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Project Zero 4: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse

The fact that we’re even able to finally play Project Zero 4 is down to the hard work and dedication of a group of fans, who tasked themselves with translating the latest in the Fatal Frame series not long after Nintendo’s refusal.

As a result booting up this import feels like opening Pandora’s Box, a chance to experience a Project Zero game with it’s original Japanese voices and touches. What is revealed in translation was well worth the wait.

Story and translation

  • This release will always been benchmarked by the translation project that has enabled the western world to play it. In this regard nothing here disappoints, the fan translation has been completed with the professionalism and flair the series deserves. While game dialogue is still in Japanese the translation team have worked hard to localise all menus, help text tutorials and subtitles, with only a handful of (fixable) mistakes. All that is needed to play is a retail copy of the Japanese game, an SD card and the appropriate patch files. Every step has been made to make the temporary language patch and region free ability as simple to use as possible.
  • Project Zero 4 continues the series fascination with Japanese spirituality and calamity-preventing rituals. With a new focus on memories based around lunar activity, playing the game feels like experiencing each characters moment of deja vu. The sense of vulnerability that previous games perfected with the Camera Obscura as your only weapon is still extremely palpable, and makes exploring the intriguing kidnapping mystery even more rewarding.
  • While the translation work on this game is superb, the font used to transcribe the game can often be difficult to read on a standard definition setup. Particulary numbers and text that aren’t in standard colours, or on the story summary screen. As a result playing this game with a component cable is a must or certain text becomes a little too difficult to read. There are occasional problems with the patch itself such as text leaping out of boxes or minor typos, but on the whole nothing that demeans the gaming experience too greatly.
  • The only negative aspect of the story is the fact that it doesn’t deviate too much from the narrative template of previous games – i.e. striving to understand the spiritual rituals performed by secret groups and the consequences of their actions. As a result its often very easy for veterans of the series to second guess what is about to happen next. There are two huge, primary locations to explore throughout the game, and as such it feels a little smaller than the first two games. Three characters revisit the previous chapters setting seperately, this does mean that occasionally the story may confuse and take a little longer to put together than other horror games.
 Misaki stands in Ayako's a golden coloured doll room.

How to play

  • With a slight change of pace, there are three playable characters for this game, each with a particular interest in the mask rituals, and each out to either find someone or recall their lost memories about the lunar eclipse. The Camera Obscura is back, with an easier to understand combat UI, and quicker, tighter controls that really help with the games trickier (and scarier) moments. The ability to upgrade the your camera-type weapons remains, and has been enhanced further for those wanting to tweak their abilities more.
  • The game generally rewards you for taking risks and exploring, with some of the better items only findable by taking long routes and exploring empty rooms not covered by the immediate story. This also extends to combat, with the most damaging shots from your camera being a “fatal frame” moment; taking a photo the second before your character is hit for maximum damage, so the fact that you can now combo fatal frames is a perfect addition.
  • There are a few major bugs in the game left in after the games original release. This can occasionally mean some clipping issues, or a console freeze. These problems are legacy issues left in from the fact that Tecmo were able to fix the issues for release, and Nintendo’s inability to localise the game, while annoying if avoided the game is still perfectly playable.
  • Upgrading crystals seem to be shared between the three characters leading to some very difficult upgrade choices for your fighting equipment. While the ability to buy healing items and film using your points score is a welcome addition there are often times where allowing the player to improve their camera using spirit points as with previous games will be missed. Waiting on crystals to appear effectively drops the rate at which you can upgrade, limiting players capable of taking advantage the game’s risk and reward scheme of play by defeating more ghosts.
Choshiro stands with a torch at a doorway.

A few new touches

  • This is one of the first Wii games to feature torch controls using the Wii remote. The decision to use a mixture of Wii remote and analogue stick was a wise one, as a result the controls feel firmer than previous Project Zero games. Then there are the bonus features; collecting photos of cursed dolls replaces the hidden spirit photos of previous games, with unlockable costumes and extras as rewards. The game rewards people who cautiously investigate each inch of the game with their torch, with items only appearing once the torch light has touched the right area.
  • There are tons of helpful new mechanics in this game, a clearer ghost direction indicator helps makes the combat a little more manageable than previous games, the ability to avoid ghost attacks altogether with a well aimed remote shake is helpful when it can be mastered. Motion controls are used perfectly in this game, with captured ghosts groaning out of the remote, and the inspired choice to hold the A button to reach out to pick up items rather than a simple button press. This increases the tension considerably, and often leads to an additional shock!
  • Even with the new mechanisms that Tecmo and Grasshopper have developed for this game, Project Zero 4 may be a little too predictable for veterans of the series, particularly as it lacks as many random ghost fights that happen if too much time is spent exploring, as such the pace is a little slower in comparison to the first three games, but the replay value is at least still there with additional unlockables and extra difficulties revealed once the game is completed.
  • While Project Zero 4 is definitely a scary game, I didn’t find this one as terrifying as the first two in the series, as they dealt with some genuinely morose ideas that left you feeling not only scared but deeply uncomfortable by the subject matter the game was portraying. Project Zero 4 is often guilty of relying a little too much on the sort of “jump scares” of other horror games, and less on the tension created by the subject matter.
 Battling a ghost with the Camera Obscura.

