At first, this separation between the night’s exploration and the day’s investigation offers some relief to the beleaguered Project Zero player – after all, there are only so many close encounters with creepy dark haired women floating towards you with talons outstretched hissing “I won’t let you leave” that the average heart can take in one stretch. After a while, however, the line starts to blur. The weird static effect that you see in dreams starts turning up in daylight hours; visions start appearing in your living room; a hospital visit goes horribly awry, and – worst of all – a painful tattoo spreads out from your shoulder every morning, a little further each day, before disappearing. The implication is clear – either Rei sorts out the house in your dreams, or one day she’ll become a permanent resident.
The decision to return from Crimson Butterfly’s haunted village to a single mansion might seem like a bizarre step backwards but, with a few reservations I’ll come to later, it makes perfect sense, enabling the developers to create a more focused mood piece where the return to specific areas brings a dreadful resonance each time. Plus, there’s always a feeling that the mansion has more horrors to unveil; more secret, fearful chambers to discover – provided you survive long enough to see them.
The resulting atmosphere is electric, in the worst possible way. As always with Project Zero, a lot of it is the audio – full of gloomy ambient music and weird, untraceable noise – while some of it is the use of fixed camera angles which retard your knowledge of your surroundings while always hinting that something nasty is lurking in the shadows. In truth, this can make the game feel old fashioned, particularly in the wake of Resident Evil 4, but you can’t deny that it works… frequently too well for comfort.
Simply put, Project Zero has always pushed the fear factor on three levels. Firstly, the aforementioned sense that something is waiting for you in the next room or the dark corner. Secondly, in its sudden visions, voice recordings and scattered notes, there is always the impression that something hideous is going on, and that whatever it is will only get worse the closer you get to the bottom of it. Thirdly, the ghosts themselves are always bloody creepy. It might just be me, but the drifting wraiths and fast-moving ethereal psychos of The Tormented seem a thousand times worse than Doom 3’s demons or the gross-out bio-horrors of Resident Evil. True, the shambling forms of Silent Hill are a closer match – and don’t even get me started on Pyramid Head – but every time The Tormented lets another spirit loose, I find myself squeaking at the TV like a neurotic mouse from Bagpuss with Tourettes. This is another reason why I stopped playing it late at night when others in the house are trying to sleep.