Project Zero 3: Why it's still absolutely terrifying

A look back at Tecmo's scariest effort...

Resident Evil makes you jump. Silent Hill is disturbing... but it's more Paris Hilton's British Best Friend-creepy than Wolf Creek-bleak. And as for Siren, see Resi.

If you really want to experience true, ice-in-your-veins terror on PS2 then it has to be Project Zero III: The Tormented.

Developers Tecmo, having honed their skills on the series' previous games, took all their chilling tricks and refined them; focusing this distinct survival horror into a laser-precise beam of fear. There's a terrifying house, screaming, eye-clawing, ghosts and an ambient soundtrack of rending metal, dying choirs and distant giggling.


At least you're well armed, carrying a big camera to protect yourself. Wait, what?

The Camera Obscura is what sets Project Zero III apart from any other horror game on PlayStation. It's a subtle trick that pushes the sense of creeping dread beyond fear and into the realms of distress. It riffs off the superstition that taking a picture of someone steals part of their soul.

With evil spirits, that means it kills them - get a good shot of a howling, blood-splattered, axe-waving ghost priest and you can take him out. Just to recap - "a howling, bloodsplattered, axe-waving ghost priest". You're armed with a spooky Polaroid. No pistols, no lead pipes; just a shutter and a life or death tussle with ISO ratings.

It sounds daft but it's a stroke of genius. The initial sense of defencelessness it generates is obvious but it's only after you battle your first enemy that the true impact of this snap-happy combat hits home.

To do the most damage you have to get a good picture. The more of the ghost that's in the frame and the bigger its pasty face leers in the viewfinder, the more you'll hurt it. Because of this you have to hold off, waiting; listening to it wail and groan as you endure the very thing that's terrifying you.

Aiming the Camera Obscura also means slowing to a crawl and limiting your vision to the restrictive view of the eyepiece. Waiting for just... the...right...moment. Which is usually just as something charges you head on, rushing at your face suddenly, as you violently press the shutter. Usually with a small yelp as you desperately lean back from the screen.

It's a stressful and impressively effective way to scare you witless, made worse by a constant, nagging doubt at the back of your mind, "Did he blink? I think he blinked."

The story behind this suicidal photojournalism is pure Japanese horror. Rei Kurosawa is a young women trying to rebuild her life after the death of her fiancÚ in a car crash. After taking some pictures of an abandoned house and glimpsing the ghostly form of Yuu, her dead boyfriend, she finds herself drawn into a strange world of tortured spirits.


The gameplay was divided into day and night sections. During the day, Rei wandered around her flat, developing photos, taking phone calls and talking to her friends - Miku, a survivor from the original Project Zero, and Kei, the uncle of Mio and Mayu from Project Zero II. But the second her head hits the pillow she (and occasionally her friends) enter the Manor Of Sleep, the strange house she photographed earlier.

The dream version of the Manor is an eerie catacomb of corridors and rooms filled with evil ghosts - priests, broken-hearted lovers, mothers and children - all enduring an unexplained agony.

A range of clever tricks helps to generate a taut and unsettling atmosphere. A strange tattoo appears on Rei's body. What it means isn't clear until later but its consistent creeping progress across her skin serves as a clear and threatening time limit. The day/night split is brilliantly used. The day sections provide moments of calm between the night terrors as Rei patrols her fl at, trying to piece clues together.

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