A deeply engaging horror game

Collectively as with the rest of the Project Zero series this is one of the best horror games ever released and a welcome addition to to a group of games that was starting to flag. Project Zero 4 makes the right steps towards invigorating the format of the game, so it is a great shame that we will probably never see a Western release, we should be eternally grateful to the group of fans that have enabled this game to be experienced.

If you can import a Japanese copy of the game to patch then Project Zero 4 is a must-have title for the Wii, and well worth the minimal set-up time.

Currently playing

Left 4 Dead 2

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I didn’t think Left 4 Dead needed a sequel, and yet a copy has made it’s way towards me, and rather like the proverbial zombie crowd, it feels like something I can’t ignore.

If you take Left 4 Dead 2 for what it’s worth – simply a continuation from where the original left off – it may just surprise you, just perhaps not by a massive amount. Given the pedigree of the first game however that could be a good thing.

Better focus on narrative

  • There is a greater emphasis on the myths surrounding the zombie threat this time around. In particular the governments attempt to contain the outbreak and CEDA’s underwhelming solution. Structurally everything feels more tied together right from the opening cutscene. Each scenario continues on from the last making the campaign seem less disjointed. Then there are the little touches in the quieter moments, the insightful survivor graffiti is back and Ellis’ hiliarious stories within the safe room are a welcome addition that add character.
  • This time around the Director AI controlling the infected seems more finely tuned, and able to detect when you’re most vulnerable by calculating a devasting strike. The original did this with mixed success but this game does it with aplomb, requiring all four of you to work together far more than the previous game. As a result Left 4 Dead 2 feels like a tighter, more challenging game. Success hinges on teamwork to an even greater degree, and the new realism mode only extends this.
  • A huge part of this game’s allure is simply the fact that there are new environments to explore, while progress has been made to the mechanic, I don’t think there’s been enough of a leap from the revolution of the Left 4 Dead 1 to warrant such minor improvements in the sequel.
  • It’s difficult to feel as passionately for the this set of survivors as for the original cast, Left 4 Dead’s biggest narrative failing is simply the fact that the zombie scenario simply isn’t as impactful as the first game. Proposed DLC to introduce both casts to one another could bridge this gap as well as adding new gameplay elements.

New gameplay elements

  • The new melee weapons take some getting used to, but are a brilliant addition to the formula of the game, providing a second infinite ammo weapon choice, which requires you to get even more up close and personal with the zombie horde. Some of the weapon choices are exotic, such as the guitar and frying pan, making obvious references to to survival horror staples. Surprisingly once you’ve gotten used to them each melee weapon is extremely useful, allowing you to damage zombies or decapitate them altogether.
  • The new special infected put you on your toes once more. Jockeys ride on your back, and take control of your character pulling you off ledges or into dangerous crowds. The charger is like a mini-tank which smashes you to the ground until saved. Of the three, the spitter is often the most lethal, as it shoots out a wide-reaching acid AOE which can quickly incapacitate you or your team. Then there are the uncommon infected such as riot police and haz-suit zombies which are unique to each area.
  • While the new gore effects upon defeating a horde are impressive, they have lead to problems with censors in some regions which the original game did not suffer from, it’s a great shame that such en entertaining and well designed game has been swept up in such a controversy.
  • The witches are now a force to be reckoned with again, and while it is nice to see them used like a genuine threat. While fun at first, they quickly appear with ridiculous frequency, punctuating certain scenarios making avoiding them extremely difficult. The combination of moving witches and a greater number of devious special infected are a deadly combo, which will either please or infuriate.

