|System: PS3||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: SCE Japan Studios||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: SCEA||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: July 24, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Amanda L. Kondolojy
Like many others, I enjoy a good survival horror game. It's great when you have the house to yourself, can turn the lights off, turn the sound up, and really get into the mood. However, the survival horror game genre has really been lacking lately, and some games that might have been scary a decade ago come off as "just another shooting game."
This is especially true with the Resident Evil series as well as titles like Dead Rising. Sure, hordes of zombies would run at you mercilessly, but it became so routine that it lost its scare factor. Luckily, there are some titles that still manage to create new ways to be scary, and I am happy to report that the episodic PSN title Siren: Blood Curse manages to be quite frightening. But be warned, it is a slow build.
Siren: Blood Curse tells the story of several characters who have gotten caught up in the mysterious town of Hanuda, which is a lost village that has mysteriously vanished. The game opens with a television crew happening upon a frightening human sacrifice ritualand being introduced to the undead Shibito. These Shibito are not your average zombie and have heightened senses. They are capable of independent thought and will be able to detect when you are very close to them (they even talk on occasion) and have a very high creep factor all by themselves, though the Shibito are definitely not what makes this game scary.
The overarching story is told through the individual perspectives of seven playable characters, which include the ill-fated television crew, an American student, and a few natives of the town. These characters are not immediately related, and the story relies on you playing as all of the different characters and experiencing the events through different points of view to connect the plot points. The perspective-based gameplay really gives you a sense of the overarching story, while withholding just enough information to keep you on the edge of your seat. This creates a lot of suspense because you'll often know more about the situation then your character and will have to guide them through levels knowing what horror will await them.
One of the things that I like most about Siren: Blood Curse is how it is uses very small goals to progress the action. Many times, in horror games, a character will be put into a situation with zombies or monsters and will instantly become very courageous and an expert gunman capable of saving the planet. The characters in Siren: Blood Curse, however, are ordinary people and have less heroic goals that generally consist of finding a place to hide or sneaking past the Shibito. Sure, you'll have a fair share of physical confrontations with weaponry, but these are generally kept to a minimum, and the game's focus is really firmly placed on telling the story of the hapless souls entangled in the events of the narrative.
As far as gameplay is concerned, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the mechanics. Since most of the time spent playing the game will be focused on exploring and sneaking around, Siren: Blood Curse definitely doesn't feel like some of its other survival horror contemporaries. But the focus on staying alive really heightens the fear factor because many times the game will deliberately place you in a situation where you are unable to use a weapon or defend yourself. In fact, several stages focus on the child Bella Monroe, who can only run, hide, and scream. In these levels, the Shibito become even scarier because their appearance doesn't signal just a few gunshots or a quick sprint, but certain death. It is actually quite terrifying because you never know when someone will whip around the corner or pop out from the ceiling, and you'll have to start all over.
Luckily, all of your characters come equipped with an ace in the hole. For reasons unknown, the characters are able to utilize "Sight Jacking," which basically means they can split the perspective between their own and that of the Shibito. The game shows this secondary perspective by splitting the game screen in half, with the left side showing what you see and the right side showing what the Shibito see. It's a clever tool for figuring out exactly where enemies are and for finding safe routes in complex maps. This gameplay feature does take a little getting used to and definitely takes some practice to hone. But if you can perfect using the Shibito perspective, you'll have much better luck running and hiding, which means less Shibito eating your face.
But the game isn't wholly focused on running from the enemy. Some characters can pick up weapons, and a few are actually quite good at firing a gun. But of course, it all depends on perspective. One character, Seigo, has been living in Hanuda for quite some time and one well aimed shot from his shotgun can kill Shibuto yards away. Other characters, like the student Howard Wright, are not as good at long-range gunplay, but can fire at close range as well as use items like frying pans and shovels as blunt objects to fend off attacking Shibuto.