Siren isn't scary enough to hide its faults
When survival horror games were first introduced, many of us were too terrified of zombie dogs and shuffling zombies to pay attention to tank-like controls and horrible camera angles. As time passed on and gamers became desensitized, it fell upon horror game developers to create more eerie and oppressive settings to counteract archaic design decisions. Even though games like Resident Evil and Dead Space have chosen to evolve with current times, Siren: Blood Curse instead opts to faithfully embrace the old and broken days of survival horror. But is the game scary enough to make you forget about throwing the controller in anger?
Siren: Blood Curse is the tale of a group of individuals caught up in a sadistic ritual to summon a demonic god. That description may automatically set off some red flags for horror veterans, but Siren effectively sets itself apart within the first few minutes with very Blair Witch-esque live action footage showing the ritual taking place. The ones filming the event are Sam, Melissa, and Sol; three of the seven playable characters in the game. These three have chosen to document the cursed town of Hanuda for a supernatural mystery TV show and, obviously, they chose horribly. Eventually, you get to control Howard, an unwitting college student; mysterious locals Seigo and Amana; and Sam and Melissa’s annoying little girl, Bella.
The first few chapters move at a pretty good pace. Howard interrupts the ritual to save a helpless girl and chaos ensues as zombie-like villagers (called Shibito) hunt down the intrusive foreigners. As you progress, however, things become a muddled mess as characters wind up in places without explanation and events are forgotten seconds after they happen. By the time you reach the game’s conclusion, you may find yourself watching the ending in disbelief, wondering what just happened and how a story can be so poorly told. The confusion only escalates after the credits roll, as you unlock a document that pretty much spells out everything that happened. This is an unfortunate and truly bewildering element, because the story detailed in the document is actually quite good, and it’s a shame they couldn‘t tell that story within the game. Basically, imagine if someone gave you random pages from a novel, then gave you the entire novel afterwards; that’s Siren’s narrative in a nutshell.
As mentioned earlier, you control seven different characters through Siren’s twelve chapters. Controlling different characters offers a nice change of pace and the game does a good job with mixing up mission objectives. One minute you’ll be cowering in a closet as Bella, and the next minute you’re sniping monsters as Seigo from the top of a tower. With that comes the inevitable fact that some chapters will feel like a drag after playing through others, such as three missions in a row where you must escort Bella who often lacks the common sense to run.
Pretty much every mission simply requires you to get from point A to point B, with various monsters, obstacles, and monster-related obstacles in your way. A cool addition to the combat system is the ability to wield a variety of melee objects. Crowbars, hand rakes, wrenches, garden hoes, and even acoustic guitars are all fair game to bludgeon those pesky villagers. You also get a few firearms to wield and the shooting mechanics are competent and effective. You’ll soon realize, though, that all your offensive power doesn’t really matter since the Shibito always get up mere minutes after being knocked out. I’m sure the developers thought this would heighten the tension, but it just becomes annoying to knock out the same Shibito over and over; especially since the game requires a large amount of backtracking.
The other major difference that Siren brings to the table is the Sightjacking mechanic. By pushing the L2 button, you can scan the surroundings for enemies and other friendly characters. Locating another person or Shibito splits the screen in half, showing their perspective on the right while you continue to explore on the left. When Sightjacking works, the horror elements of Siren really shine. Watching as a Shibito walks uncomfortably close to your hiding place is incredibly chilling, and the feeling remains strong whenever the situation arises. Sightjacking also comes with its share of drawbacks. While there is a button to lock on to the nearest enemy, there isn’t a similar option to quickly lock on to a human character. This makes the already frustration escort missions even more grating as you can waste precious time scanning to find a separated partner. The split screen perspective also affects the frame rate which, when combined with the insanely dark corridors and shoddy camera, creates a nauseating experience.
When there’s enough light to actually see the game, the graphics are pretty good. The initial monsters are pretty bland, but they become increasingly creepier and more detailed as the game progresses. The human characters emote quite well, but they suffer from stiff animations in both cut scenes and gameplay. The level designs also look fine on the surface but they are marred by lighting problems and unrelenting linearity. Too often the game presents you with one obstacle you can climb over and another similar object you can’t, forcing you to repeatedly consult the map, further detracting from the sense of dread. The sound design is also adequate, but it lacks the kind of atmosphere a game like Silent Hill usually presents.
If you live in North America, the decision to buy Siren: Blood Curse depends as much on your Playstation 3 and networks settings as it does for the love of old horror conventions. The game takes up a whopping 9GB of space. Even if you purchase the full package, the game still downloads one chapter at a time which makes things a bit easier. But since some chapters are only about a half hour long or less, you may have to wait a day or two to even play the full game if your connection speed is less than ideal. The game can also be purchased in 4-chapter chunks, which is a better way to test the waters and see if you still possess the tolerance for this type of game.
Siren: Blood Curse tries to tell a chilling story, but every time the game tries to set a scary mood, the control and design issues pop back up to kill it. Nostalgic horror fans may appreciate Siren’s commitment to the past, but for everyone else, the game is nothing but an old relic screaming “Boo!” from its rocking chair.