The new scenarios

  • The five new areas are a joy to experience and have been soundtracked appropriately with their Southern setting. The best new feature is the fact that they often deviate from the straight forward point A to point B navigation of the first game with difficult areas forcing you to rethink how best to play. All of the levels are genuinely atmospheric, requiring you to avoid areas that will slow you down or reduce your visibility, meaning everyone will have to change their playing style frequently while communicating changes and problems to one another.
  • Left 4 Dead 2 has trickier finales that are a genuine challenge, requiring you to perform a task while defending yourselves. As a result completing one feels like a genuine pleasing achievement. it is no longer a matter of holding out a set amount of time, and escaping by completely fluke, but through sticking together, planning and co-operation.
  • Playing with the character AI often feels like a handicap rather than a help, so try to play with others if at all possible. Even one AI on your team can easily get lost or take too long to help you when incapacitated. The improvements to the Director AI are cheapened by why what is frequently an idiotic computer help.
  • It’s a minor point but why think about changing the Left 4 Dead box art for the UK? While a two fingers sign is indeed an insult in this country (comparable to the middle finger), if you think back to it’s original meaning (to show genuine defiance in the face of adversity) isn’t that completely what the tone of the game is about?
Currently playing


The premise of Borderlands is simple. Set in a relatively open game world, you and up to three other players can join up to explore the wastelands of Pandora, completing numerous quests to try and establish the location of the mysterious alien vault.

While the story of the game is a little tentative, the really interesting part of Borderlands is the decision to mix two very different genres to create an exciting new hybrid.


  • The chance to play a combination of RPG and FPS creates an addictive game experience combining frantic firefights with level gains and exploration of the game world. Each character can be levelled up to a maximum of 50 levels, leading to some very careful choices about how to develop your character throughout the game.
  • Borderlands features 4 playable characters which each compliment one another in battle. The AOE and elemental specialist (Siren), the all-out tank and damage dealer (Beserker), the gunslinger and ranged expert (Hunter), and all-round gunner character (Soldier).
  • Greater character customisation would have been a plus. Such as the ability to customize your character more (or provide female versions of every character and vice versa). The option to only spec out only half of your skill-tree is a frustration, but hopefully this will be addressed by an increase of the level cap in future DLC.
  • Because Borderlands is striving to please two very different crowds the story can sometimes get lost in the action – particulary towards the end of the game. But a humourous and indeed very intriguing story is available for those that want to unpick it.

Inventory and weapons

  • There are hundreds of thousands of different weapons available in the game. In truth there are the same types of weapons with varying stats and advantages such as the chance to inflict an elemental effect onto each attack. Nothing on a weapon comes as standard so you’ll be comparing weapons as you go.
  • The modifications for grenades are a nice touch, allowing you to improve your damage or tactics at a moments notice. But the class mods offer the most flexbility, providing many brilliant advantages per class, either benefiting you solely or the team as the whole. e.g increased ammo regen or elemental chance up. These can be swapped and changed depending on your situation, and are reflected by a change in your character’s title.
  • The inventory system leaves a lot to be desired, mainly because of the sheer amount of items you have to compare and swap. You will eventually get used to how best to use the menu to your advantage, but the clumsyness of it at times does create a steeper learning curve.
  • The game really suffers from a lack of a storage facility. Borderlands encourages you to collect tons of items on the one hand, but gives you few ways to protect items you aren’t quite ready to get rid of. Quests to improve your inventory size, or gain the ability to handle multiple weapons will become your first priority.

Questing in Pandora

  • Pandora is beautiful, and Gearbox’s dusty dystopia feels like an utter pleasure to explore. The chance of getting bigger and better items, combined with the well-paced quests (which offer experience rewards upon completion) means that levelling up is seldom a bore. In fact Borderlands really comes into it’s own upon the second playthrough, as you begin to master your character type and join up with others online.
  • While the game is extremely enjoyable in single player, it really starts to come into it’s own with another person or three. The options to drop in and out of online co-op are handled extremely well, with the forces of Pandora growing stronger as more players enter the game, with higher and lower levels characters able to play together due to the benefits of doing so. The option to return to play after death by killing an enemy (second wind) is a extremely welcome feature and will probably appear in other games, as it makes each actual death feel totally fair.
  • While Gearbox has created a beautiful, cell-shaded world it’s clear that some variations the level design are missing. While there is some variation in the wastelands and junkyards, some lusher environments would have been nice. However the light brownish hue of the game does make the objects and characters that are in the game that much more exciting.
  • Unfortunately there are a few too many glitches and bugs remaining, it’s a little too easy to get momentarily stuck on objects at a difficult time, or for the in-game indicator to lose track of where the quest items are. Framerate issues are an occasional issue reminding you of quite how much is going on on the screen at any one time.

