Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is a disappointing Wii U exclusive horror story that is more likely to put players to sleep than it is to scare them.
In the opening hours of Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water, the game is a creepy, unnerving experience where players encounter spirits seemingly trapped in an infinite loop of repeating their own suicide. A woman throws herself off a cliff in the same spot every time that area is visited, another hangs hopelessly from a tree, and another forever brandishes the very knife used to slit her own throat. These graphic, disturbing images of suicide go a long way in instilling a sense of dread in the player...at first.
Unfortunately, Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water loses its potential to scare and horrify not long after the opening chapters, as players start to become numb at the sight of one ghastly figure after the next. There's a serious case of overexposure at work in Maiden of Black Water, and when it comes to horror, less is always more.
The game's combat also diminishes any sense of fear in Fatal Frame, as players repeat the same actions over and over again. When players encounter a new ghost, trying to figure out how to beat them can be exhilarating, but eventually a lack of ghost variety gives way to repetition.
The problems with the combat are compounded by the obscene amount of backtracking in the game, which hurts the atmosphere a great deal. The first time players explore a spooky shrine full of odd antique dolls can be a scary experience, but doing so for the fifth time diminishes the impact, and eventually players will rush through these areas without care or consideration for the design.
It's really a shame how repetitive Fatal Frame is with its combat, environments, and its overuse of the ghosts, because there are times when the game seems to understand the subtlety required for truly effective horror. Take, for example, a journal read early on in the game that explains that watching the sunset over the mountain is a bad omen. Players get that idea in their head, and then the game cleverly forces the player to watch the sunset over the mountain on numerous occasions. Unfortunately, this clever, subtle, unsettling horror is a rarity in Maiden of Black Water.
Honestly, the scariest thing about the game is probably wrestling with its controls. Right off the bat, it's recommended that players switch the Camera Obscura HUD from the GamePad to the TV, as the time it takes to whip out the camera, lift up the GamePad, and line up a picture is far too long. By the time players are able to accomplish this, it's likely that the spirit will have disappeared, and valuable points will have been lost. Unless one plans on playing the game entirely on the GamePad screen (probably the best way to play it, all things considered), it's better utilized as a map.
Controlling the actual characters is similarly aggravating, as they have a tendency to get awkwardly stuck on walls, or will refuse to line up properly to pick up an item. The game controls like a survival-horror game from 15 years ago; it just feels clunky and archaic.
While controlling the characters is not fun by any means, the characters are still well designed. The animation is also competent, with the human characters moving with a reserved, cautious stride, and the ghosts jerking around unnaturally. The environments usually look pretty good as well, even if they look a little less so up close.
While the visuals are hit or miss, the Fatal Frame's sound design is easily one of the highlights of the game. Ghosts will groan and scream as they are eliminated with the Camera Obscura, and the music does its best to create an eerie atmosphere. The GamePad's audio adds a lot to the experience as well, so anyone that plans on playing this should adjust their levels accordingly. There are certain sounds that will only come from the GamePad, and quite frankly, not having the GamePad sound turned up makes Maiden of Black Water an even lesser experience.
All these elements are framed by a plot that can only be described as watching someone jog in place with no progress. The human characters hardly converse with each other about the strange goings-on, and few show concern for the strange occurrences. The game goes to some lengths to try to explain why the characters aren't talking to each other, sometimes by having them randomly ditch the others at the antique shop where they all meet up (no one is ever confronted about this questionable behavior), and other times by putting them in comical "comas."
Perhaps some of these issues with the plot and the gameplay could be forgiven if there was a compelling reason to return to the game after finishing it, but there isn't. The experience is filled with so much backtracking and filler that it's hard to recommend a first playthrough, let alone multiple. That being said, there are some alternate scenes, an additional difficulty, and unlockable costumes, but none of it is all that enticing, and overall, the replayability in Maiden of Black Water is extremely limited.
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is a genuine disappointment, and easily the weakest entry in the series to date. With big holiday season games like Star Fox Zero delayed to next year, the Wii U could ill afford a flop, but that seems likely for Fatal Frame. Featuring a plot filled with illogical characters, gameplay bogged down by sluggish controls and combat, and a severe inability to scare, Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water simply does not live up to the legacy of its predecessors.
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water will release as an eShop exclusive Wii U game on October 22nd. Game Rant was provided with a Wii U code for this review.