It pains me dearly to score a Tecmo game so low, but in all good conscience I just cant let them slide. Theyve always been known for extremely fun, solid and original games despite (generally) not having cutting edge graphics. Breaking with that tradition in Fatal Frames case, the graphics arent that bad but they seem to have gone astray when it came to the gameplay department. Very, very disappointing.
I definitely agree with Matt when he said the magical camera system is fresh and unorthodox. No argument there. In fact, its the games strongest asset. However, outside of Fatal Frames unique spin on combat, it clings to the other long-established contrivances of the Survival Horror genre like a man to the Titanics last life preserver.
Using the mystic Polaroid is fun, but flawed. Trying to find a floating apparition through a viewfinder puts a more up-close-and-personal element into your survival, which isnt usually present in other games of this type. On the downside, its too easy to be picked off while trying to switch between the camera view and the third-person view. Your character also moves like molasses, so you are effortlessly caught and munched by the ghosts while trying to run and flee. The fixed camera angles switching views as you move dont help the situation.
One other thing that really annoyed me during fights was that you use the left stick to move in third-person mode, but movement is re-mapped to the right stick while looking through the camera. It makes no sense at all, and took me a very long time to get accustomed to. Finally, the life-ups are in fairly short supply, especially since some of the ghosts can easily chop off half your lifebar with one good attack. With the combat being as clunky as it is, the stingy amount of health items wasnt a good idea in my opinion.
Looking at the structure of the game besides combat, you enter the house and proceed to travel from locked door to locked door, finding short pieces of text along the way. Thats literally all there is to it. The graphics do a good job of setting up the atmosphere and the ghosts and camera system are interesting enough to keep you on edge for an hour or two. However, once you catch on to the fact that the game is just a huge string of keyfetches the fun factor drops significantly. Things are far too predictable with no variation throughout the entire disc. The story never builds up any serious tension, either. Find a key, open a door. Find a notebook page, read some story. Sometimes its a puzzle instead of a key, but its basically the same tasks becoming stale, boring, and repetitive all too soon.
Fatal Frame is definitely scary for a while, it has a good premise and I like what they tried to do with the combat system. Sadly, it just falls so incredibly short in every other area that I cant wholeheartedly recommend it. For fans who cant get enough of the genre, its a decent entry. For gamers who want the boundaries of Survival Boredom to be pushed, theres arent enough new ideas here to make the game more than a quirky addition to the pile of "me-too" games out there.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.