My game of the year

Out of the many games I bought this year Borderlands was a complete impulse buy. The quiet little game that I knew nothing about at the beginning of October but the one that I was completely obsessed with by the end of it. If you like FPS and you’re starting to grow tired of RPGs you’ll wonder why it’s taken this long for a game like this to be made. It’s just a shame that it’ll get largely swamped by larger releases this Autumn – but regardless – you should pick this game up and become instantly enamoured by the world of Pandora… and the loot.

Currently playing

Beatles Rock Band

I have never been a huge fan of the Beatles, but I had a feeling that Harmonix’s latest title would be the perfect opportunity to experience the discography of the biggest band ever to pass me by.

And for the first time this may be the music game for the quiet bystanders – Beatles Rock Band is a open invite to anyone that knows a Beatle song.

The Experience

  • This is not just a music game and band IP smashed together. Every moment of the game is a loving recreation the Beatles’ career arc, puncatated with artwork, audio clips, and the fab four themselves, crafted seemlessly into the Rock Band game framework.
  • The classic Rock Band gameplay continues and is every bit as usable and enjoyable as you’d expect, only with added Beatle-esque touches and colours. This helps makes the game immediately accessible to anyone familiar with either the music or Rock Band setup.
  • It does play just like Rock Band, and while this isn’t a negative in itself, fans will notice that the two guitar parts have been replaced with one single track due to a lack of screen space, Harmonix have taken some liberties with the note charting, which leads to an easier Rock band experience.
  • The photos, clips and information unlocked after each song are a great idea which help to cement the experience, but also add extra clutter to the results screens. This is definitely one for the fans, as everyone else will just be eager to get to the next song.

The Visuals

  • The imagery used in the game are stunning, from the cell-shaded and cutout animation style of the intro, to the crisp visuals of the studio melting into the visual dreamscapes inspired by the theme of each song. Even if you don’t like playing music games, the visuals alone are a must-see.
  • For once the graphical prowess of this game is not just for show, each background scene manages to tell a story, while carefully managing the balance between the artistic talent of the band and the many illustrious interpretations of their songs, this is by far the best looking music game of this type, and best of all the glamour is completely appropriate.
  • Just occasionally the beautiful imagery in the background can be a little distracting to those trying to play, however it does give you an incentive to take a break and experience the visual aspect of the game.
  • In the longer term the visuals seem to follow the same pattern on each play, as imaginative as they are initially, this is a downside to not having personalised characters, as previous incarnations of Rock Band make the songs sequences, characters and camera changes slightly more dynamic.


  • The story mode is the definitive way to experience the game, either alone or with others, and it is with others that this game really shines, appreciating the song catalogue with friends or family who enjoy Beatles songs is a real epiphany moment.
  • The new vocal harmonies are a new treat, but they can be tricky to master. It’s a perfect idea for this game though, as it matches the musical expertise of the Beatles with everyones need to sing along.
  • As popular as their music may be, it would have been nice to have more songs available to play on the disc from the get-go. Some notable songs are missing from the tracklist, no doubt to be included later on using DLC, for shame.
  • Other than a slightly different interpretation of the known Rock Band format, there isn’t too much (other than harmonies and extras) to set the game apart from Rock Band 2 – that is except the pleasure of playing along with Beatles songs, but the added touches to UI and practice modes will still delight.

Thumbs up to the fab four

The differences between this Beatles versions of the game and the standard Rock Band aren’t enormous, but what is clear is that this could well be the definitive version of this music title – at least from a creative perspective. Beatles Rock Band takes the format of the last two Rock Band games and adds the visual and thematic icing on the cake. Normal gamers will be impressed, and no doubt fans of the band will be in total awe.

Currently playing

Drumming with Rock Band #2

Time for an update on on the progress I’ve made with learning to drum from Rock Band.

As fate would have it in the time since my first post on this subject I have been without the internet for nearly two months – so despite being unable to write about my progress I’ve certainly been able to give it more time and focus. So now it’s time to get serious.

Week Three to Six – Rudiments, rudiments, rudiments

Last time I talked about bad habits I had picked up from Rock Band, a big part of the downside about learning how to play from the game is that is drops you in at the deep end by allowing you to play the song in full. This is great to get a feel for the songs and to feel motivated and pleased quickly, but you end up learning to play each song using the shortest route to win, the path of least resistance if you will – your own way of bashing through which usually takes up the most energy.

Qazimod and I play Rock band gold star Living on a Prayer.

