[12.18.01] » Looking for more on Tecmo's new horror adventure?
The GIA has Zero help for you with Zero impessions and screenshots.
Though Tecmo's Deception series has managed to
stay interesting through three installments - largely through its
unique atmosphere and clever mechanics - the trap-based gameplay is
beginning to show its age. So when the company announced that the
Deception team would be crafting an entirely new game, codenamed Project
0, for its first effort on the PlayStation 2, the GIA was curious
to see what they could to when freed from the restraints of the franchise.
The result, now simply titled Zero, is an odd mix
of traditional horror gameplay, strongly Eastern aesthetics, and,
oddly enough, photography. Zero has just been released in Japan and
the GIA had the chance to spend a few hours with the import. Early
impressions are of a stylish, unique, and genuinely creepy game that
may not be everyone's cup of tea, but is certainly an interesting
brew. Be sure to check out the accompanying screenshots
for a look at the game in action.
One of the most striking things about the game
is something that it isn't. Unlike almost every Japanese-developed
horror adventure, Zero actually takes place in Japan. The entire game
transpires in an around a rural manor house with traditional Japanese
architecture, decorations, and fusuma paper doors. Long abandoned,
the house has a mysterious and gruesome history that draws a famous
horror writer and his encourage there to use it as a basis of a new
novel. The writer, his editor, and his assistant disappear soon after
traveling there. The game begins in a flashback, complete with black
and white coloring, as one of the writers' students comes to the manor
to try to find out what happened. Though you're only given a few vague
hints at this point, whatever took place there was grisly and unnatural.
The young man finds his mentor's notebook and is treated to a sort
of psychic transmission of the three missing persons being chased
through the mansion by horrifying spirits. After fending off one ghost,
the student, it seems, suffers a similar fate.
The real game begins when Miku, the younger sister
of the student, comes to the manor a short time after then looking
for him, armed with only a flashlight. Luckily, she soon finds
her brother's camera, and this is where Zero begins to get interesting.
The game takes the old superstition about photographs capturing the
soul literally, and Miku must defeat the manor's ghosts by taking
The gameplay for this functions like a cross between
Pokémon Snap and a first
person shooter. When you switch to the camera view, the left analog
stick moves the viewfinder around, while the right stick can be used
to move. How much damage you do to the attacking spirit is largely
dependant on the "composition" of your photograph. Keeping the ghost
centered in the frame builds up a damage meter, and the angle and
distance of the final photograph determines the amount of damage you
The player is given "Spirit Points" based on the
quality of the picture, and these can then be used to upgrade the
camera in various ways. So far, we've only been able to increase the
central viewfinder, but more interesting "EX Abilities" can be purchased
later for more interesting effects, such as slow motion or night vision.
The combat is enjoyable and quick-paced, if somewhat
limited, but early impressions seem to indicate Zero's emphasis is
more on atmosphere and story than endless battles. More importantly,
camera is used in interesting ways elsewhere in the game. While Miku
explores the mansion, she's constantly assaulted by fleeting apparitions
and strange visions. Quick players can capture these on film for extra
Spirit Points. Some of these photo opportunities are scripted, but
some can't be seen by the naked eye at all and must be found by listening
carefully or waiting for a telltale vibration from the controller.
The number of photos you can have at one time is constrained by the
type of film you're using, but players can save particularly impressive
shots in a separate photo album to admire later.
Photography is also central to Zero's puzzles,
many of which are a sort of photographic twist to the standard "find
the right key" gameplay. Occasionally, you'll come across a door with
paper seal. Photographing the door will cause a picture of another
location in the manor to be displayed. The seal on the door can only
be broken if you can recreate the displayed picture with your camera.
So far these have been relatively simple - hopefully, they won't be
used as an excuse for unnecessary backtracking. More traditional puzzles
also exist in the game, and the camera can often be used to provide
a hint by photographing the puzzle.
Overall, Zero's gameplay is interesting, but the
main attraction is the genuinely frightening atmosphere and creepy
storyline. As Miku moves through the dilapidated manor, the horrific
events of the manor's past are recounted though messages left by the
writer's team or the past inhabitants or, more often, by their dead
and wandering spirits. So far, these brief encounters with the dead
have been chilling and expertly directed -- many of them simply play
out in the background while you're exploring. The frequency and variety
of these scripted events gives the feeling that it really is haunted,
rather than populated by the standard videogame band of roving monsters.
Zero's graphics will most likely draw many comparisons
to Silent Hill 2, mostly for it's heavy use of light and shadow. The
manor has little interior lighting and Miku must find her was with
only a flashlight. Though the lighting engine doesn't seem quite as
realistic as Konami's game, it's certainly nothing to complain about.
The graphics themselves, however, often seem uneven. The characters
and ghosts are extremely well modeled and sharp, but the environments
are occasionally blocky and employ muddy, low-quality textures. The
game also uses Silent Hill 2's "grain filter" to a good effect. Whenever
a spirit appears, the screen will briefly take on the appearance of
old, worn film -- a stylistic motif that ties neatly with the rest
This attention to detail extends to the clever,
but unobtrusive camera work. Unlike most fully 3D adventure games,
which still follow the Resident Evil model of more or less static
camera angles, Zero's camera is much more dynamic. The view isn't
player-controlled, but it does constantly change in subtle and often
disconcerting ways to heighten the tension. You may see one angle
when leaving a room and a much different one when later reentering
it, and when Miku stumbles across one of the many ghosts wandering
the manor, the camera will usually cut briefly to a new and jarring
Thankfully, the camera doesn't get in the way of
the controls, which are a good compromise between the standard Resident
Evil scheme and "camera-relative" controls like Devil May Cry or Silent
Hill 2's 3D mode. Basically, the analog stick always moves Miku in
the direction you press it, but the X Button always causes her to
run in the direction she's facing. The end result his that you only
use the analog stick to "steer," which avoids a sudden turn around
when the camera angle changes. Moreover, due to the first person nature
of the combat, the "artsy" angles never get in the way of the gameplay.
All isn't well in the control department, however. Miku seems to control
strangely when near a wall and, often, the direction you press on
the stick doesn't seem to map exactly to the direction you move.
With only a few hours of play, it's hard to tell
whether Zero's photography mechanics can carry an entire game, but
the developers certainly seem to be extending the basic idea as far
as they can. At the very least, Zero should find a ready audience
among those who have grown tired of the standard fare in the horror
genre. Tecmo has yet to comment officially on the chances of the game
arriving here, but the latest issue of the Official PlayStation Magazine
puts Zero at a Spring 2002 release. With the company having few games
for the coming year in America, it certainly seems likely.