myself switching the motion controls back on and playing with those instead, as it feels more natural and a better fit for the game. The right stick can still pull the view about but having the added nuance of gyroscopic control just made the aiming and shooting smoother and more fun; especially the odd occasions where I leant forward in my chair so that I could freely spin about and catch some of the faster ghosts whizzing around me. The character controls are slow and measured, but there is a run button and the absence of quick turn is intentional, in its place you have a "dodge" quick-time prompt that not only avoids an enemy attack but automatically spins you around to face them. To be honest, I really enjoyed the way that Maiden of Black Water felt to play and had no problems with it.
As you progress through the game you earn points for how well you snap the ghosts, for additional "spirit photographs" that you can capture showing eerie going's on, and for not using special film or healing items unless you absolutely need to. These points can be spent on upgrading your 'camera obscura' and the various additional lenses you find for it, which unfortunately can make the game a little on the easy side once you're in the final third; I eventually had a max-level "slow lens" that slowed enemy movement to a crawl and allowed me to make light work of the final boss. Still, despite this I actually found the game *TERRIFYING* and it caused me many a sleepless night, largely due to my own personal phobia of ghosts and the unknown, but I'm aware this is a subjective thing and your mileage may vary (for what it's worth I don't find games like Outlast scary in the slightest). If you are a fan of traditional "true" survival horror, especially games like the original Silent Hill or Siren games, then it is definitely worth giving Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water a go, just expect slow tank-like controls and a creepy rather than jump-scare filled atmosphere. Personally, I *loved* this game and it has been one of the surprise hits of the year for me; and at around 20 hours with additional unlockable content and bonus chapters it's a generous old-school videogame to boot.