I’m not really sure that I should recommend this game, and I’ll tell you why. Last Sunday night, I made the mistake of sneaking a game in before I went to bed. As a direct result, I woke up bleary-eyed and shattered on Monday morning, having hardly slept a wink. Fittingly, for a game that takes place mostly in the dark dreams of its central characters, The Tormented gave me the worst nightmares I’ve had in years.
You see, there are plenty of scary games out there, running back from the days of Alone in the Dark right through to the ferocious assault of Resident Evil 4, but with the exception of Silent Hills 1-3, I can’t think of anything as creepy as the Project Zero series. The first was often dismissed as an oddity – who had heard of anything as silly as a survival horror game where you dispatched ghosts with the aid of a mystic camera? But those of us who persisted with it saw it as a blueprint for greatness to come; a game series that took the themes and styles of the burgeoning Japanese horror cinema and used them to frighten the stuffing out of you. That promise was confirmed by the sequel, Crimson Butterfly, which expanded the setting from a haunted house to a village of the damned, throwing in a doom-filled plot with a surprising emotional punch. The third and, we’re told, final part of the trilogy is if anything darker and scarier still. Which is why, after last Sunday night, I’m only playing it in the mornings with the daylight creeping through the curtains.
This time, the premise has changed slightly. Project Zero has always taken place in a grey zone between reality and dark fantasy, but this is the first where the action explicitly takes place in the protagonist’s dreams. Having lost her boyfriend in a car crash, photographer Rei Kurosawa spends her nights in a recurring nightmare, where she wanders the rooms and corridors of a ghostly mansion, seemingly peopled by the restless spirits of guilt-ridden survivors of similar accidents. Each night, she explores new areas, solving puzzles, unlocking the house’s secrets, and fending off hostile apparitions with the aid of the infamous camera. Each day, she tries to unravel what she saw and learnt the night before, with the aid of a plucky assistant, Miku, and the exposed film she finds in the mysterious old camera on her desk.