Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water review (PS5)

Fatal Frame is one of those niche horror franchises that briefly soared in popularity back in the PlayStation 2 days. The last game in the series was a Wii U exclusive though, so many didn’t play it at the time. Bandai Namco has just released it for a host of new platforms though, which means it’s finally available for PlayStation gamers as well. Here’s our take on Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water.

The fact that we’re getting Maiden of Black Water at all is a bit of a surprise, as the original release didn’t set the world on fire when it launched back in 2014. At the end of the day it’s not hard to see why that was the case, but the game’s creepy atmosphere feels right at home during the Halloween season.

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Much of that atmosphere is delivered though cutscenes, which is the part of the game that’s held up the best because the visual style is downright haunting to see, even if it’s all rendered at a lower resolution than today’s games. They help tell the story of Mount Hakumi and the three protagonists that go up there to explore its dark secrets and history. Based on an ancient water-based religion, it’s been home to countless horrific events, and the individual-yet-intersecting narratives all give their own perspectives on the story.

As with other Fatal Frame games, a special camera that lets you battle ghosts is a central part of the gameplay experience, but without the motion controls of the Wii U it ends up feeling somewhat clunky on a gamepad and we couldn’t help but feel like Fatal Frame would be fantastic in VR but falls a bit short on the flat screen. The controls have been repurposed for regular gamepads instead of the Wii U pad with its built-in screen, but it never feels intuitive and natural as a result.

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Using a camera to “see” and battle the ghostly dimension still feels like a great premise for a horror game, and Maiden of Black Water is certainly a creepy experience because of it. You can pick up different types of film rolls to achieve different effects, mixing up the combat a bit, which despite the less than perfect controls still feels exciting. It’s not as groundbreaking as it was in the PS2 days, but it’s been such a long time that it still feels somewhat unique in 2021.

It’s not a groundbreaking new game for the franchise as it wasn’t one back in 2014 either, but what holds Maiden of Black Water back more than anything is the fact that it feels rather dated on modern consoles. Without the novelty of the Wii U controller, what’s left is a game that was built for hardware that was underpowered compared to other consoles back in 2014, and didn’t get much of a remaster treatment six years later. A new Fatal Frame game for modern systems could be great, but this one isn’t that. It’s an interesting game to play for those who enjoyed the series but didn’t have a Wii U, and its presentation is sufficiently creepy – just don’t expect the kind of polish that games like Resident Evil VIllage would give you.

Score: 6.8/10

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