Alan Wake’s Nightmare was not scary enough for you, more shooting and less survival horror? Fear not, here’s a PS3 exclusive title which gives enough chills to make you stay up late, if you want to or not.
With Resident Evil becoming more of a cover-action-shooter and few real survival horror games around, let’s go down memory lane and see what the creator of Silent Hill came up with back in 2008: the scary-as-hell Siren: Blood Curse.
A group of people from different cultural and social backgrounds find themselves among village people who go mad and start hunting them down because of a ritual gone wrong.
No Silent Town
It becomes abundantly clear right from the start that the game is influenced by Silent Hill, which is no surprise as director Keiichiro Toyama was also involved as director, writer and background designer in that psychological horror title. Similarities are not only found in the title-given siren which transforms the world around the player into a living nightmare haunted by twisted versions of human beings (who despite being monstrosities are still stuck in their limbo of daily routine), but also in the storytelling.
What made Silent Hill stand out from the crowd of Resident Evil imitators was the way it played with the audience’s expectations and fears. Never explaining too much at the beginning, having the player start with no knowledge of the world around him, Siren: Blood Curse goes one step further as it has various timelines and introduces different characters. It’s quite an ambitious project, and to a certain degree it works. Seeing events from different perspectives until the protagonists meet again makes not only for an interesting viewing, but also playing experience.
The way the stories are told is also worth mentioning as it was originally a download-only title with episodic content. Just like a TV series, the chapters are sometimes short and include sub-chapters, some playable, others only cutscenes. At the end of an episode there’s also a teaser for the next part, which of course functions more as a spoiler than creating anticipation. It’s also a bit repetitive that the same trailer is shown at the beginning of each chapter. Buying the BD might be the best way to experience it in full length though.
The game is also a reimagining of Siren, released back in 2003 on the PS2. It does not only offer updated HD graphics, but brings a lot of polish to the gameplay which, to be honest, was quite unfair in the original. Finally restarting a whole chapter is not necessary with checkpoints, and clear goals with a map which usually shows where some items are located, helps tremendously to provide smoother gameplay. There are some optional goals as well, which are harder to complete, but all in all playtime comes in short, satisfying bursts, despite some unfair sections (especially with more powerful enemies who can continually hit the player without him having any chance to get up).
Without dwelling too long on each character’s personal history, suffice it to say that some are more experienced with weapons, one (a child) can’t even handle them and has to rely on stealth only. Stealth is the key word. It’s still possible to get through a level by bashing enemies’ heads to a pulpy mass, but as there’s also one special type of atrocity which can resurrect them again it’s usually best to avoid confrontations. Hiding in closets or barricading doors, leaning against them shows the spirit of a real survival horror game as firepower or melee combat alone won’t get the player through the levels.
Help me, Jack, with your second sight
One helping ability, which is also one of the most innovative and selling points of the original games, is Sight Jack. It gives the player the opportunity to see through the eyes of the enemies and works like a TV station so that different channels can be switched through, showing where enemies go and what they do. This mode can be quite helpful, in some instances it’s absolutely necessary for the right timing, sspecially when trying to get by someone who has a rifle which can kill a character in an instant, or in the case of the young girl who, when detected and caught, doesn’t have any means to escape.
It sounds like an interesting concept, but controls are quite fiddly and as the camera takes up half of the screen, it sometimes even feels detrimental to the game progress. As there are quite a few weapons lying around in most levels, it’s also easier to just forget about the stealth part and get rid of the enemies without Sight Jack.
Maybe it’s just me who has problems with multitasking, but I found this tool pretty annoying to use, and I was glad that I only had to use it all the time in one level. Granted it adds to the tension to watch an enemy coming closer to the location where the character is, but all in all, I’d rather have dispensed of it altogether and concentrated on the atmosphere and story.
Fight, survive, puzzle your way out
The main gameplay doesn’t really change a lot throughout the gameplay. In a nutshell, it’s a hide-and-seek game which has some fighting in it if the player wants it (except for some scenes when it becomes part of the story). But there is also an emphasis on puzzle solving. Puzzle design usually involves finding certain items and using them at the right places. There are also some parts when the correct position of mosaic tiles has to be found out. Sometimes solutions can only be found by using Sight Jack as it gives hints where to go next or what to do.
Real people or just images of other tropes
With different narrative strands intertwining and various characters being introduced, does the story actually hold up and keep the player’s interest? Yes and no. On the one hand it’s intriguing to find out what is actually happening or what made people act the way they do and what roles the characters play. But most of the time, characters remain quite flat and it’s not easy to identify with them. Silent Hill had its share of weird people, but they were memorable. In Siren: Blood Curse they could easily be replaced with other stereotypes.
What makes the storytelling still interesting is the way optional archive documents can be found and more information unlocked. The constant sense of dread that characters can easily die and appear in other forms helps to keep the suspense at a high level. Even if the overall storytelling isn’t perfect, because characters rarely give any interesting insights into their psyche (unlike Silent Hill), or standout moments don’t happen that often, one still wants to know what is going on and who will survive.
Just as a note: The game is based on the real Tsuyama Massacre which makes it even more terrifying.
Graphics are detailed, enemy design terrifying, sounds horrifying which makes the gritty presentation quite realistic. Environment textures could be better, and it’s a bit too dark for most of the playtime (something the PS3 always seems to struggle with). But all in all this is a pretty good looking game, even four years after its initial release.
Voice acting is (except for that Japanese guy) overall quite good and miles away from the atrociously bad and atmosphere-destroying instance in the first game. The soundtrack is nothing to write home about, but it’s usually the sound effects which can scare the living hell out the player, with the mad laughing of the village people and some monstrous screams coming closer and closer.
An original entry of episodic survival horror
Siren: Blood Curse is not only a visual make-over of the original game, but improves it on many different levels. It’s still frustratingly difficult in some parts, but with checkpoints, a better map and above all goals which can be reached in small steps, this is the definitive version to play. The story is as weird and sometimes nonsensical as Japanese (horror) games get, and the characters are not that memorable, but it is still one of the best survival horror games on the current console generation and unlike the Resident Evil series, it’s not watered down to a shooter to be more accessible to a wider action-oriented audience.