Raises the bar for digital distro titles to come
Survival Horror has had a rough time of late, Resident Evil 4, as excellent as it was, transitioned to a full fledged action game, with mere moments and flashes of what it used to be. As the series that truly started the sub genre, that was a punch in the gut to those not looking to be a commando with witty one liners.(and so very awesome hair)Especially with Fatal Frames move to the Wii, things were looking grim for current gen survival horror. But these worries have been pushed aside with the introduction of Siren: Blood Curse via the Playstation Networks online store, which not only brings back the true survival horror experience, but signals a turn around for Sony's entire initially weak digital distribution operation.
Blood Curse is a re-imagined version of the PS2 game, Siren. (Forbidden Siren in Japan and the EU/UK) Which met with a lukewarm reception due to the exceedingly clunky and complicated controls, even by survival horror standards, and occasionally overbearing challenge. With Blood Curse, the graphics have been given a serious overhaul, a new cast is introduced, and the gameplay streamlined. Making for a more playable, and very scary and immersive experience, and all coming down through internet tubes no less! The game rotates you between a cast of characters, each adult roughly having the same qualities as each other, but also throwing a child into the mix on occasion, who cannot be caught at all, least of all enter into combat, making her sections one part frustrating, and one part really freaking scary.
Generally speaking, these are ordinary people in an extraordinary situation, and like in the Silent Hill games of old, this is reflected in combat situations. The combat feels "off", a bit sluggish and unrefined, which is where the Silent Hill comparison comes in. You could chalk it up to poor gameplay design, but lets face it, if you were in a creepy village swamped by a sea of what looks like Blood, cloaked in darkness, and being chased by undead hordes, you wouldn't exactly turn into John Rambo when you got a hold of a knife either. In a way that probably makes no sense to those who do not consider themselves fans of the genre, it actually adds to the experience. But for the most part, it should be a last resort to attack. The game does give you the tools to be stealthy, and in fact, Siren has the best implementation of stealth ever seen in a game of it's kind.
The games will give you plenty of hiding places, from which rumble (with a Dual Shock 3 anyhow) and sounds leave you genuinely spooked about being found out, and reasonable cover of darkness. The undead, called Shibito, are fairly sensitive to sound though, so watch where you walk, crouch walking isn't necessary the whole game, (poor Sam Fisher must have a terrible back) but it's definitely good to know when to use that option. Helping you out with that is the unique "sight jacking" ability. For some reason, normal people within the village of Hanuda have the ability to open up a "channel" and search for and see through the eyes of both the living, and the dead. So you can find friends, or literally see if the Shibito see you. However, it splits the screen in two, and adds a blur effect, as if it is taking up half the vision of the character.
It can auto appear when you are detected, but you can turn that off in the options, which I recommend, as the screen split and blur can be sudden, and impact your ability to make a getaway very negatively. Occasional puzzles are also littered about, but tend to stray towards the simple "get this" and "go there". It's a fairly linear and guided game as a whole, but the developers were trying to minimize the usual survival horror problem of "where the heck do I go and what the heck am I supposed to do?", with some degree of success. Another trademark of the sub genre of survival horror is bad voice acting, I am however, happy to tell you the acting is pretty darn good, with quality actors and lip synch.
The game looks as good as it sounds, when you take into account it's downloadable nature. The character models look great, but have some awkward animations, while the environments of the village itself benefits from great use of lighting and some rather liberal noise filters. I'd recommend setting the brightness to +2, the default setting is far too dark to be playable in some areas. Despite some shortcomings, a few of which are very familiar if not oddly welcome by true survival horror fans, Siren is an immersive, creepy, and addictive game. If you like survival horror, you'll have a lot to love in this game. Well worth the asking price and the HDD space.