In reality every song is made up of key grooves, with independent parts for each hand and foot that you build up in layers, as I learn to play the drums I am in fact mastering each hand and foot movement, and while Rock band has helped me to perfect a steady sense of rhythm it can at times hide the individual components that build up a song or leave entire parts out altogether on some difficulties.

Jesse touched on this in his comment on the last post. It’s actually very hard as a drummer to figure out which drum pads are playing which parts in Rock Band, or to deconstruct the song in the way you would if you were actually learning it. This wouldn’t be so bad if every pad stuck to a certain part, but each colours purpose changes based on context.

However another problem with the game is that I’ve always known my hand movements in Rock Band were a mess, as I was failing sequences of songs completely by just making up how to play it. This is where learning rudiments come in, as you learning to play the basic parts of songs accurately using efficient hand patterns.

Hitting 53% of the notes in the mixed hands groove in drum trainer.

For example on sections with tons of red notes (snare drum usually) I was doing the following.

R L R L     R L R L     R L R L     R L R L

Or alternating my right and left hands and doing loads of single hand movements back and forth between my two hands, sometimes just because of the way I had originally learnt the song in Rock Band I was even hitting all notes with one hand for entire sections – now that is tiring especially when the songs speed up significantly.

I could have been using paradiddles to improve my accuracy in these sections.

R L R R     L R L L     R L R R     L R L L

With practice the speed and accuracy of my paradiddles (among other rudiments) has rocketed already, but I still have tons more rudiments to learn and I’ve spent most of the intervening lessons since my internet absence to slowly make my way through a big list of the main ones. This isn’t considered in Rock Band in any major detail. You get given the part and how you interpret to play with your hands is completely down to you, while I appreciate the freedom behind this idea, it’s helped me to develop some really bad habits.

Week Seven to Nine – Buying my second drum kit

I say second drum kit because buying my Rock Band instrument set was extremely exciting, but I have to say nothing beats the experience of bringing a real drum kit into your home.

It seemed apt to go for an electric drum kit because of how I had gotten into drumming, and I eventually decided on an electric kit for two very simple reasons – I am short on space and I can’t make a lot of noise while practicing.

The kit itself is a Roland TD-4K, and I think the best feature is the fact that I now have a practice setup which properly matches that of my lesson kit – the bounce of the mesh snare drum feels like an actual drum skin, and I have actual, playable cymbals and a proper closable high hat (and a second pedal for it no less).

Upon building the kit I realised another factor about drumming that Rock Band has taken away – personalising your kit. Half the battle with drumming is setting up your equipment around your personal space, with everything at a comfortable height and reach, movements between each of the drums need to be factored into the speed of your play, and the close proximity of the RB pads takes a lot (but not all) of these considerations away.

The Roland kit in parts, and the finished drumkit!

The bass drum is a huge improvement over the RB offering. My original RB pedal is cracked after months of play in expert and hard, mostly due to the way that I play it – heel up rather than heel down. The bass pedal has always been a major complaint of mine regarding the original game, because you have no beater actually striking a drum. This has led to another problem my heel up technique is good, but I’m now so used to holding the pedal down when it’s not in use I automatically muffle the bass after each note.

But at least I can now I can start to get some proper accents into to my drum beats rather than making up when I think the drums should be struck harder, it’s actually miles more difficult to count the beat and be told when exactly to do this. But at least real drums have an actual bounce and sensitivity to them. I’m used to the RB pads now, but when I started it was rather like beating a piece of wood.

Regardless, accenting will mean learning to count the beat of the song properly so I can place extra emphasis (or less emphasis) on key notes, this is still as much about feel as it is precision, to explain further:

1 e & a     2 e & a     3 e & a     4 e & a

R L R L    R L R L    R L R L    R L R L

All this means is that I am hitting the first note of each bar more strongly than the others, you can see how simple things can quickly get very complicated when it comes to notation. But despite some of the RB learning disadvantages that’s come out of this post I want to end this post on a very large and extremely positive point:

It takes genuine understanding of your craft to be able to simplify it so you can explain to others, and if anything the last few weeks of drumming have made me understand and appreciate Rock Band more. Harmonix have laboured over every finite detail of four sets of theory and practice to make an extremely accessible game and a valuable learning tool, while it’s hindered my experience this time around, in the long run it’s benefited it a great deal more.

Jumping in at the deep end

So I’m nearly ready to start learning some actual songs, I’ve drummed along to some basic pieces but I’d like to try something a little more challenging, so I can test my sight reading, (and my recording ability) Since I started in Rock Band I’d say it’s only fair that I get started on some songs from the games, so feel free to comment with any requests from the original game or it’s sequel.

Be gentle with me guys!