Monday, November 15, 2004

Pure Fright

I don't think I've ever played a game that truly frightened me. I don't mean the 'closet door suddenly swings open and hey there's a guy with an axe' kind of fright--that's pretty easy to find, whether it's in games of B-horror films. I mean the deeply disturbing kind of experience that in brief moments makes you feel honest, pure fear, not just surprise. I've just never had that experience in a game.

Until now.

I am playing a game now and it is, at times, terrifying. The combination of visual and audial sensations have shaken me deeply. I am on edge, not for moments, but for hours as I work my way through the game world.

Why is this game so frightening? The cut scenes and supernatural events are beautifully integrated with your own path, frequent enough that I inevitably have a hollow feeling in my stomach as I move forward, but not so frequent that they feel cheap or contrived. And they are presented in a manner that rivals the finest cinematic techniques in films.

The game, now that I've made you wait long enough, is Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly (Director's Cut) for the Xbox.

This is a horror that cannot be run through in wild abandon. It has no BFG's lying in hallways to shoot gigantic demons. It cannot be run from or through, which is another reason why it is so truly unsettling. To some degree, you are a captive, and it is not killing that will set you free.

I've seen highly complimentary reviews of this game, but I've seen very little mention of the story itself, which is a watershed moment in the evolution of writing quality in games. It is, in a word, sensational, a plot that wraps itself around you in layers, each layer more disturbing than the one that preceded it.

The level of sophistication in the presentation of the story is also leagues beyond its contemporaries. I have also rarely seen sound so well-integrated into a game, and to such excellent effect.

Here are a couple of additional notes if you want to have this eerie and memorable experience.
First, play in an entirely darkened room. Second, play with headphones. Believe me, these both make a difference. I also highly recommend playing in the optional first-person mode and turning subtitles off. It makes the game much more personal and immersive--and frightening.

The game also looks terrific in 480p, so if you have a large HD set, even better.

Best of luck. I hope you get out alive.

Site Meter