We've never quite understood anyone scared by The Blair Witch Project. A trio of foul-mouthed students sobbing into camcorders while two amateur film-makers bang sticks outside their tent. Project Zero 2, on the other hand, is genuinely terrifying. It delivers on the lost-in-the-forest premise like its movie adversary, but uses classic manipulative directorial techniques to ensure it of truly unsettling qualities.
So what you essentially get is modern Asian horror cinema translated into a third-person adventure. Spectres drift past distant windows; evil banshees float eerily out of river mists; gnarled faces subliminally flash in flashbacks; and unholy interference crackles menacingly out of your battered old radio. The whole game is slower than a three-legged tortoise - even the sprint button results in a lethargic jog - but read as delicate pacing for pure, unrelenting effectiveness. It's just a horrible, claustrophobic experience from start to finish, all crammed into a generic, brooding tale of twin sisters trapped by malevolent spirits in a forest village of ritualistic slaughter.
If you played the original Project Zero (Issue 15, 8.0; also known as Fatal Frame overseas, as is this one), you'll be instantly familiar with the sequel's core mechanics. It's a survival horror slowed down to almost point-and-clink levels, where evil is defeated by taking its picture using a supernatural camera. Expert framing and dangerous close-ups inflict greater damage, and a wide-ish range of power-ups offer further options for stunning and slowing the ghosts.
To be fair, the rest of the game plods along in the manner of the Silent Hill/Resident Evil offerings, with a straight divide of puzzle-solving and exploration. However, it's the remarkably simple combat - if you can call it combat - that gives it its edge. Fumbling for your camera and trying to line up that perfect 'zero' shot while a groaning entity makes a gradual beeline for your throat is certainly more unnerving than beating a rabid canine mutant over the head with a golf club.
Still, don't expect the experience to be entirely fault-free. The dated flick-screen camera is frustratingly disorienting, and many of its puzzles are not as intelligent as encountered elsewhere. More significantly, the story doesn't live up to its early potential. Whereas the Silent Hill games evolve from dull thriller into twisty, ultra-disturbing, mind-f***s, Project Zero 2 begins great, and carries on being great, until you realise most of its trump cards have already been laid and the tale is barely 50 per cent told. Not that that will in any way stop you from playing it all the way to its wretched conclusion, mind.
As is with current cinema, Asia is the undoubted creative whirlpool when it comes to spawning thrilling videogame horror. If you enjoyed films like The Grudge, The Ring (the Japanese versions, that is) and The Eye, then this will give you goosebumps the size of tennis balls.
It may feel slightly dated, but in terms of well-crafted terror, Project Zero 2 is a polished horror masterpiece.