Siren: Blood Curse
'Wow, this looks awesome,' exclaimed my girlfriend upon the first scene. We were watching a US film crew sneak up on sacrificial ritual in some god forsaken forest in the outback of Japan: a lady, restrained, is skewered and everyone goes mental; 'its like Lost, or summin' as a cut scene climaxes as dramatically and atmospherically as any TV show.
Siren: Blood Curse, isn't like most other games - it is a bit like other episodic titles, but it has its own panache even still. When it was released on the PSN back in June it was available as a part-by-part download, for a small fee (naturally), and you played through each admittedly short episode. Now though, you can pick it up in its full glory for the reasonable sum of twenty quid.
Part of what made Siren an attractive purchase was its 'last week on Siren' and upon finishing the mission 'next week on Siren' cut scenes that remind you of things past and the excitement of next installment without spoiling the experience any. On the whole it's a gimmick, but such is the effect, that it has become essential to any success the game has had. Gladly the full disc, as you buy it, works in the same way - you play though each mission and click on to the next once completed, complete with cinematic cut scenes and all.
Perhaps the negative aspect of this is that the most scary points (the Siren franchise is historically a creepy survival horror, in the mould of Silent Hill for those unaware of its heritage) are somewhat revealed before they've happened. Obviously it's void of the tension building so important in horror if it is to be successful in scaring you. As a result, for me as a grade A whoopsie when it comes to playing Silent Hill, the fear factor is lost a tad. It isn't the cut scenes that are solely at fault. The linear gameplay, that sees you walking down narrow paths unable to explore elsewhere, railroads the set pieces so that you're already expecting the scare before it happens. And it's not the 'OHMYGODITSBEHINDTHEDOOR!' type stuff, its kind of, 'oh there's something up there, don't worry it's another one of them things' predictability.
The baddies are essentially zombies. However they're not brainless swarming hoards, but more brainwashed, a bit like those victims of Las Plagas in Resident Evil 4. Largely you'll see the 'Shibito' going about their daily business albeit with a slightly demented swagger - that is until the Siren sounds and they turn into maniac sickle-wielding nutcases looking to give you a shoe-in. Why and how the Shibito come to be is for you to find out, I'd loathe to spoil this as the narrative's pace and structure is a joy. You'll see events from the perspectives of seven separate characters, each with their own skills, or lack of them depending on who you're controlling (some can wield heavy weapons scattered about, others can move without making a sound).
Siren's other gimmick is the 'Sight Jack' function that enables your character (should they have the ability) to see through the eyes of the various ghouls ambling about the level. Its effect has two purposes. Firstly, in the absence of radar, Sight Jacking helps you roughly locate your enemy, however you can't tell how close they are, making your ears as important when planning how to enter a room or corridor. Secondly it enables you to literally see through their eyes and creepily, hear their thoughts - while you hide in a cupboard, the Shibito will frantically look around the room (while you're privy to their internal ramblings). Again this further aids tactical planning as you can make haste when the coast is clear because you can guarantee that they're in another part of the area.
Using the Sight Jack affects your ability to see what's in front of you, so short usage is advisable.
Although some may feel that Siren is a pastiche of Silent Hill, it does carry its own quality. The missions, while short (some taking little over ten minutes), are satisfying as they are compact. While the game isn't nearly as scary as the opening cut scenes promises the game to be, there is a decent amount of moodiness giving the game its own feel. The linearity damages the affair, there's few open expanses where enemies can come from any angle, although usually the danger is directly in front of you. The storyline drives the game forward at such pace that you'll want to complete the stage just to see the next cut scene.
In the end its a tough one to call - Siren has definite quality, but there are many aspects of it that should have been better. Yet I enjoyed the experience, which is the point surely. If nothing else, its an accomplished stopgap until Silent Hill 5 and the new Resident Evil rear up.