Nope, it’s the atmosphere that makes this one so compelling. Some of that achievement is visual. While other games offer gorgeous scenery or masses of detail, Crimson Butterfly excels when it comes to creepy shadows and the kind of disturbing locations that have you nervously scanning the screen for signs of movement. The lighting effects alone make Silent Hill’s efforts look sophomoric. However, even more of the feat factor is aural. Now mixed in 5.1-channel surround, the subdued music, chilling spot effects, and sinister disembodied voices make this a hard one to play with the lights off. A spectral vision appears stage left, a fiendish whisper hisses from the rear surround speaker, and suddenly you’re that five-year-old kid who thinks vampires hide under the bed. Gamers of a nervous disposition should beware: Project Zero 2 is not for you.
But above all else, this is a game that shows an uncanny awareness of what works in the Japanese horror cinema, and a ruthless determination to use that knowledge. Grainy monochrome flashbacks; distorted figures with faces shrouded in long, dark hair; sudden glimpses of something horrid in the background; flash cuts; creepy kids; crazy angles; weird backwards audio – every trick you saw in The Ring or The Grudge is employed here, and all of them prove just as effective in making you wish you’d selected brown trousers that morning.
And even this doesn’t do Crimson Butterfly justice. Not since Silent Hill 2 has a plotline done so much to get under your skin. At first, it’s tempting to think you’ve heard it all before, evil deeds and dark ceremonies being part and parcel of many scary games. Yet through snippets of books, photos, notes, audio recordings and hazy flashbacks something genuinely disturbing ¬emerges. It’s not just about the heebie-jeebies, Crimson Butterfly also does regret, remorse, duty, murder and abandonment. The use of twin sisters, which starts off feeling like a cheap plot device, actually comes to lend the game a creepy, tragic new dimension.
Admittedly, the running time is only in the region of ten hours, but this is one game you might be tempted to explore again, if only to see a different ending, or collect alternative costumes and other hidden collectibles. This Xbox Director’s Cut also throws in a survival mode and a new first-person option, but the former is only mildly diverting, and while the latter gives the game a different feel, it’s arguably not as scary when your lonely heroine is not in view.
Like the original Project Zero, Crimson Butterfly seems doomed to be overlooked, but that’s a shame. While the gameplay and duration could still see some improvement, this is the most chilling horror game since Silent Hill 2, and amongst the most terrifying titles of all time.
An elegant take on survival horror, eschewing the body horror shocks of Resident Evil and the seedy decay of Silent Hill for something more subtle, and arguably more scary. The gameplay can be weak, but Project Zero 2 is a must for the discerning horror fan.